Before the primary, The Detroit Free Press asked the gubernatorial candidates for their “new idea” (Does anyone running for governor have a new idea? We asked the candidates, July 6, 2018). With that election behind us, the people interested in leading our state should now bring us ideas that are bolder than creating a state-operated Internet service provider or appointing a school reading czar. We need ideas that are badass, not elementary such as leveraging videos in social studies classes to encourage students to pursue alternative careers. It’s time we ask the voters, what their new ideas are.
For example, given the recent failure of the Regional Transit Authority to approve a millage on this year’s ballot, and the Michigan Supreme Court determining whether we should be allowed to vote on a constitutional amendment that would change how legislative districts are drawn, we need to a create a process by which complex and politically-divisive disputes are resolved, so that we can move forward as a state and onto the next challenge.
We have all seen how public policy disputes have the potential of polarizing communities, with the effect of delaying important decisions on vital issues of public policy. This often results in diluted policies or no action at all. While conflict among lawmakers and regulators is inevitable, policymakers tend to avoid controversial issues or postpone crucial decisions hoping to avoid conflict. It is frustrating to sit on the sidelines and watch good ideas from Democrats and Republicans get bogged down with one’s personal agenda the political rhetoric of the day.
While policymakers and community leaders may agree on what the problem is, there is often uncertainty as to how to resolve it. Trained non-partisan facilitators, familiar with the people and politics of an issue can create the process to help resolve the toughest disputes and provide the forum by which to bring the stakeholders together.
While Governor Snyder may call for civility in public discourse, the next Governor and incoming legislature should create a collaborative that provides a system and process for problem solving, using collaborative governance as a method of public decision-making in which government leaders involve stakeholders, including community members, businesses, other government agencies and non-profit organizations in making decisions that affect how people are governed or how public resources are used. When difficult issues emerge, the state would engage the collaborative to mediate and resolve the conflict.
Oregon and Salt Lake City provide examples for what we can do here in Michigan. The Oregon Legislature continues to fund a program run through Portland State University that works to resolve difficult issues, while Salt Lake City created a city department to solve community problems by cultivating inclusive collaborations of public and private support. Giving politically charged issues to a neutral organization that can create the process to resolve them takes the burden off the elected officials to avoid politically charged issues.
We do not have a process by which to resolve these disputes. Our next governor should create a collaborative structure, by Executive Order, through legislative appropriations, support from foundations, or in partnership with statewide associations, to train people to resolve difficult disputes and create the process by which to resolve them.
The legislative agenda is full of issues that need to be resolved. From issues regarding the environment to infrastructure projects, pipelines in the Great Lakes to public access to beaches, the delivery of behavioral health services to the redrawing of legislative districts, the State of Michigan needs to create a process to resolve these issues and identify the people who can facilitate a resolution without concern for politics. No matter what your position is on the issues, we can all agree that Its’ time we find consensus through chaos.