"It looks like we have a good mandate to say it's time to reinvent Michigan," said Governor-elect Rick Snyder to his supporters at a gathering in downtown Detroit last night.
Other exuberant speeches were delivered by John Kasich in Ohio, Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin and may yet be given by Tom Emmer in Minnesota.
Rick Scott hung on in a close race in Florida, and will join Rick Perry in Texas as big-state governors with an opportunity - a rare, crucial opportunity - to show their fellow Americans how to govern.
Texas and Florida have been blessed with good government for a while now, and with abundant natural resources. As the new GOP majority in the House pushes through extensions of the Bush tax cuts and controls the federal deficit, an economic recovery will power those states forward.
But the states that have hemorrhaged jobs and opportunities over the past many years of misrule by Democratic governors and Democratic majorities have to take quick and decisive action on three fronts. The voters have delivered the legislative majorities these new governors need, and they should act especially in three areas.
First, they have to slash the business taxes that divert entrepreneurs towards Perry's Texas and Brewer's Arizona. Slash the corporate tax rates and throw incentives at new manufacturing plants. Declare large zones like the city of Detroit or Trumbull and Mahoning counties in Ohio to be tax free havens and point out the amazing infrastructure that is already in place. California and New York last night decided to try the European way, and their wealth will flee confiscatory taxation. The old industrial powerhouses can be very inviting, especially the northern coastal states. But it will take the same sort of drive that Mitch Daniels has put into reforming Indiana.
As taxes are being cut and spending to match, the new governors should demand of their legislatures two other bold departures: Education must be reformed and tort law completely reworked. I hope the producers of "Waiting for Superman" organize screenings for the new legislative majorities in the midwest so that the compelling case for charter schools and vouchers can be pressed in the winter and spring of 2011. Businesses and the families that power them will not migrate to a region where the public schools are failing and diseased. Give families what they want most from a government in a great community --safety and schools-- and they will flock to the state.
Similarly the opportunity for comprehensive reform of the liability laws of all of these states will be key to attracting new investment and manufacturing. I know from the travel schedules of my law partners where they want to defend baseless lawsuits against our manufacturing partners, and it isn't the states where Democratic legislatures have been funded by the trial bar. To attract and keep businesses, the laws must be reformed to end the litigation lottery that cripples manufacturing.
John Kasich, Scott Walker, Tom Corbett and Rick Snyder have been given an enormous opportunity to resurrect their states' economies, building on the enormous higher education infrastructure and genuinely wonderful quality of life these states offer. They have also been given the legislative majorities they need to act. Hope that they do, and in so doing, teach by example their government-employee dominated sister-states where the secular tithe of union dues taken from teachers and state workers is then sent to prop up the failing public sector. California and New York, and probably Illinois, are doomed to an unofficial bankruptcy and to brain drain as the flight of capital. The midwest has the chance to take in all of that talent and energy.
But they have to act. And quickly.