Michigan’s Governor A Fierce Big 3 Advocate

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has become an impassioned -- and occasionally sharp-tongued -- advocate for the ailing U.S. auto industry.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Gov. Jennifer Granholm has differed in the past with U.S. automakers, squabbling with the United Auto Workers union over party politics and wishing out loud that Michigan's fortunes weren't so tied to the ailing industry.

But when detractors in recent weeks portrayed the Detroit Three as manufacturing dinosaurs that didn't deserve bridge loans to avoid bankruptcy, Granholm became an impassioned -- and occasionally sharp-tongued -- advocate for the industry.

"It has been extremely frustrating, and I have probably used some words I should not be using," she said last week.

The two-term Democratic governor has been a frequent guest on national talk shows and news programs, taking on the naysayers. She has rallied governors worried about losing major Detroit Three factories and suppliers, plotted Capitol Hill strategy with congressional members from Michigan and other states, and sent letters to President George W. Bush.

"The auto industry is seeking only a fraction of what was given to the ... financial industry and it's a loan. And that loan is going to ensure that we have a manufacturing infrastructure and 3 million jobs are protected in this nation all across the country, not just in Wall Street but in small communities all over," Granholm said on PBS' "Nightly Business Report" earlier this month.

Some of her efforts are aimed at saving Michigan from even more economic pain. The state never recovered from the 2001 recession and has lost more than 150,000 automotive jobs during the past eight years, six of which she has been governor.

But the feisty and hard-charging governor, who ran a half-marathon in less than two hours this fall, also is easily angered by injustice, and she thinks the automakers and her state are being wrongly maligned.

The Senate's failure last week to pass a $14 billion bridge loan for General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC -- which could run out of money within weeks without assistance -- infuriated Granholm, who sits on President-elect Barack Obama's transition economic advisory board and has been mentioned as a possible Labor secretary nominee.

She accused Senate Republicans who refused to back the bridge loans of "protecting the foreign companies that are in their borders. They're not acting as Americans."

When former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said during an exchange Sunday with Granholm on NBC's "Meet the Press" that U.S. automakers had a cost disadvantage compared with foreign automakers, an impassioned Granholm skewered his comments as inaccurate and pointed a finger at him as she argued over legacy costs.

During an appearance last month on CNN, she accused Romney of "breathtaking hypocrisy" for saying in January during his presidential campaign that he'd be a partner to the automakers and fight for jobs, then arguing in November against giving them the loans.

More than a few television anchors have felt the governor's polite but pointed displeasure. When CNN's Kyra Phillips asked why auto companies deserved the bridge loans, Granholm took aim at the financial sector meltdown and shot back that "it's really important to know that the auto industry didn't put us into this position."

She also hasn't pulled any punches in her news conferences.

"I really felt so deeply for these workers who have felt powerless to be able to change the minds of people in Congress who were spouting untruths about the industry," she said last week after watching the bridge loan plan fall apart.

"Those who caused this financial meltdown were allowed to walk away with $700 billion, with no oversight, many of them ultra-rich hedge fund players. Those who were the victims of their greed -- people who work on the factory line -- were blamed and were asked to pay the price," she added. "I ... felt incredible anger at the hypocrisy."

Granholm usually is relatively cool in public. The former assistant federal prosecutor and state attorney general often draws on her legal training to phrase her comments carefully, but she can be a fiery speaker.

Don't tell her automakers aren't trying to lower costs to match their foreign competitors, or that they haven't improved quality or taken steps to move more fuel-efficient cars and hybrids.

"The bottom line is, the industry has recognized that it must change, and that it must step on the gas, so to speak, to make those changes happen," the governor recently told reporters. "They're in the middle of these restructuring plans and they want to lead us to this new energy future. Let's give them the money to bridge to that future."

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