Detroit Reverend: ‘Electing a Democrat Doesn’t Mean You Are Safe’
Clinton’s Transition Team includes former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, whose legacy includes austerity and the use of emergency managers, says Reverend David Alexander Bullock
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Despite all the media coverage of the unveiling of Hillary Clinton’s transition team last week, seemingly scant attention has been paid to the legacy of one of the team’s co-chairs’ use of unelected emergency managers to remove democratic governance. While current Michigan governor Rick Scott, a Republican, has faced much scrutiny for his use of emergency managers, they were also used by his predecessor, Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, who served as Michigan governor from 2003-2010. Granholm is now co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s transition team.
Well, now joining us to discuss this is Dr. Alexander Bullock. He’s a pastor of the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church, and also a founder and national spokesman for the Change Agent Consortium. Reverend Bullock, thanks so much for joining us.
REV. ALEXANDER BULLOCK: Thank you for having me. Good to be here.
NOOR: In her address to the Democratic National Convention, Jennifer Granholm took on Donald Trump for his rhetoric, for his saying that he’s got the answer to give, to bring back jobs to America. And she pointed to her tenure as Michigan governor as an example of how to deal with fiscal crisis. She did not discuss her use of emergency managers. Give us your response, and what you think her legacy has been in Michigan.
BULLOCK: Well, definitely I think Jennifer Granholm as governor of the state of Michigan had both some successes and some failures. When you talk about emergency management under Jennifer Granholm you have to talk about emergency management under Public Act 72, as opposed to emergency management under Public Act 436, or under Public Act 4, which is what it is under Rick Snyder.
So the Granholm administration’s emergency management public policy was a bit weaker. But at the same time, it was anti-democratic. And it also was an austerity measure. And so Robert Bobb was appointed as the emergency manager of Detroit Public schools. And let me say that that appointment did not stop the hemorrhaging of students, nor did it stop the hemorrhaging of cash flow with respect to the budget of the school district. We still are beset with the legacy of a state, namely the state of Michigan, running public education in Detroit and other distressed school districts around the state, and really failing children.
So I think the legacy of Jennifer Granholm is a legacy of a governor that had a great media personality, a great communication network, had a sense of being connected to the community while at the same time not solving the problems of unemployment, not solving the problems around education reform, and really starting, really being the originator, the one who began what now has evolved into the heinous, draconian public policy, anti-democratic public policy, of emergency management.
NOOR: And so we unfortunately are not being joined by Dora Taylor. She was another guest, but due to technical difficulties she can’t join us today. She’s a public education advocate from Seattle. She had a recent piece in the Progressive, in which she wrote: The most egregious example of a politician’s undemocratic control of public schools can be seen in the state of Michigan with the decision by former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm to hire emergency financial managers.
So she’s sort of painting this in a starker picture than you did, although you did sort of–you have criticized emergency managers under public education under Granholm. But talk more about why–why this was so bad, because when proponents of emergency managers put in this legislation, they said that the state had to step in because the local community wasn’t doing an adequate job, the finances were out of control. You know, they were doing this for the sake of the children, for the sake of the community.
BULLOCK: Well, let me say that a lot of times the reasons given for promoting and implementing an austerity measure are not the real reasons. I mean, the financial problems of the Detroit Public Schools is partly due to hemorrhaging students to other school districts, hemorrhaging students to charter schools, charter schools and the proliferation [thereof], supported by the state of Michigan. But also the financial problems can be traced back to pension liabilities.
So it’s really not a question of the mismanagement of the school system by the school board. In fact, the state of Michigan has been running the Detroit public school system since 1998-1999. and so if anybody was not managing the system correctly it was the state of Michigan.
Now, the emergency manager that Granholm appointed, Robert Bobb, came in and actually wanted to not only take over the finances, but wanted to run the academics as well, which caused a firestorm of controversy and a great disruption in the education of the children. I think if there’s any real problem with what Jennifer Granholm did–there are actually two problems. One, she opened the door for emergency management as we have experienced it under Governor Rick Snyder. Two, emergency management was not thought through, what its implications were, and whether or not it would be successful.
And so I think Governor Granholm’s appointment to the transition team really could signal for the rest of the nation that austerity measures may become the playbook for the nation. What happens if austerity measures become the way that the Clinton White House, the Hillary Clinton White House, deals with cash-strapped school districts and financially distressed cities? If that happens, I believe that’s a mistake. I believe that these austerity measures don’t work. I believe they don’t get to the root of the problem. And really they favor a pro-corporate agenda as opposed to a robust democratic and grassroots, boots on the ground, economic equity on the ground agenda. And so we need to definitely keep our eye on what the public policy agenda’s going to be, potentially, for a Hillary Clinton White House.
NOOR: Right. Because, you know, as co-chair of her transition team we can only assume that Granholm is going to have significant–have a presence. Have an influence over how, if Hillary Clinton is elected president, how she puts together her team and the kind of policies she puts in place.
On the Real News we always like to talk about solutions and alternatives. Talk about some of the things the people of Detroit, the people of Michigan, are demanding as an alternative, and how they’ve taken matters into their own hand, as well.
BULLOCK: Well, definitely we want the school district to be run by the school board, and we want the school board to be democratically elected. And we have been fighting for that for years, and we’ve been moving in that direction. We want the eradication, the destruction, the depression of emergency management. It does not work. Financially distressed cities and school districts are not being saved by austerity measures. We want measures that actually deal with the root of the problem.
A number of these problems go back to long-term structural debt. Pension obligations. And so until state government, until the federal government begins to deal with the long-term structural debt that is actually causing cities and school districts to be financially distressed, and also dealing with changes in the funding model–in the case of cities, the erosion of the property tax base, and in the case of school districts the per-pupil funding many times is funding that does not just fund what happens in the classroom, but it funds pension and health obligations. And so as the health and pension obligations go up, the school districts become financially distressed.
These are issues that need to be addressed by the federal government, by state and local government. And I think what Governor Granholm’s appointment to the transition team potentially should signal to folks is this is a governor that, yes, appointed an emergency manager to Detroit public schools who was a Democrat. A lot of times we associate emergency management with the Republican Party, with Governor Rick Snyder, but let’s remember that in Michigan emergency management actually began with a Democrat.
So we are not safe if a Democrat gets elected, because Democrats also tend to lead toward austerity measures as the answer, and they’re not. So we need to be vigilant, we need to keep watch, and we need to continue to shape the conversation so that people move away from austerity to prosperity.
NOOR: Reverend Bullock, it’s a pleasure, as always. Thanks so much for joining us.
BULLOCK: Thank you.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
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