Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has dealt this year with a short-lived government shutdown, the bankruptcy of two of the state's iconic businesses and a recall attempt.
As jobs and revenue have disappeared, the Democrat has focused on moving Michigan toward a future where workers are building electric car batteries, wind turbines and solar panels along with the cars and trucks that defined the state's past.
"The lesson of this year has been so stark ... diversify or die," Granholm told reporters Tuesday during her annual year-end interview. "We are building a new Michigan."
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With just one year left to build her own legacy before her second term in office expires, it's unclear if Granholm will be remembered for her efforts to transform Michigan's economy or for being unable to keep the state's investments in education, public safety and the arts from nose-diving.
Granholm lost battles and political points this year when she was unable to get the Republican-led Senate — or even the Democratic-controlled House — to heed her ideas for raising more revenue and alleviating cuts to local governments and education.
The Legislature's inability to find common ground led to the second government shutdown in the past three budget years, and pushed Granholm into a series of visits around the state this fall exhorting local officials, parents and college students to tell lawmakers to restore money for K-12 schools, Promise Grant college scholarships and revenue-sharing payments for police and fire services.
Those pleas weren't successful.
"I still haven't figured out the formula for how to make people vote the way they don't want to vote," Granholm said Tuesday.
She benefited from having a Democrat in the White House for the first time during her governorship. Her name was floated briefly as a possible U.S. Supreme Court justice, and she has been a regular guest on national talk shows, promoting and defending the president's actions, especially the financial support General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC got until they could emerge from bankruptcy.
Granholm and her husband, Dan Mulhern, recently received coveted invitations to President Barack Obama's first state dinner. And Vice President Joe Biden has made repeated trips to Michigan, increasing the state's visibility.
But Granholm's higher national profile hasn't mollified state voters.
A Dec. 6-9 statewide poll conducted by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA showed only 29 percent of 600 likely voters approved of the way she was handling her job, while 70 percent disapproved. Just 41 percent had a favorable opinion of the governor, while 55 percent had an unfavorable opinion. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Some voters unhappy with her performance tried to recall Granholm. Paul Piche of Omer started a recall petition drive in September, angered by Granholm's push to release more inmates eligible for parole. But the recall campaign hasn't collected the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to get on the ballot, and Granholm's job looks secure for the next year.
It won't be an easy glide to the end of an eight-year gubernatorial career, however. The state heads into 2010 facing cuts that could erase 20 percent or more from state services, after average cuts of 10 percent this year.
Granholm said she doesn't want the state's investment in education to drop further, arguing education is the only way to improve the economy of Michigan and its highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate, now at 14.7 percent.
"I would like to see us put our education funding on a more stable basis" before leaving office at the end of 2010, she said.
That could involve dropping the state's 6 percent sales tax rate while extending it to services, or possibly letting voters decide if they support a switch to a graduated income tax rather than the flat rate Michigan now has. Any deal would have to include a cut in business taxes, and possibly other changes, to ensure it gets enough legislative votes.
The governor said she would support a "grand bargain" to revamp Michigan's tax structure, but that more needs to be done to get Republicans, Democrats and other groups on board before she's willing to offer any specific proposals.
Even with the challenges, Granholm said she's "hopeful about 2010," in part because she sees the state economy growing in new areas.
"I believe that we are going to see better times ahead," she said.
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