The first name mentioned in the State of the State speech last night was Lt. Gov. John Cherry.
Sure, Gov. Jennifer Granholm mentioned a few other muckety-mucks and the obligatory fellow citizens and family before her nearly hour-long speech.
But by starting with her lieutenant, we wonder if she was saying, "Hey voters. Here's John Cherry. Let me get his 2010 gubernatorial campaign started for him."
Cherry, a former state legislator, Michigan Senate staffer and union administrator, is — so far, anyway — the Democrat closest to officially declaring his candidacy. He's got an official exploratory committee. He's lost 60 pounds. He quit smoking. But as his spokesman, Ben Kohrman, points out, those are good ideas even if you're not going to run for governor.
With Granholm term-limited, he's the heir apparent.
As such, he's got his work cut out for him. He won't have the luxury of coasting into office on the coattails of a popular Democratic presidential candidacy as many did last November. Barring some miracle, Michigan's economy won't turn around in the next 19 months, so he'll have that baggage. He's part of the Granholm Administration, tainted — deservingly or not — by her record.
And he's not exactly a household name.
But Granholm gave him a bit of her stage last night. She announced that she's "asked Lt. Gov. Cherry to lead a comprehensive effort to dramatically change the shape and size of state government — reducing the number of our departments from 18 to eight, reforming our civil service system, creating public-private partnership and infusing technology everywhere — because we won't settle for 9 to 5 government in a 24/7 world."
Hmm. Reducing government? Using the private sector? How Republican-sounding and how appealing to Michigan voters who might lean Republican for the party's sensible "efficiency in government" platform but not buy into its overbearing conservative social agenda.
How state government will go from 18 departments to eight remains to be seen. And if we really look at Granholm's language, Cherry might be in trouble. She didn't say he'd "study" it, or "make recommendations" or "determine the feasibility." He will lead the effort.
Well, that's set him up for something. We'll see what.
Granholm also mentioned that she and the lieutenant governor had "directed the State Officers Compensation Commission to reduce the salaries of all state elected officials in Michigan by 10 percent." —
It may be a drop in the Great Lakes of the state's budget woes, but it is an effort that will sound good from Cherry on the campaign trail.