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Published: Friday, 5/26/2006

Candidates for Michigan governorship mum on platforms

LANSING - We know two things for sure about this year's race for governor in Michigan. First, the winners of the primary have already been determined. Neither Republican Dick DeVos nor Democrat Jennifer Granholm has even token opposition.

We also know that this will be - by far - the most expensive race in state history, as well as the one that effectively ended the noble experiment of state-funded gubernatorial campaigns.

Four years ago Jennifer Gran-holm declined to accept state funding in her toughly contested primary, figuring correctly she could raise far more money by appealing to women's and other interest groups. In the end, she spent about $12 million on her race.

This year, that may look like lunch money. Dick DeVos, a Grand Rapids multimillionaire and an heir to the Amway fortune, is spending like a Keynesian economist. He has already dropped more than $3 million on TV ads - virtually all his own money - and shows no signs of slowing down. Six months ago, few voters outside Grand Rapids had any idea who he was. Now, the expensive, slickly produced ads have vaulted him ahead of incumbent Granholm in the polls.

So far, the governor's campaign has not taken to the airwaves. "We keep hearing soon, soon from her aides," said Chris Christoff, Lansing Bureau Chief of the Detroit Free Press.

At the present rate, Mr. DeVos could rival the current champ, New Jersey zillionaire Jon Corzine, who spent at least $44 million to get elected governor last fall. (That looks positively penny-pinching, compared to his $63 million Senate race in 2000.)

Ms. Granholm's troops concede she won't have anything like that kind of cash, but she will have millions. Six years ago, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow was badly out-walleted, but husbanded her money until the last few weeks and narrowly beat an incumbent GOP rival.

Yet, while the cash is flowing freely, it has been harder to get the candidates to discuss what they would do if elected. Ms. Granholm has, of course, been in office for four years but has not left much in terms of policy accomplishments, for which she is certain to blame the GOP-dominated Legislature.

Mr. DeVos has said he thinks the Single Business Tax is bad and should be abolished, but he hasn't said how he would replace some or all of the $1.9 billion in revenue it provides annually to the state. That's how much money Michigan spends on prisons or higher education each year.

Nor has he released a detailed economic plan. On those rare occasions when he has been interviewed by reporters, the GOP candidate has come across as evasive, nervous, and frequently not especially well-informed about state finances.

Last week, when asked about Ms. Granholm's plan to offer health insurance to the state's uninsured, Mr. DeVos said a better idea would be to help them get a job. When someone noted that many low-end jobs do not offer health coverage, he looked confused and said that possibly they could lead to jobs that do.

Next week, state political and business leaders and journalists hoped to get more insight into both candidates' platforms at the annual policy conference on Mackinac Island.

A highlight of that conference was to be a gubernatorial debate between the governor and her challenger.

But then it was announced that each candidate would simply read a five-minute statement and not answer questions.

Eventually, of course, someone may manage to get the candidates to talk about how they plan to address Michigan's deepening economic crisis. Or, at least we can hope so.

w●

Carol Jacobsen, a professor of art at the University of Michigan, is a big advocate for women. But don't expect to see her lift a finger to re-elect Ms. Granholm.

Ms. Jacobsen has devoted years trying to win release from jail for unjustly imprisoned women, something called the Michigan Battered Women's Clemency Project.

She and colleagues assembled a list of 20 women in Michigan prisons, usually for life. Most of these women are in jail for crimes like being present when a boyfriend shot someone or for shooting a husband when he tried to murder her baby.

Last year, after failing to win an audience with the governor, they approached former Gov. William Milliken, a Republican. He agreed that these women ought to be released and told Governor Granholm so.

Last week the governor denied every one of the clemency petitions without comment. "We are beyond disappointed. We are angry," Ms. Jacobsen said.

"Apparently, Governor Granholm is afraid to give support to battered women. Or else she has political aspirations that she fears would be compromised by doing the right thing since these women have no power."

Sounds like a correct analysis to me.



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