Running Government as a Business

Running Government Like a Business

I’ve worked in the business world for quite some time now. From private to public companies, startups to established corporations, employee to contractor. I even had my own company for a dozen years. So I think I have a fairly broad understanding. Still, I’ve never really bought into the idea that being a successful business person necessarily will make you a good public servant.
Sure, things like the desire to be in charge, being a good steward of resources, knowing when to inspire and when to delegate — those are going to be helpful whether you’re CEO or governor. But functionally, the two jobs are very different animals. An elected leader needs to embrace the integrity of a purposely restricted system (laws); private business owners are ultimately only responsible to themselves.
It scares me when those promoting the idea don’t seem to be aware of the differences (or willfully ignore them). Ironically, many of Donald Trump’s standard business practices align more readily with the worst behaviors of a government bureaucrat: reneging on deals, aggressive deficit spending, opaque and authoritarian rule.
I just don’t see how “I will run the government like a business” would be an easy sell to Michigan voters. Especially when Governor Snyder already seems to have, um, poisoned those waters.

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Is There Hope?

Is There Hope?

A cop shoots a man dead. Is your first thought to want to know their racial profiles?

A man uses a military assault rifle to kill multiple people. Is your first thought to hope for a reason that won’t conflict with your political views?

A neighborhood teen takes his own life with a handgun. Is your first thought to wonder why a handgun was available to him at a moment of despair?

A young woman is gunned down in Chicago. Is your first thought to consider how this might affect gun control statistics?

A homeowner uses a gun to kill somebody on his property. Is your first thought to feel gratification for justice served?

A little girl finds a loaded gun in her house and shoots her younger sibling. Is your first thought to ask whether the gun was legal?

Do you see where I’m going with this? When your life intersects with stories of guns and death, is your first instinct to align the news with your politics? Or is it to consider the loss of human life?

It’s the politics, right? Me, too.

But maybe making the loss of life our first thought would be a real starting point for reducing gun violence.

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State Flag of Michigan Redesign

State Flag of Michigan Redesign

Last month, Rick DeVos complained aloud via Twitter that the state flag of Michigan was “ugly” and “non-useful.” Well, sharing needlessly judgmental observations is what Twitter is for, so we likely would have all moved quickly on to the next snark if DeVos wasn’t (a) the founder of ArtPrize and (b) offering $500 to the best three redesigns. At the time I was going to do a cartoon with three of my own submissions. But as is often the case, a different idea came along and overtook it. I figured this one had missed its opportunity.

However… that absolutely gorgeous, thoroughly enjoyable Independence Day weekend messed me up. I found myself happy, refreshed, and generally pleased with life, which is like kryptonite for editorial cartooning. From the void of my contentment, the flag idea resurfaced. When I realized that the winners have not yet been announced, I thought it might still have a chance.

I didn’t want to do the three submissions thing, though — that definitely seemed past its freshness date. The strongest gag idea I had was the “what’s Latin for ‘crumbling infrastructure’?” bit. (The second best: “If you seek a perilous pothole, look around you.”) With the theme established, I was inclined to bring in our Governor Snyder and have an underling take a jab at him for his abysmal performance on infrastructure issues. A quick reflection on the money my family sinks into car repair every year because of said infrastructure issues, and I was no longer happy (and therefore ready to draw).

As for the current flag — yes, it is a design mess with its mishmash of odd choices and conflicting ideas, but it also has a unique beauty. I think that’s a pretty good description of Michigan.

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Fourth of July — Explained

Fourth of July — Explained

I was trying to work up some righteous indignation about Michigan’s fireworks laws and the decision in 2011 to allow in-state sales of the loud, semi-dangerous variety. Maybe it was being awoken at 1:00AM Tuesday by somebody’s sudden need to express their patriotism very close to my bedroom window. Maybe it’s the messes left in the park and cemetery next to my house by people who apparently don’t like to explode things on their own property. Maybe I’ve begun my official decent into grumpy old manhood. I dunno. It’s hard to tell — I’m still kinda sleep deprived.

