Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm Defends Handling Of Economic Crisis Tell Me More host Michel Martin interviews term-limited Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat from Michigan. She was first elected in 2002 and, in 2006, she was re-elected with the largest number of votes ever cast for governor in Michigan. But, as unemployment in the state climbed, approval ratings for the governor plummeted. She discusses plans to diversify Michigan’s economy in an effort to create jobs and increase employment in the Wolverine State.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm Defends Handling Of Economic Crisis

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm Defends Handling Of Economic Crisis

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Tell Me More host Michel Martin interviews term-limited Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat from Michigan. She was first elected in 2002 and, in 2006, she was re-elected with the largest number of votes ever cast for governor in Michigan. But, as unemployment in the state climbed, approval ratings for the governor plummeted. She discusses plans to diversify Michigan’s economy in an effort to create jobs and increase employment in the Wolverine State.


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

On this midterm Election Day, voters around the country are going to the polls to cast their votes for candidates and also to, in effect, bypass those legislators and make decisions directly through a number of ballot initiatives in a number of states. We'll focus on a couple of those initiatives a little later in the program.

But first, as we mentioned, we are heading out later today to a state that looms larger than most in shaping the political landscape in this country, to a city that has become a metaphor for the struggle to survive and thrive in this post-industrial age. We are headed, of course, to Detroit. I'll be appearing at an event in Gem Theatre in Detroit tonight and tomorrow. We will be broadcasting from member station WDET.

So, to set the table on the issues that are so important to today's elections and to the country's future, we are speaking now with the governor of Michigan now completing her second term as the state's chief executive, Jennifer Granholm. Governor, thank you so much for joining us once again.

Governor JENNIFER GRANHOLM (Democrat, Michigan): You bet. How are you, Michel?

MARTIN: I'm well, thank you. And I just think it's fair to say that this economic tailspin that the country has been in has defined your term, I think, in many ways, at least to simply define the major challenge of your term. When you were first elected, the unemployment rate in Michigan was just over 6 percent.

Now as you're heading toward completion of your second term, the unemployment rate is around 13 percent. And that was higher earlier. Of course, Nevada has now taken the dubious title of the state with the highest unemployment rate.

But I would like to ask, and we're going to talk about some of the initiatives that you've put in place, but knowing that hindsight is 20/20, is there anything that you wish you could've done sooner or that you would have done differently to address this?

Gov. GRANHOLM: Nobody has worked harder, I can tell you, Michel, than I have to try to diversify our economy and educate our citizens. But, really, when you look at this, what's happened in Michigan, because we have seven times more automotives employment than other states, of course, we have been hit seven times more, you know, harder than other states in this recession. And then you layer upon that the bankruptcies in the auto industry and the suppliers to the auto industry, it has been an economic hurricane the likes of which we have never seen in Michigan.

So, that being said, of course, no governor comes to town with a magic wand. Could the governor of Michigan, no matter who they were, have prevented globalization from shifting manufacturing jobs to low wage countries? No. But the question is, what do you do about it? And it's very clear that the structural change in our economy, that it's not a cycle, it's a structural change in Michigan's economy, that is rippling across the nation.

Why is this a jobless recovery? Why is the economic growth so slow? It's because of globalization and because of technology. The jobs that have gone are not necessarily coming back. This is not a typical recession with a downturn and an upturn over a short period of time. This is a whole another thing.

So I encourage people to see Michigan almost as a canary in a coal mine for what the nation could experience - not as acutely as we've experienced it, but certainly developing the strategies that will move our nation forward in a globally competitive environment.

MARTIN: A couple of the strategies that you've put into place, you've put a lot of emphasis on worker retraining through a No Worker Left Behind program to help people with college tuition if they've been laid off. You've also talked a lot about diversifying the economy, putting an emphasis on green jobs. But what I'd like to - but those are long-term initiatives that sometimes take a while to bear fruit. How do you keep people's spirits up while they're waiting to reap the benefits of these kinds of long-term initiatives?

Gov. GRANHOLM: There is no doubt that the strategies are long-term strategies. And there is no quick fix when there is a structural change to your economy. The most effective change that has to happen inside of states and inside of America is educating our citizens. You can't do that overnight. The No Worker Left Behind initiative, which for your listeners is two years of college tuition. We got the federal government to allow us to restructure our workforce training dollars. So now we're able to offer two years of community college tuition, $5,000 per year, up to $10,000 per worker while someone is collecting unemployment.

But the catch is that they have to agree to be trained in an area of need. They can't go back and get a degree at a community college in political science or French. Those are my two degrees, so I can say that. But they can go back and get a degree in health care, in nursing, in entrepreneurship, in renewable energy. There's a whole slate of things that we've identified as a state, doing our analysis of our economic strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, a SWOT analysis of our economy. Where is it that we can be competitive and how do we train workers for that?

And we've now had 140,000 workers take advantage of No Worker Left Behind. But, again, none of this is short-term. All of this requires sustained commitment to a strategy to diversify the economy and educate our citizens.

