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Lessons Learned

Page 66

By Will Butler

Harold Ford Jr. evaluates the upcoming election and the nation’s progress moving forward.

MSNBC and CNBC analyst and former Congressman Harold Ford Jr. will return to the Mackinac Policy Conference for the third time in five years bringing his knowledge of national politics to Michigan’s Center Stage. The Detroiter caught up with Ford for a quick discussion on the political landscape.

You once referred to the Conference as “Detroit’s Davos.” What makes this Conference unique and impactful?

First, whenever you’re able to convene a group of business and political leaders to try to not only talk about current challenges, but to think about the future and try to develop a blueprint vision for economic growth and opportunity, it’s a positive thing.

…Two, there seems to be a dearth, if not a complete absence, of real honest constructive dialogue and conversation happening with stakeholders across the private, non-profit, and political communities, which the [Mackinac Policy Conference] allows.

Third, you remove them from their comfort zones and you put them in one of the prettiest, most impressive venues in the country, Mackinac Island.

Finally, you walk out with enhanced relationships. So that’s why I equate it to a Davos, Milken or one of the big Conferences that in a lot of ways mimics and imitates what you guys do with your Conference at Mackinac.

What are the lessons Washington can glean from the leadership shown in Michigan during Detroit’s bankruptcy?

The fact that the city is experiencing a turnaround is something that Washington can look to as it thinks about other big cities that have proud industrial job histories … I view Detroit as the most important economic blueprint for the country … because so much of what was great and strong and mighty about America manifested itself in Detroit.

…Where the city is now and where the region is now is a real positive … So, I’m hopeful that not only does Washington draw lessons from Detroit, but that other cities and other state capitals draw lessons as well.

Given the recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore, what’s your take on race relations in America? What do we need from our elected officials to address race in 2015?

I think we are always evolving and getting better as a nation as it relates to social issues, and race is one of the most dominant … But, one thing that continues to bedevil us is this economic divide … Ferguson and Baltimore are, I think, symptoms of that … We ask police officers and law enforcement across the country to inadvertently confront all of the blowback that comes with having a lack of opportunity.

So I think a big conversation has to take place in the country around what we expect of police officers and the kind of training that can be provided to them that can help them do their jobs better.

The 2016 Presidential election is quickly gearing up. Any bold predictions?

No [laughs]. It is very, very early. I am for Hillary Clinton. I am a supporter of hers and believe that she will be the Democratic nominee and will win. … I hope we can have a real conversation about the future of education, the future of spending in this country, what our tax system is going to look like and, perhaps most important, how we create meaningful growth opportunities for every American regardless of where they live.

Is there anyone that can challenge Hillary Clinton?

I think Jeb Bush is an attractive candidate. As a Democrat and someone who supports Mrs. Clinton, he probably concerns me the most. But I’m confident in her. She will have a message that will resonate across the country, and by that, I mean a message that will appeal to voters wanting to know how the country can grow, how we can grow wages and how we can improve opportunities in communities that have been left behind.

Do voters have Bush and Clinton fatigue? How much will that effect their respective campaigns?

I think the press is fascinated with that. I come from a family that was engaged in politics. I was elected to Congress, my father was my predecessor. Obviously, there’s nothing on the scale of the Bushes and the Clintons. But I think the country is mature enough to know that we are at a time in which we need experienced, visionary, calm, and mature leadership. I think Mrs. Clinton is clearly able to check the box in all of those categories and if she’s able to lay out for the country a convincing vision, she’ll win, regardless of the talk around whether her husband has been in office.

I actually think all of that is an asset. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with electing people who enjoy the political space, who have been involved in it….You don’t not buy [a product] from a company that’s been in business a long time. That generally gives you comfort that these people know what they’re doing. So, no, I don’t think the country will be afraid of that at all.

What legacy does President Obama leave for the Democratic Party? For the nation?

I think if it were to stop today, I think the health care plan would be widely remembered. It has been criticized and assaulted by many of my Republican friends, but I think the real legacy of his health care bill will be that we would have had a paradigm shift in how we provide health care to working people in our country…The fact that the President’s health care plan creates a marketplace for exchanges to operate, I think will help lower cost, it will actually help improve technology, and ultimately improve health care outcomes while slowing the growth of health care prices. So, I think that will be one of his big, big legacies if not the most towering.

I think if the President will get a deal with the Iranians around reducing, if not all together eliminating, their chances of developing a nuclear weapon, I think that would be remembered in a powerful and compelling way. But again, he still has a year and half and I think a lot can happen. I think the President said it well when he said he still has the fourth quarter left and as a sports fan the outcomes are always decided in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter.

Perfect segue. As a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, is it safe to assume you’re excited about Jim Harbaugh? Predictions for the upcoming football season?

I’ve never met Coach Harbaugh. I’m looking forward to meeting him….We’ve gone through a few down years, but the fan base remains excited and there has been nothing lost in terms of the great tradition of our school and football team. So, I’m excited. If he can get us to a bowl game, which I know is his objective, I would say that everybody at Ohio State and Michigan State better watch out because we’re back.

Go Blue!