Whatever the case, I couldn’t seem to sustain a good righteousness or indignation. Truth is, I’ve done my fair share of setting off “Chinese explosives of questionable legality.” Not recently, but certainly in younger days. (I bonded with my eventual brothers-in-law by repeatedly strapping a hapless plastic army soldier we called Fritz to bottle rockets.) And fireworks are only the surface of a very deep pile of stupid things I’ve done.

I think that’s the thought that stopped me: We live in a free country, but freedom doesn’t necessarily align with smart.

So I wish you all a happy and safe Independence Day! We are all free to decide our own level of stupid (but let’s try to keep it to a minimum).

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Thirsty for the Great Lakes

Thirsty for the Great Lakes

Remember the comedian Sam Kinison? It’s fine if you don’t. In fact, I would advise against YouTubing him. (And I disclaim all responsibility if you do.) But back in the 1980s he had a particularly edgy standup bit about world hunger and Western popular reaction to it (Feed the World, USA for Africa, etc.). As was his style, Kinison suckered you in with a low-key, seemingly reasoned assessment of the situation, then, BANG!, smacked you upside the head with a loud, audacious screaming rant. In this case, he went from sympathetically describing the plight of starving people suffering in deserts to highly suggesting they were stupid for not moving to where food can be grown: “WE HAVE DESERTS IN AMERICA, TOO, BUT WE DON’T LIVE IN THEM!!!”

This routine was one of the first things I ever heard described as “politically incorrect.” It most definitely was. But unlike some politicians who “tell it like it is” and “say things others are afraid to say,” Kinison was crossing lines for laughs, not votes. I think that’s an important distinction.

The bit is also funny because it’s wrong. Americans do in fact live in our deserts, and we’ve done nothing but accelerate that population over the past 30 years. Unlike poor countries, we have been able to beat nature with air conditioning and water pumping. Continuing to condition the air is not a big problem. But deserts are deserts by definition because of limited fresh water supplies. It’s no wonder that the parched southwest would cast its thirsty gaze toward our abundant Great Lakes.

I say too bad. We’ve already been kind enough to share our Vernors with the rest of the country. If they want water, they’re gonna have to move here.

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Compromise? Snydermise!

Compromise? Snydermise!

There is a scene in the movie Raising Arizona where a couple of delinquent brothers go to rob a bank. They feel pretty confident about their plan because they fancy themselves sophisticated criminals. As they bust in the front door of the dusty, country bank, one of the brothers shouts out, “All right, ya hayseeds, it’s a stick-up. Everybody freeze. Everybody down on the ground.”

There is a long awkward pause as the tellers and farmer clientele stare back at them. The criminals are flustered. Finally one of the farmers says, “Well, which is it, young feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? Mean to say, if’n I freeze, I can’t rightly drop. And if’n I drop, I’m a-gonna be in motion.”

The rest of the robbery does not go well.

This scene was the first thing to pop to mind when I heard that Governor Snyder had signed the House version of Detroit Public School legislation. Because, correct me if I’m wrong, but hadn’t he previously been telling us that his version with more money and charter oversight was the only effective solution for the DPS? And now he’s telling us the very different House plan is just fine? Well, which is it, young feller?

In the end I figured not enough people have seen (or nearly memorized, as I have) Raising Arizona, so I decided to go with the dictionary definition bit for this week’s cartoon. It’s much clearer what I’m calling the governor out on because he’s Snydermised before — the infamous Michigan Roads legislation being the last best example.

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Where Have You Gone, Gerald R Ford? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

Where Have You Gone, Gerald R Ford? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You.

People ask me all the time, “What are you?” This can be disconcerting. But what they mean is, “As an editorial cartoonist, are you Republican or Democrat? Conservative or Liberal? Socialist or Capitalist? Left Wing or Right Wing?” And so on. My standard reply is that I am not strictly defined by any of those things — I am, if anything, a Contrarian.

It’s basically a smart alecky way of saying that I don’t believe in “sides.” I think it is a mistake for editorial cartoonists to declare any sort of allegiance. I reserve the right to make fun of politicians and parties without restriction. It’s only a matter of time until a person or group of people on any of these so-called sides do something stupid, and I want to keep my options open.