MARTIN: You know, there are two candidates vying to succeed you today. Of course the Democrat is Virg Bernero and the Republican is Rick Snyder. He's running as a political outsider. He's maintained a fairly substantial lead in the polls. Do you think that that is a referendum on your leadership or on something else?

Gov. GRANHOLM: I think it's people in Michigan like people in the nation are not satisfied where they are and they want to move. Sometimes in certain areas of the country people may even be moving in a direction that's inconsistent with their own personal interests. But because this is a decision that's based upon emotion, they cannot stay where they are. They are going to move somewhere, anywhere, rather than stay on a burning platform.

So, for the nation, this is a change election. I think other pundits have described this as an election where the Republicans may win an election, but not because - but have it be an honor and victory. In other words, it was a -it may be a victory that is based upon, you know, change against the - what the status quo is. But not necessarily running to what the other side is offering.

MARTIN: How do you answer that? I mean, how do you answer that? There was an interesting interview I read with somebody running for Congress in Ohio where, you know, this congresswoman - I don't want to call her name - but has been sort of working full time on this question just as you have, and a voter who voted for her two years ago said, well, I'm voting for the other guy this time. She said, why? She goes, I don't have a job yet.

Gov. GRANHOLM: Right.

MARTIN: She doesn't. What do you say?

Gov. GRANHOLM: If you're unemployed, the unemployment rate is 100 percent. So for those citizens who want change - but those citizens and everyone has to realize that there is no quick fix. I mean the citizen who is unemployed who maybe went in Michigan from high school to factory, that citizen has got to go back and get retrained for an area that will be an emerging sector, but it will require a greater level of skill.

We have a whole generation of workers who are fantastic workers who helped their companies be profitable. But then corporations decided to move to lower wage countries. It's not their fault. But they are left with the rug pulled out from under them. They have got to take advantage of retraining right now. They can't just expect that another kind of job that with the same level of skill is going to fall into their lap.

No politician that they elect is going to be able to do that. We cannot go backwards. We have to recognize the honest and brutal truth about this global economy. That we've got to create jobs that make the nation competitive and that will stay in this country, and we have to have workers that are prepared to take on the skills that those jobs require. And that means that we all have to work. You can't sit back and expect a politician is going to do it for you.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with the governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm. And we're talking about the economy and Election Day and the last eight years in office. So, to that point, governor, what would you like people to think of as your legacy? I know it's a little early for that, but I'm just getting a head start here.

Gov. GRANHOLM: Yeah. It is. We still have a little bit. And, you know, obviously I've been governor during a huge structural change to our state's economy, the toughest time that anyone can remember since the Great Depression. But what I - we have, you know, some - I quote a Chinese proverb a lot, which says that sometimes leadership is planting trees under whose shade you will never sit.

And we have planted a huge number of trees in terms of six new sectors that we have targeted, in terms of raising the education standards for K through 12. In terms of getting our whole workforce training environment changed to be able to allow adults to easily go back and get their degrees. But diversification and education are, as we've discussed, long-term strategies.

Nonetheless, raising the bar for kids requiring that every single child in Michigan have a college degree that's part of our strategy, to double the number of college graduates in Michigan. Ever since we adopted those standards, reading and math scores have continued to rise every single year. The dropout rate continues to decline. We have a 70 percent increase. And the kids who are taking advance placement courses, we now have a 35 percent increase since I've been governor in community college enrollment, thanks in large measure to No Worker Left Behind.

No Worker Left Behind is training people at four times the national rate. And 75 percent of those who've been trained have gotten a job. And 82 percent of those who've gotten a job have gotten job in the area that they were trained in. So, these statistics are not just, you know, they're not something that can be demonstrated, turned around into a 4 percent unemployment rate overnight, but we've got to keep at it and continue this strategy of diversifying and educating. And that's the legacy that I want people to remember.

MARTIN: And governor, one more way you've diversified the economy, the tax credits, generous tax credits that have been granted to filmmakers have apparently led to at least one new series being filmed there, "Detroit 1-8-7." It's the first series, major sort of national network series set in Detroit. We'll be speaking with two of the actors tomorrow. But I do have to ask. Do you like it?

Gov. GRANHOLM: Love it. Love the whole thing. Love the show. Love the fact that it's being filmed here, but I also love the fact that these tax credits have caused more than $500 or $600 million of spending by the movie industry in Michigan.

MARTIN: Might there be a cameo in your future?

Gov. GRANHOLM: No, no, definitely not.

MARTIN: No cameo.

Gov. GRANHOLM: They want the show to be a success.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, what might you do in the future? We only have about 30 seconds left.

Gov. GRANHOLM: I'm not sure.

MARTIN: There are rumors that you might be heading to Washington for a role with the Democratic Party.

Gov. GRANHOLM: No. I don't know what I'm going to be doing. But I keep telling my team we got to lean forward. We've got two months to go and we are not going to waste a single moment of it.

MARTIN: Jennifer Granholm is the governor of Michigan. She was kind enough to join us on this busy Election Day from WKAR in Lansing, Michigan, our member station there. Governor, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Gov. GRANHOLM: You bet, Michel.

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