Commentary: The two Romneys are a study in contrasts

MEA submitted the following opinion piece to the Detroit News for President Cook’s monthly column.  The News, without MEA’s permission, edited out the paragraphs in bold.  MEA believes it is in the public interest to present the full, unedited piece. 

With the upcoming primary on Tuesday, Michigan has become the focus of Republican presidential politics – especially for Gov. Mitt Romney, for whom a win in his home state is at stake.

For those of us who know our Michigan history, it’s interesting to view this campaign through the lens of another Gov. Romney: Mitt’s father, George. 

In 1965, Michigan Gov. George Romney signed into law the Public Employee Relations Act.  This legislation gave public sector employees (teachers, school support staff, police officers, firefighters and other public workers) the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. 

In 1967, Gov. Romney signed the Michigan Income Tax Act, creating a flat rate income tax that helped drive greater investment in our state and its infrastructure.

Prior to becoming governor, George Romney was the CEO of American Motors, helping to build Michigan’s modern auto industry.  He was also a prominent advocate for investing in and improving public schools in our state – so much so that the Michigan Education Association awarded Romney our “Distinguished Service Award” in 1960 for contributions to the cause of public education.

Contrast George Romney’s history with that of his son, Mitt, and it begs one question – what does Mitt think about his father’s legacy?

Apparently not much, based on his positions throughout this presidential campaign. 

Mitt Romney has expressed disdain for unions and collective bargaining.  And he believes that wealthy Americans – like himself – need lower tax rates. 

Prior to the Florida primary, we learned that Romney paid approximately 14 percent in taxes on the $21 million he made last year in interest, dividends and capital gains on his investments.  During the campaign, he has proposed eliminating those taxes altogether.

At the same time, he opposed the extension of the middle class tax cut – a position he’s flipped on since Congress and President Obama agreed to that extension. 

And then there is the auto industry Mitt’s father helped build – the same auto industry that Mitt Romney said should have been allowed to go bankrupt.  He has been unswerving in opposition to President Obama’s efforts to help the Big Three return to financial stability and save hundreds of thousands of great American jobs.

Michigan should be thankful that Mitt Romney was not President when the auto industry faced collapse, since he’s said on many occasions that he would have let the industry fail.  Those whose jobs were saved – and the thousands more who are now being hired – are certainly better off. 

While Romney “the younger” likes to call the auto bailout “Obama socialism,” I believe our elder Romney would have applauded this government intervention – as well as the dedication both the Big Three and unions have shown to the collective bargaining process that helped the industry get back on its feet.

It is no wonder Mitt Romney is in danger of losing his “home” state.  His anti-union beliefs, his support for tax cuts for the wealthy, and his opposition to saving the auto industry make winning Michigan a tough task. 

In the end, it’s clear that Mitt Romney is a far cry from his father when it comes to being a moderate Republican capable of appealing to a variety of voters.  As Tuesday’s primary approaches, Michigan voters are quickly realizing that Mitt isn’t their fathers’ Romney.