But if I were forced to choose (given an ultimatum between, say, me picking or having to listen to cable TV pundits pick one for me), I would go with “Ford Republican.” Even though I was too young to have voted for Gerald Ford, I very much admire him as a politician, statesman, husband, and person. Ford has always struck me as the ideal for what you would want in a representative and a colleague. You can debate his effectiveness as president, but unlike many who have run for the office since, he was not driven by ideology — he was driven by good citizenship.

This past week the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids was reopened after major renovations. I have been to the museum dozens of times — in 1986 I quite literally bumped into President Ford (the secret service were not amused). I’m looking forward to seeing the changes. (Admittedly, I am pro-museum. Is that a side?)

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Local and State Control Hats

Local and State Control Hats

When my son was three years-old, he had an astonishingly straightforward way of expressing himself. If he was busy doing something and we told him it was time to do something else (go to bed, get in the car, take a bath, whatever), he would just look at us, incredulous, and say, “But I want to do what I want to do.” Sometimes he would repeat it. Slowly. Because we didn’t seem to understand the perfect logic, as if to say: “How are you people not getting this? Are you that dense?!”

While we certainly can’t expect such honesty and directness from Lansing politicians, it would be refreshing for a change, wouldn’t it? Just tell us what you are angling for. Don’t try to make your intentions sound legitimate by putting on a hat. (Because when it becomes convenient for you, you’re gonna switch hats.) If you straight up believe in something, don’t dodge — just say it.

The state senate recently passed a bill that would prevent local communities from banning plastic shopping bags. It was a curious bit of proactivity because no Michigan community currently has a ban. It was even more curious that the primary Republican-sponsored argument was the virtue of uniform statewide control (and the largely Democratic argument advocating for local control).

But maybe it’s better this way. It might be pretty unsettling if legislators did actually give us the unvarnished truth: “I want to pass this legislation because a lobbyist will give me a truckload of money if I do. A. Truck. Load. Of. Money. How are you people not getting this? Are you that dense?!”

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Auchtoon! on MichiganRadio.org

For the next two months my cartoons and commentary will be posted on MichiganRadio.org every Friday at 9:00AM EST. It’s a whole new venue for editorial cartoons, and I’m really excited at the possibilities. I could use your help to make it a success. Please visit and share and do that social networking thing. You can send heaps of praise directly to the editor at vduffy@umich.edu. I deeply appreciate it!

Now, many of you may be thinking: Cartoons on the, um, radio? Well, as they say in badly written action movies, “It’s just crazy enough to work!”

Actually it does make sense if you consider who is doing the best journalism work these days: Michigan Radio has done a fantastic job not only in filling the journalism void left by the decline of Michigan’s major newspapers, but also in creating and growing new ways to be a go-to media resource, which includes their website. I have noted this trend for some time, and I definitely would like to be a part of it.

Direct link to the first one: http://michiganradio.org/post/auchters-art-tough-be-michigander

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Tough to Be a Michigander These Days

Tough to Be a Michigander These Days

How much do I like beer? Well, I can tell you this: My wife and I recently traded a large and well-maintained trampoline for a single 12 ounce bottle of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Those who know me would likely say that was out of character. (Not the trading things for alcohol — that actually is in my wheelhouse.) No, I’m talking about the deep appreciation for something like Founders KBS — a high-end, critically praised consumable. I’m really more of a eat-because-I’m-hungry, water-from-the-faucet, breakfast-cereal-for-dinner kind of guy.

But something has happened to me with beer. I’ve become discriminating, an aficionado (a snob). Living in Michigan, it’s hard not to be. There is just so much good stuff around. West Michigan in particular. When I moved here it was Bland Rapids. Now it’s Beer City USA. Founders Brewing alone now takes up a whole city block! It’s really quite amazing.

The subtext here is that things aren’t so bad. Don’t despair, even though it seems to be the popular thing to do. Despair can lead to questionable decision-making (like, say, making a Benito Mussolini impersonator the Republican candidate for president).

If we can go from the blah mediocrity of Goebels and Black Label and (dare I say it) Strohs to the paradise of choices we produce today, there is hope. We can do extraordinary and successful things here in Michigan. And if we can get our roads, schools, and infrastructure on the path to real recovery, we will have plenty of fantastic options to toast our success.

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