: Kerry no friend of car industry, state -- and his record shows it

01-23-04, 09:33 AM
Friday, January 23, 2004

Kerry no friend of car industry, state -- and his record shows it

By Daniel Howes / The Detroit News

Four months ago, the Democratic Party’s newest front-runner — Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry — swooped into Michigan to persuade folks that his record of sticking it to the auto industry and old-line manufacturers doesn’t signal the president he would be.


Michigan is a state where, as Gov. Jennifer Granholm never tires of saying, the auto industry is king and manufacturing still matters. She should remember that as pressure increases on her to throw her support and enviable approval ratings behind Kerry in time for Michigan’s Feb. 7 caucus.

If she does — before Kerry emerges as the nominee to challenge President Bush — she would be sacrificing her credibility as Michigan’s governor for political expedience. She’d be backing the guy her husband, Daniel Mulhern, supports while dissing the United Auto Workers, the Teamsters and the auto industry.

Kerry is no friend of what makes Michigan tick. Look at his record, which can’t be erased by all the pleading, parsing and cajoling going on now that he’s got a second wind going into the New Hampshire primary.

In 2002, Kerry co-sponsored legislation to raise federal fuel economy standards for trucks and SUVs to 36 miles-per-gallon by 2015, up from 20.7 mpg today. He proposed $1 billion in annual subsidies to help the auto industry “retool” their plants for more fuel-efficient vehicles, as if plants (not engineering) build greener cars.

He also says he wants a “Hydrogen Institute” to develop a “road map” to put 100,000 hydrogen-powered cars on American roads by 2010. And, in perhaps his only sensible proposal, he says he wants to offer tax breaks of $2,000 or more to people who buy gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.

“The threats that America faces today don’t just come from gun barrels, they come from oil barrels — and we need to disarm that danger,” Kerry said last summer when he introduced his plan to ensure greater energy independence for the United States.

There are real-world business and employment implications to such policy recommendations. But Kerry doesn’t seem to understand that too well, coming as he does from a state that doesn’t build cars and has crushed much of its manufacturing base with high costs and punitive regulations.

Is it any wonder the UAW isn’t throwing its weight behind Kerry? Or that Teamsters leaders, stung by the defeat of their guy, Rep. Dick Gephardt, in Iowa, are taking a wait-and-see approach?

It shouldn’t be. For all the hostility America’s leading industrial unions feel toward Bush Administration policies, there’s ample evidence that almost all the Democrats seeking the White House aren’t particularly sympathetic to the auto industry, its products and employees.

None of those vying for the Democratic nomination — not Kerry, not Gephardt, not Howard Dean, not John Edwards — even bothered to show up at the Detroit auto show. They probably couldn’t risk being seen near — gasp! — an SUV.

Now, you could chalk up their absence to the fact that the UAW, underwhelmed by the choices, hasn’t endorsed anyone. Or it could signal that today’s Democrats and those who advise them figure two of the nation’s pre-eminent industrial unions are becoming politically irrelevant.

Maybe. But they’re still the backbone of the U.S. economy.

Daniel Howes’ column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at (313) 222-2106 or dchowes@detnews.com. (dchowes@detnews.com.)