(Editor's note: The following commentary is adapted from a letter Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman is sending to Center supporters.)
Today is Michigan's primary election, so we won't know who will win the partisan gubernatorial nominations for governor until tonight at the earliest. But we do know that at least one candidate embracing Mackinac Center ideas will make the November ballot.
All four of the likely Republican winners and one of the Democrats have endorsed at least one big idea the Mackinac Center either put on the map or greatly contributed to placing there. Mike Bouchard made a right-to-work law — where no one can be fired for refusing to join a union — a campaign centerpiece. Pete Hoekstra distinguished himself in part by longstanding support for our education tax credit idea to get kids into safer and better K-12 schools.
Mike Cox pledged to increase government transparency by posting all state spending online, just as scores of Michigan school districts already do at our urging. Rick Snyder echoed our call to eliminate costly and unfair cash subsidies for moviemakers. On the Democrat side, Andy Dillon is looking for hundreds of millions of dollars in savings precisely where our analysts recommend — unionized public employee health benefits.
The candidate endorsements of right-to-work and education tax credits mark especially significant shifts in the range of acceptable campaign ideas. (We call that the Overton Window of Political Possibility.) Until now, no gubernatorial candidate with a good shot of winning the primary ever made those powerful ideas part of his or her campaign.
That they can do so now is because we blazed a trail, making the intellectual case for reform. This is what think tanks do. This is why our work is so important. Our ideas help create the climate in which the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable, to paraphrase Milton Friedman.
When gubernatorial candidates adopt Mackinac Center ideas, it doesn't mean we've won and it doesn't even guarantee they will follow through if elected. But it does suggest we are effectively making the case for needed reforms. And it does mean voters have a standard by which to hold candidates accountable, when elected.
No organization provides better accountability tools than we do. MichiganVotes.org, our comprehensive database of voting records and bill descriptions, sets the standard for legislative transparency. Michigan Capitol Confidential, our print and online news journal, highlights the most meaningful legislative votes alongside lawmakers' voting records and our expert analysis.
But I'm sad to say these tools accomplish little if citizens pay attention only in the weeks and months leading up to elections. The key to restoring limited, constitutional government is informed voting coupled with scrutiny and accountability after the election. That's why I wrote an essay about this year's elections titled "November Is Not a Finish Line, It's a Starting Line."
We're working all the time to make it easier for residents to learn the free-market perspective on dozens of policy issues. In our early days we relied very heavily on conventional news media to disseminate our message. Increasingly we are becoming the media through Michigan Capitol Confidential and our websites.
Some of our best news coverage doesn't show up in newspapers anyway. In recent months our work made headlines on the Drudge Report, Fox News (twice), Fox Business Channel (twice), Rush Limbaugh, and the Glenn Beck radio and television programs. The Drudge Report alone drew more than 250,000 unique visitors to our website. The Glenn Beck coverage resulted in more than 1,400 new requests to receive Mackinac Center research. Our analysts are frequent radio guests on WJR Detroit's Frank Beckmann Show.
I believe these months will prove to be a decisive moment in governance for America and Michigan. It's never been more important to have a strong, clear voice articulating the free-market ideals upon which our great nation was built.
Joseph G. Lehman is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.