In spite of late night jokes, Detroit isn’t the worst city in Michigan. That title most likely belong to Benton Harbor. Detroit at least has the advantages of world class museums (such as the DIA), a university (Wayne State), professional sports franchises (hockey, baseball, football and basketball), a symphony orchestra, theatres (the Fisher, Masonic Hall) and other things any self respecting big city should have. Detroit even has a number of good city owned golf courses (including a couple of Donald Ross designs).
About those golf courses, though. Now Benton Harbor has one, too.
The New York Times has an article on the development of a Jack Nicklaus designed course that winds its way across former industrial and superfund sites, by a river, through woods and—controversially—across Lake Michigan Dunes. Its backers say the course will attract high end hotels, homes and shopping, sparking development in the depressed area.
It’s already attracting attention: it’ll be the site of the 2012 Senior PGA Championship. But I’m skeptical about the rest.
Benton Harbor also is a prime example of the recent rollback of democracy in Michigan. The city had an “emergency financial manager” imposed upon it, who essentially fired the elected officials and now runs the town by fiat—and with absolutely no accountability to the voters.
Benton Harbor has since become an unlikely cause for Rachel Maddow, who has railed repeatedly against the state’s seizure of the town — “Ground Zero for American politics,” as she calls it. The Rev. Jesse Jackson has taken up the cause, too, comparing Benton Harbor to Selma, circa 1965, because of the disenfranchisement of its largely black electorate. Stephen Colbert, for his part, offered a mock tribute to Harris: “I say good for him, because the people of Benton Harbor brought this on themselves. . . . Benton Harbor’s elected officials are incompetent, therefore, by electing them, the voters are incompetent. So they should lose their democracy.”
As a lifelong conservative, I’m profoundly disturbed by the trend here in Michigan. True conservatives always have opposed the centralization of power, and criticized technocrats who think they know better than the people what’s good for them. Rush Limbaugh rails daily against just that. And yet, here in Michigan, so-called “Republican Conservatives” are consolidating power in Lansing and elevating appointed technocrats over the heads of the people. Apparently, centralization and technocracy are okay when Republicans are in charge. Because, you know, Michigan’s Republicans actually ARE smarter than everyone else.
I’ll say this one last thing and let it sink in: I believe that it is no coincidence that the only cities under emergency financial managers have majority minority populations: Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac, Ecorse, with Detroit in the near future. I do not believe the Republicans will ever take local control from a majority white district.
I’ll get off my soapbox now.