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Hills: Michigan GOP needs real policies, not reactions | Opinion

For the first time in 40 years, Democrats control all the levers of power in Lansing.

The Democratic agenda will be on full display when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State in the Capitol chambers on Jan. 25.

Typically, a 5- or 10-minute Republican response follows, aired on public broadcasting. It is, to put it charitably, worthless. In fact, if the designated speaker delivered the response completely nude, no one would know. Why? Because nobody watches and nobody cares. The state GOP should scrap it entirely.

Instead, Republicans should hold their own separate, freestanding event on a completely different date. The party should invite all its elected officials and their spouses, and use the occasion to outline a positive, problem-solving Republican plan for Michigan. And it should start with a pro-growth agenda.

Michigan is losing people. More worrisome, Michigan is graying. Our outstanding colleges and universities, such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State, are turning out job-ready graduates. Unfortunately, Michigan's best and brightest are too often leaving the state and taking their taxpayer-funded education to big cities across America. 

Michigan has to develop a strategy to increase jobs and keep young people here in our state.

In addition, Michigan is having trouble holding on to its legacy industries. A number of new plants for the Big Three are now being built out of state, with all the jobs that go with them. This trend has to be reversed.

But the Republican agenda must be about more than just economics. Michigan has to be a leader in education. Our state leaders need to construct a three-way partnership with teachers and parents. A solid foundation in reading is the key to success in life, and that is where reform should start.

Moreover, even though there are very few Republicans from Detroit, it is critical that Republicans advance an urban agenda. The reason is simple: Detroit is the prism through which everyone outside our state views Michigan. Generating more jobs and attaining better education outcomes in our urban areas is not only morally right, but will yield long-term dividends for our state.

Republicans in the state have a long history of championing the environment. In 1998, Gov. John Engler and Sen. Spencer Abraham led the fight for the Clean Michigan Initiative, an environmental bond measure that passed with 63% of the vote. What if the GOP pushed for a new statewide bond issue in 2024 to replace the lead in aging pipes in cities and villages all across Michigan, so that everyone in our state has access to safe, clean drinking water?

And no matter what anyone says, our roads still need fixing. That 45-cent gas tax hike was a bad idea four years ago, and it is still a bad idea. Republicans have to come up with something better.

It's time for the GOP to stop reacting, and put forth its own set of policy priorities to revitalize our great state. There is a lot that needs fixing, and Michigan citizens stand to benefit from a functioning, governing center-right party.

Besides, offering better policies to the public is the only hope Republicans have of ever regaining the majority.

Rusty Hills is a lecturer in public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He previously served as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and as a senior adviser to former Attorney General Bill Schuette and former Gov. John Engler.