GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney came to Michigan the day after Valentine's Day, but he wasn't showing any love for the state's union members.
Romney received national headlines as he kicked off his Michigan campaign. The state, which will hold its primary Feb. 28, is a key link in the GOP election process.
Instead of laying out an optimistic plan for the nation's future, Romney is going negative, and unions and President Obama are his primary targets. "In the eighteen minutes he spoke to supporters here," said MIRS News Service, "Romney spent twelve on red meat rhetoric against Obama and organized labor. The other six were spent making local references to county fairs and pointing out people he went to high school with."
Romney came out swinging at unions and their "bosses," and doubled down on his theory that General Motors and Chrysler would have been better off guiding their financial futures through a managed bankruptcy, rather than with an infusion of government cash.
"There's something else that's been very frustrating," Romney told a rally. "I call it crony capitalism. And that's the path that [Obama] has taken. He's gotten hundreds of millions of dollars from labor bosses for his campaign.
"And so he's paying them back in every way he knows how. One way of course was giving General Motors and Chrysler to the [United Auto Workers]. I saw that [UAW President] Bob King said that I don't care about the auto industry. I'm sorry, Mr. King, I care very deeply about the auto industry. I want to make sure we have good jobs not just for a few weeks but for many, many years. I want Michigan to come back in a big way.
"I've taken on union bosses before and I'm happy to take them on again, because I happen to believe that you can protect the interests of the American taxpayers and protect a great industry like automobiles without having to give into the UAW, and I sure won't."
The impetus for King's remark that Romney doesn't care about the auto industry came in the form of an article written by the former Massachusetts governor. Just two weeks before Obama was elected president in 2008, an op-ed piece penned by Romney appeared in the New York Times under the headline, "Let Detroit go bankrupt."
Romney urged a managed bankruptcy for General Motors and Chrysler that would allow the financially moribund auto companies to restructure, but with the use of private equity dollars - not federal money.
There is wide agreement among economists that with the ongoing financial chaos at the time on Wall Street, Romney's plan to utilize private equity money to restructure the automakers was nearly impossible, because the investment cash was simply not available in 2008-2009.
Republican President George Bush and then President Obama took the course of government intervention, making $81 billion in federal loans available to GM and Chrysler. Many economists said if the two had been allowed to go bankrupt, Ford would likely have followed, and the vast domestic auto supplier network would likely have gone down with them, pushing the entire U.S. economy into a depression. All three domestic automakers enjoyed profitable years in 2011 - for GM, a record profit.
Romney, ignoring the saving of thousands of jobs made possible by the federal loans - as well as the saving of Michigan's economy for years to come - blasted what he called the "bailout" of the UAW, which along with other unions he said has supported Obama with big contributions. "It shouldn't come as a surprise that the president has received hundreds of millions from unions, and he's been doing their bidding ever since," Romney told 11 business owners before the Kentwood rally, according to politicswires.com. In Romney's other references to organized labor:
- Romney continued to express support for Right to Work legislation and cutting the corporate tax rate as part of his first initiatives if elected. "Unions ask for too much and you end up killing the company," Romney said.
- "I'll fight for right-to-work laws, and I'm going to make sure we don't force unions on people," he said in Michigan, according to the Miami Herald.
- "Between the rally speech and previous meeting with business owners, Romney touted his support of right-to-work legislation, opposition to union dues going to political activity and support for ending a practice of federal contract work going to union labor," The Detroit News reported.
- Responding to a South Carolina voter before that state's primary, which he lost to Newt Gingrich, Romney declared: "I think what you're seeing with the president is extra-constitutional action, where he is taking his friends and putting them in positions of power. I think perhaps the most egregious example of that is what has happened with the National Labor Relations Board. [Obama] is basically paying back organized union labor, by taking union stooges and putting them in the National Labor Relations Board so they will do his bidding and follow his policies."
Marty Mulcahy is editor of The Building Tradesman. Photo: AP Photo