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Jennifer Granholm On Being Governor, “The War Room” And Her Fight For Jobs

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Jennifer Granholm, host of The War Room for Current TV

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm, Host of “The War Room” on Current TV

UPDATE 8/13/13: Gramholm talks about clean energy and climate change as part of the ‘I Will Act on Climate’ Bus Tour

UPDATE 9/7/12: Jennifer Granholm’s Speech Electrifies Democratic Convention

By Pamela Burke

You probably know Jennifer Granholm as the first female Governor of Michigan, serving two terms from 2003-2011. She led that state during what she calls “the worst economic period in their history.” Those tough times are outlined in her new book “A Governor’s Story: The Fight for Jobs and America’s Economic Future,” but this mother of three now has a new job as host of “The War Room with Jennifer Granholm” on Current TV.

“I really want this show to have an impact on people who watch…I want to unearth issues that cause viewers to act.” Jennifer Granholm

She took time out from her hectic schedule preparing for her new program in San Francisco to talk to Stacey Gualandi on The Women’s Eye Radio Show about her life in politics; her special formula for creating jobs; and why women have to get off the sidelines…

EYE: You are the very first governor I’ve interviewed. I am honored. You obviously know something about jobs because you created a whole new career in television, did you not?

JENNIFER: It’s just starting. I’m learning a lot, and I have a great respect for people like you and others who are putting together shows for people to learn from. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. Just to clarify, “The War Room is a bow to James Carville and others who were in the war room for the Clinton Campaign. It’s really about the political campaign headquarters across the country in 2012. These are the wars.


EYE: Obviously you are in the thick of it. I watched your shows the first week. You do a great job.

JENNIFER: It’s better even the second week. I’m learning as I go long. There are a lot of technical issues the host has to master. I’m really enjoying it. I’m obsessed about so many of these issues.

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm's book "A Governor's Story"EYE: That’s the thing. What is it about politics that drew you in? In your book you said you were once yearning maybe for a career in acting. You worked at Universal Studios as a tour guide.

JENNIFER: That was out of high school. That quickly went away when I got some education. Yes, I went to Los Angeles to try to make it big, but that lasted a very short amount of time, and then I went to college. Politics was absolutely not what I had in mind.

I majored in political science and French in college, and I really got interested in how politics could change the world; how politics becomes policy if you’re in the right place; and that good policy is good politics.

But I still wasn’t thinking about myself running. But sometimes things happen and, like many women, they need to be approached about running for office. This is not the first thing we think about doing ourselves and putting ourselves out there.

My mom used to tell me three things: Don’t talk about yourself, nobody wants to hear it; Don’t wear your Sunday clothes every day, we have to save those for Sunday; Don’t ask strangers for money.

All three of those pieces of advice you have to do in politics so how I got elected, I don’t know.

Jennifer Granholm, x governor of Michigan, host Current TVEYE: You had a political life but this is your way of continuing your political life by bringing those issues to light every day. What are your goals for the show?

JENNIFER: I really want this show to have an impact on people who watch. I was telling the people here that the news industry is there to report and inform, and that’s very important. I want to also be able to do that as well. But I want to be able to unearth issues that cause viewers to act.

That’s really what this show is about…whether it’s getting more people participating in voting or getting them active in their community. Either way it’s not just about having people on the receiving end of information but to act.

EYE: It’s 2012. Is this probably the most important political year of our lives. You say Dems will love the show…that those on the far right will hate it…those in the middle might appreciate it. Is this a big year?

“So if you have billionaires who can buy a candidate essentially, what does that tell you about democracy?”

JENNIFER: Yes, it’s a big year but every presidential election year is a big year. But we’ve never seen a situation, at least in my lifetime, that has been so utterly polarized. That to me is an important distinction. And this year we’re seeing massive amounts of big money supporting political candidates.

So if you have billionaires who can buy a candidate essentially, what does that tell you about democracy? In my opinion, it tells us we need to fix that problem, and the only way to fix it is to get a constitutional amendment. One of the things we’re doing on this show is to highlight how one can do that in this country. But you need someone elected who supports changing the system.

The Governor’s State Capitol Portrait

EYE: You served two terms but you went through what you called the “perfect economic storm…”

JENNIFER: Yes, what lousy timing to be Governor of Michigan. When I was first elected my economic advisors said, “Oh, Michigan’s in another one of these cycles, and you’re entering in a valley. We’ll emerge out, and you can take credit for the rise in the economy.”

That never happened because of Michigan’s concentration of manufacturing jobs and the melt down in the auto industry. It really was a perfect or horrible storm to have been governor in but more importantly to be a citizen and to have lost your job because of the downturn in auto industry.

But the good news is that at the end of those two terms, the Obama Administration decided it was going to reach in and save the auto industry. Of course, the Bush Administration started that by offering a bridge loan to the auto industry.

When you have Clint Eastwood on a Super Bowl ad talking about how this is our second half, what he was really talking about was we in Michigan getting up off our knees because there was somebody willing to give us a bridge to transform, restructure and do the tough stuff and to emerge stronger on the other side. Hallelujah! We’re through the storm!

“I would go into coffee shops and grown men would come up and cry because they had lost their jobs…

EYE: And how does being governor during a time like that compare to being on television?

JENNIFER: There’s nothing as all-consuming as being governor during the worst economic period in Michigan history and in a state that had the worst economy in the nation. Because you see, it’s not just the balcony level economics that you’re talking about…these are real people on Main Street.

