MI-Governor: Virg Bernero Banks on Populism

I definitely think I'm going to enjoy the gubernatorial campaign of Virg Bernero. Bernero, Lansing's mayor, is most famous for his impassioned defense ...
by | March 11, 2010

I definitely think I'm going to enjoy the gubernatorial campaign of Virg Bernero. Bernero, Lansing's mayor, is most famous for his impassioned defense of auto workers (and his impassioned condemnation of Washington and Wall Street) in the midst of the GM and Chrysler bailouts.

As you can tell, Bernero isn't shy about his populism. You also can tell that from his most recent proposal, as reported by the Lansing State Journal:

On Tuesday, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate proposed Michigan become the second state nationwide to create a state-owned bank. He contends it would generate billions of dollars in lending capital for struggling businesses hit hard by a recession.

...

Bernero said the concept is modeled after the state-owned Bank of North Dakota, founded in 1919. The bank, a sort of economic development agency that helps private banks finance larger projects, offers inexpensive loans to businesses, students and farmers.

Bernero is arguing that the state-owned bank is a prudent economic development strategy. But, he's also using it to take shots at Wall Street. From his statement on the proposal:

"This is the people of Michigan putting their own resources to work for their own benefit. They understand that we are in a crisis and I think they are more than willing to embrace some bold ideas for breaking out of it. Why should we send hundreds of millions to Wall Street each year for the privilege of looking after our money? We can do that for ourselves."

I don't have a good sense of how this idea, or Bernero's forceful style in general, will play. This move clearly will be criticized as an expansion of government and even as socialism.

But, Michigan also has to be about the perfect place for opposition to Wall Street and free trade. Plus, most Michiganders don't like the job that Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm has done, so Democrats could benefit from having someone like Bernero, who, at least stylistically, is a clean break from Granholm. With the bank plan, it's clear he will have creative, controversial ideas.

Bernero's leading competition for the Democratic nomination is Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon, who has a reputation as a moderate and who seems to have a reasonably good relationship with the business community. You could make a case that Dillon is the safe choice and that Bernero is too strident and too tied to organized labor to win. You also could make a case that Bernero is Democrats' only hope to actually win the general election.

Bernero says that the people of Michigan are angry and that he's angry too. Undoubtedly, that's true. The question, though, is whether Michiganders want an angry governor.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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