DETROIT - Michigan voters discouraged by a decade of lost jobs and lost dreams put a Republican venture capitalist into the governor's office, hoping he can kick-start the state's struggling economy.
Rick Snyder easily beat Democrat Virg Bernero, the mayor of Lansing, with a moderate message that drew voters from across the political spectrum and ended eight years of Democratic leadership in the governor's office.
''A state is more complicated to run than a company. But I think if you can run a company, you understand business, you understand money, you understand economic factors,'' said David Peerboom, 27, a financial planner from Grandville. Snyder says he's eager to ''reinvent'' not just Michigan government but the state's culture, including encouraging entrepreneurship, rebuilding Detroit and erasing the divisions that have led to partisan and regional infighting.
Rick Snyder addresses supporters at his Election Night party in Detroit, late Tuesday. Snyder beat Democrat Virg Bernero to be the state’s next governor. (AP photo)
It could prove a tall task for a man whose only political experience was working in high school on Republican Gov. William Milliken's re-election campaign and attending the 1976 national GOP convention in support of then-President Gerald Ford, a longtime Michigan congressman.
Snyder will face some daunting challenges when he takes office Jan. 1, including a budget deficit of at least $1.4 billion, a Legislature with scores of new faces and an economy that's not recovering fast enough to restore more than a fraction of the nearly 860,000 jobs lost since state employment peaked in June 2000.
Michigan's jobless rate is 13 percent, the nation's second-highest, and many voters are wrestling with foreclosures.
''The realities are challenging, no doubt about it,'' says Michigan State University economics professor Charles Ballard. ''But if you could have a governor who could really play it right, there's a real opportunity to have a fresh start and move onto doing things in fresh ways.''
Snyder, 52, says he relishes challenges others might avoid. He was not able to rescue a failing Gateway Inc. when the company brought him back as interim CEO in 2006, nearly a decade after he had stepped down as the computer maker's president and chief operating officer. Gateway was then sold in 2007 to Taiwan-based Acer Inc.
But Snyder envisions a better way to run Michigan government and says he's ''going to show up with ... an attitude of crisis'' and move quickly to make changes.
Snyder was to meet Wednesday with Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who could not run again because of term limits. He wants to change Michigan's corporate tax to make the state more business-friendly, give businesses a $1.5 billion tax break and delve into how the state spends money on public education and services.
Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer is skeptical that Snyder can both cut revenue from the business tax and find enough in savings to balance the budget.
''He's got a $1.5 billion budget hole to fill, and if he gets rid of the MBT (Michigan business tax), he'll double that,'' Brewer says.
A former certified public accountant, Snyder has not been specific about what services will be cut or eliminated to make the budget balance.
That bothered Mary Tressel, 46, of Eaton County's Windsor Township. She considered voting for Snyder, but ended up casting her ballot for Green Party candidate Harley Mikkelson because she thought Snyder was too vague.
''When the media speaks with him, I don't believe he really answers the questions directly. And I have a concern with that,'' she said. ''I believe he's a follower, not a leader.''
But many voters seemed to like Snyder's upbeat persona and the fact that he ran as a moderate. He kicked off his campaign with a Super Bowl ad in which he declared himself ''one tough nerd.''
''Our political system is so contaminated,'' said Linda Browning, 61, of Macomb County's Harrison Township. ''I like the nerd! He's a breath of fresh air.''