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Can the governor rise to the occasion?

Feb 16, 2017

Nobody can deny that Governor Rick Snyder is an intelligent and hard-working man. He came from very modest circumstances to earn three degrees, including an MBA and a law degree, from the University of Michigan by the time he was 24.

He then went on to make a fortune in the computer business and as a venture capitalist. Without any political background whatsoever, he ran for governor seven years ago. He was neither charismatic nor a compelling speaker.

Yet he easily beat a host of better-known Republicans for the nomination, won by a landslide, and was reelected four years later.

Snyder also did something nobody else could have done – he found a way to build a badly needed new bridge across the Detroit River. The Ambassador Bridge’s Matty Moroun may have delayed it a few years, but there is now no real doubt that it will be built.

You could in fact justify naming it the Richard D. Snyder bridge, except for the fact that Canada is paying for it. But whatever your politics, Rick Snyder has fatal flaws. The worst of these is that he is curiously tone deaf to some things, most notably, human suffering, and is uncommonly reluctant to fire those who have caused it.

Some may never claim the money they lost. Others are suing the state for millions. Governor Snyder’s response was to say,

“it’s not a good thing. The system didn’t work well.”

Even when the scope of the unemployment scandal was clear, he didn’t fire the head of the agency – he just reassigned her. We got another glimpse of his tone-deafness this week when he suddenly announced the state would no longer help Flint residents pay their water bills.

But Rick Snyder’s greatest test may be about to happen. Republican ideologues in the legislature are about to ram through a massive cut in the state income tax that would essentially ruin the state by blowing a billion-dollar hole in a budget that is already inadequate to fix our roads and schools. Snyder could be a profile in courage by vetoing this tax cut.

It won’t, as I showed yesterday, return any meaningful amount to average people. The governor knows this tax cut is wrong: He has said so. And, he has virtually nothing to lose.

He is never going to run for office again. Thanks to Flint, he is probably too radioactive ever to be appointed to a major position. But he could do a great service for our state by wielding his veto pen now. Whether he can rise to the challenge remains to be seen.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.