Michigan Democrats are worried about their political future--and rightly so. In a state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, the political fallout from Michigan's economic woes seems imminent. Barred from seeking a third term, Governor Jennifer Granholm has left the Democratic field open for the 2010 gubernatorial race-and a bitter electorate in her wake. Granholm's own popularity has plummeted as the economy has faltered, and early polling shows the leading Democratic candidate, Lieutenant Governor John Cherry, losing to three Republican contenders.

Anxious about their 2010 prospects, the state's party leadership is now considering a leftward, populist turn to bring voters to the polls next year. According to the Detroit Free Press, state Democrats are considering adding a number of ballot initiatives in 2010 to demonstrate that their party is "on the side of the people." The ideas on the table include:

  • Increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour for all workers.
  • Imposing a blanket moratorium on home foreclosures for 12 months.
  • Cutting utility bills by 20 percent across the board.
  • Requiring all employers to providehealth care to employees and their dependents.
  • Increasing by $100 a week -- and extending for six months -- unemployment benefits, while expanding eligibility.

But would any of these measures really alleviate the impact of the recession without further dragging down the state's economy? Jacking up the minimum wage from the current level of $7.40 an hour could have an adverse impact on the handful of businesses in Michigan that actually are employing people, leading to further layoffs. (The $10 an hour rate would be the highest in the nation.) And while improving unemployment benefits could provide a much needed lift to individual families, Democrats need a clear way of explaining exactly how the state government would manage to support such measures in the midst of the state's "big, bold budget crisis." Given the precarious state of Michigan's economy, leaving any of these policy measures up to a popular, one-time vote seems like a particularly risky venture. If the state Democrats really want to make any of these changes, they should consider simply making them part of their campaign platform. Either way, they need to make sure the longer-term impacts of such proposals are as sound as their short-term political calculations.

--Suzy Khimm