I would go into coffee shops and grown men would come up and cry because they had lost their jobs in the auto industry. I can’t tell you how much I can relate to what America has been feeling with the loss of manufacturing jobs and the challenges that we felt and lived every day.

“Believe me, I feel it, I see it, and I know how important it is to have the right policy and leadership and strategy on the economy…

EYE: Michigan was kind of the pulse.

JENNIFER: For much of the last decade we were experiencing what the country has experienced for a couple of years. Believe me, I feel it, I see it and I know how important it is to have the right policy and the right leadership and strategy on the economy to pull it out of that kind of tailspin.


EYE: You learned a lot about yourself and what could work to help the state or any state come back. You wrote about it in your book. Is there a secret sauce, a special formula?

JENNIFER: I would say that in a nutshell we as a nation have to get active, meaning government has to be actively partnered with business globally. What we’re seeing is that other countries are very actively engaged in a war for our jobs. Their leaders are saying we have to have active government, not big government, but active strategic government.

All of those people who are running for office now who say that we’ve got to have hands off, laissez-faire, trickle down, shrink government so that it drowns in the bathtub, are not recognizing the role of the other economic competitors out there in the globe. The world has changed. The rest of the world is engaged. Our country has to be engaged in the fight for jobs.

“The lessons we learned in Michigan are completely relevant to what is happening in the rest of the country…”

EYE: Your way could end that polarization. We could bring the government and business together in a positive way perhaps.

JENNIFER: Absolutely. The old economic models are not relevant anymore for the 21st century global economy.

EYE: We’re adapting and evolving constantly and changing. Do you think your book is on Obama, Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum’s desk right now?

JENNIFER: It should be. I can tell you that. The lessons we learned in Michigan are completely relevant to what is happening in the rest of the country and what they should be talking about in their economic plans. I’m sure that they don’t have it at the top of their reading list, but they should.

“My message is that it’s not about you. It’s about what you want to bring about for your family, your children…”

EYE: Having gone through what you went through, do you still want more women to participate in the electoral process?

JENNIFER: Absolutely. Women have got to get off of the sidelines. Obviously there are only a few women governors right now, only a handful in the U.S. Senate and the House. If you want to have policy that is reflective of the things that are important to women and families and everybody, then we need women in office.

I can say unequivocally that the people in my legislature who were the most effective legislators were the women. But oftentimes women don’t want to run because they don’t want to put their toe in the piranhic waters of politics. A lot of women don’t want to raise money for themselves or put signs out. They’re embarrassed.

My message is that is not about you. It’s about what you want to bring about for your family, for your children… what change do you want to see in the world.

Jennifer and husband Dan Mulhern

With husband Dan Mulhern/Photo: Joe Vaughn

EYE: You did this all while you were raising three children. Your husband obviously was very supportive right there along side of you. You would not take any thing back, would you?

JENNIFER: No. I can say this to any young women if they are listening as my piece of advice. Number one…if you want to get involved at all in public office or service, marry well. I mean marry a partner who is a 100 percent partner. My husband is a saint. He was willing to be the main parent and do all of that work.

EYE: Your husband’s taken, Dan Mulhern.

JENNIFER: My husband’s taken, but we want to raise strong good men who are willing to see parenting as a primary responsibility for men, too.

“I’d love see Hillary be the first woman president in 2016.”

EYE: He wrote the book with you as well. You were both a team going through the process of governing the state of Michigan. When you hear about women in politics and that Hillary says she wants to retire, what do you think?

JENNIFER: It makes me sad. I refuse to accept that she’s going to retire. I think she needs a break. I totally get that. She’s been going all over the world. Let her take a little breather. But she is vibrant and young enough to still run, and I’d love see Hillary be the first woman president in 2016.

EYE: You would be great also, but I saw you on Stephen Colbert’s show. He was talking about you not being able to run because you are from Canada, and you said maybe it’s because you were on “The Dating Game” that you couldn’t run. Ha!

JENNIFER: There are a couple of negatives in my background. I have a constitutional prohibition because I was born somewhere else, but I do think that in our lifetime we will see a woman president. I think Hillary Clinton would be the natural selection for that, and I hope she hasn’t completely ruled it out.

“My show has an element of policy which is really important to me personally as a Governor. I want to focus on the things that really work.”

EYE: Who is your must-get guest?

JENNIFER: I would love to have Hillary Clinton, the President, and George Clooney…I’ve got a whole list. George is political…get your listeners to send him a tweet to go on the Granholm show.

Jennifer Granholm, former Governor of Michigan

EYE: Is this the dream job for you?

JENNIFER: It is a great job because I am a political junkie, and I love this stuff. I love following the races and the gossip about who said what to whom. But my show has an element of policy which is really important to me personally as a Governor. I want to focus on the things that really work.

EYE: Any predictions on the 2012 election?

JENNIFER: I’m a Democrat so I’m supporting the President but not just out of blind loyalty. I think he’s taken on the positions that I think are the right ones for the country. We lived it in Michigan, and we’re seeing the benefit of it now. I think the country is seeing it as the economy turns around.

I worry honestly that the Republicans are putting out economic positions that are really detrimental to the country in this 21st century global economy. So that’s my prediction.

EYE: Thank you! I know you have guests waiting in “The War Room.” We’d like to talk to you again.

JENNIFER: Any time. Thanks a lot!



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