Commentary: Will Snyder get a second term?

Dec 12, 2012

Last night, after the demonstrations and protests, and after the right to work bills had been signed into law by Governor Snyder, I got a series of phone calls from prominent Democrats.

Geoffrey Fieger was one of those. The famously flamboyant lawyer was, we sometimes forget, the Democratic nominee for governor in 1998. “What are they thinking!“ he yelled over the phone. “This is the end of Snyder. Snyder is going down. All the Democrats have to do is find a candidate. Trust me. He or she will have all the money they need. We have got to defeat him. He is a bad man. An evil man, and a puppet. People know that now.”

Well, you can’t say that there is any doubt about how Geoffrey Fieger feels. And whatever your politics, there is certainly no doubt that Rick Snyder is less popular than he was a month ago.

Indeed, there is a big sense of betrayal on the part of people who had convinced themselves that Snyder was a moderate much like former Governor William Milliken. The Detroit Free Press’s editorial page’s reaction sounded more like that of a jilted lover than of a newspaper disappointed in a politician.

They wrote, “We believed him. For two years we supported Snyder. We indulged many compromises Snyder maintained were necessary to advance his pro-growth agenda. We trusted Snyder’s judgment. That trust has now been betrayed for us.“

There were a lot of people outside Michigan’s capitol yesterday who believe Snyder is going down, that he will either be defeated two years from now or even recalled before that.

But I am not so sure.

Former Attorney General Frank Kelley, who took office when Snyder was three years old, said yesterday was the “worst day of his life.“ He told me, “Michigan will never again be a major industrial state unless and until this is repealed.“ But then he paused. “People have short memories,“ he said, especially perhaps now.

They do not remember the Great Depression and what unions did for people. Yes, many are angry now. There seems little doubt that Snyder will have more of a reelection challenge than if all this hadn’t happened. But what will people remember?

Right to work won’t become law till spring. Union workers aren’t going to be all fired overnight, and wages aren’t going to fall to starvation levels in April.

It will take time for the full effects to be known. Other things are bound to happen, and we are not famous for the length of our attention spans.

The dynamics of politics are such so that the most likely Democratic candidate for governor will be Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer. Can she convince voters to oust Rick Snyder?

Since our state’s current constitution took effect half a century ago, no governor has been denied a second term. That doesn’t mean Snyder will win automatically, if he runs. But 20 years ago, Democrats were positive John Engler was going down for some of his unpopular policies, like closing state mental institutions.

Politics and economics in this state are going to be changed in fundamental ways by what happened yesterday. But anyone who thinks they know how all this will turn out is very likely wrong.       

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