Blog: Chris Ando, Jennifer Guracech, & Christian Bielski

In a sign that the Great Lakes State is riding the wave of its young talent, a group of interns came to exchange ideas with state powerbrokers at the recent Mackinac Policy Conference. Jennifer Guracech, Chris Ando, and Christian Bielski offer up their takeaways from this gathering of Michigan's intelligentsia.

Christian Bielski: The Mackinac Policy Conference and Tom Cruise - More Similar Than You Might Think

I admit that I am just a naive and impressionable intern that attended the Mackinac Policy Conference for the first time this past June, but I could not ignore mood or the experience I witnessed. While driving up to the conference all excited to meet the movers and shakers of Michigan, I realized at the conference that most of them felt like me, a Michigander that feels cornered by big business and government. Does this shared feeling of conflict sound familiar? A man feeling torn between serving a firm that corrupts his personal integrity or helping the government in exchange for a life he never wanted? Yes, you guessed it.  I am saying that most Michiganders feel like Tom Cruise in the movie The Firm and desperately want leaders that can create a way to bridge two sectors, business and government.

I entered the conference with an open mind hoping to meet and pick the brains of current policymakers and see if any of the main events could help alleviate the dilemmas of Detroit and Michigan. The conference did start off with a bang. Newt Gingrich, the keynote speaker, provided Detroit and Michigan with fresh perspectives and brutal honesty. He began his address by speaking about the Polish Solidarity movement and how it was able to bring down Communism using the equation 2+2=4.

His message was that no matter how complex a problem was, 2+2 always equaled 4. This symbol worked well as he talked about Detroit needing to face the challenges head on and not to create solutions that look like 2+2=4.5. He talked about how the low high school graduation rates can only be fixed when schools hold their students accountable. The student, if impoverished, shouldn't be taught to give up, but provided with incentives to succeed. This is where he suggested implementing for-profit schools and community colleges, meaning that a student could get paid for doing well in school, essentially funding a way for him to attend that school. He also suggested creating a tax free zone for Detroit, which would attract businesses and boost private sector growth. Clearly, Gingrich provided a feeling that the cornered Michigander could find solutions that made the state neither a slave to government or big business. We have to be our own Tom Cruise, by finding a unique way to solve the state's problems.

The next day was not the great debate, but what I refer to as the great debacle. It was exciting to see all seven candidates make their debut and see who might be the new leader of Michigan.  Unfortunately, the end of the debate left the same taste in your mouth as did entering it, no clear leader and no Tom Cruise. They covered an array of topics from jobs, unions, healthcare, and the DRIC (Detroit River International Crossing). Virg Bernero was a passionate candidate, but unfortunately wasn't able to hone in and show great substance on the issues. Attorney General Cox was his usual relentless prosecuting self, making Rick Snyder his main target. Unfortunately, those attacks made Snyder sling back, making him look like a sleazy politician rather than the business owner who offers something different for Michigan. Some say that I may be over-exaggerating, but look at the recent Republican debates. Snyder wasn't present.  Bouchard and Hoekstra seemed calm and could pinpoint the issues, but offered no real substantive solutions to the hypothetical scenarios created by moderator Tim Scubick, while Andy Dillon played the middle much like Obama did in his debates. Tom George continually hammered the deficit problem and that is all he addressed, with a few funny quips about Asian carp.  Though many of the questions were hypotheticals, it offered the candidate the opportunity to define themselves and it seemed no candidate truly made a solid case that they could bring business and government together to solve the problems of our state.

I wanted to hear them provide job creation ideas, I wanted them to talk about the education problems, and I wanted them to admit that both poor business practices (the failure of the auto industry) and poor government decisions have created issues for the state. But most of all, I wanted them to provide solutions. I wanted them to stick to their guns. I will be blunt; if the candidates blamed Scubik for relying too much on hypothetical scenarios, they aren't ready to be governor. Additionally, to the media and others that accepted the hypothetical scenario excuse, you are letting the candidates off for poor performance. If we want a governor who is a true executive and one who can turn the state around, then we need to hold him or her to high standards and not let the moderator take the blame. Michigan is done with the blame game. We need a governor who can roll with the punches and provide substantive solutions to hypothetical or real scenarios, one who can say we need to cut the deficit by cutting this department or this program. We need a governor who can be a creative innovator. We want a governor that wants to  save Detroit by consolidating land and creating an environment that supports the new entrepreneurs in Detroit.

The conference continued with more conversations about the DRIC and issues hurting our state. It was great to see that many people talk and support the DRIC, but more importantly it was great to see FUSION and the young business owners talk to one another and mobilize efforts to solve Michigan's problems.

Though the conference provided a neutral territory for discussions among all of the leaders in the state of Michigan, it is up to all of us, all the startups, to become the leaders that can solve our problems. We must come up with the solutions to keep big business and government in check and that is why I hope all the attendees follow up and complete the Mackinac Policy Conference "To Do" list. Support the DRIC. Even when Brooks Paterson admits that Manny Moroun has a monopoly, it is time to open the marketplace and build the bridge.  Let's hone in on Tom Cruise's skills and find the unique solutions to our problems.

In the end, we Michiganders aren't alone in finding the middle between big business and the government. Just look at the Gulf oil spill.