Michigan Leaders Face the “Seventh Generation” Test of Governing

The dedication of what is currently the world’s third-longest suspension bridge was held in June of 1958, with Governor G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams attending. Measuring five miles long, the bridge stands as a marvel and has served for more than 50 years as a vital social and economic link between Michigan’s peninsulas. 

As we wrap up this week in the shadow of the mighty Mackinac Bridge, one of Governor Rick Snyder’s key agenda items remaining for 2012 is sure to garner discussion: the proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) connecting Detroit and Windsor.

The “Seventh Generation” ethos, which originated with the Great Law of the Iroquois, holds leaders to make decisions in the present that would benefit their children several generations into the future. In determining the fate of the NITC, Michigan officials face such a decision.

In the film Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” Reg, a disaffected citizen of Roman occupied Judea, asks, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” After receiving a litany of positive items in response, he asks, “Alright, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”  

Civilized governments throughout history have invested in infrastructure. The Romans built the first aqueduct in 312 B.C., according to the Roman architect Vitruvius in the seminal work “de Architectura.” But when it comes to authorizing public infrastructure such as the NITC in A.D. 2012, progress has stalled. 

When did infrastructure become controversial? 

Roads. Bridges. Fresh water supply. These provide our most basic societal and economic structure. That the Ambassador Bridge stands as the busiest international border crossing in terms of trade volume – accounting for a quarter of U.S. trade with Canada – demonstrates that investments in transportation infrastructure facilitate our system of commerce. 

Legitimate debate remains about the legal and financial framework for a project to be funded by two countries, one state and one province. Whether or not a government has the authority to build a road or bridge is hardly an ideological issue pitting business versus government.  

Most of us arrived in Mackinaw City via the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (I-75), and business organizations such as Automation Alley, the Detroit Regional Chamber and the vast majority of Southeast Michigan’s business community are in favor of the NITC project. Further, the Mackinac Bridge Authority’s mission statement is, “… to preserve and maintain the State of Michigan’s single largest asset and one of the world’s leading suspension bridges to provide safe, pleasurable and expedient passage over the Straits of Mackinac for economic benefit and improved quality of life.” 

The NITC would likewise strengthen the link between Michigan and Canada, our largest trading partner. 

It would stand as a symbol of progress towards a bright future for Michigan’s generations yet to come. 

It was sound public policy for the Michigan Legislature to approve the building of a state-owned bridge in 1954, and it remains so today. Governor Williams and his fellow Michiganders were ambitious yet entirely practical. 

Let’s emulate them.