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The Flint Water Crisis is causing Gov. Snyder problems beyond the tap

Mar 17, 2016

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder testifies today before a congressional committee. He's there to explain how the water in Flint became undrinkable.

The once Republican rising star has seen his support in Michigan tumble because of the water crisis.

Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) has worked to regain public trust since lead was discovered in Flint's tap water. But his poll numbers continue to slide
Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Snyder spoke Monday afternoon to business owners in West Michigan.  He was doing something all governors do: highlighting job growth at a successful business.

“You’ve just heard the numbers.  They’ve added 359 jobs in the last few years… here in Grand Rapids.  That’s a tremendous success,” Snyder told reporters during the event.

But as Snyder spoke inside, about a dozen men stood across the street with a line of coffins.  The wooden coffins, painted black, represented Flint area residents who’ve died from Legionaries Disease in the past few years.  

The outbreak may be linked to Flint’s water. 

In 2014, the city of Flint’s water source was switched to the Flint River to save money.  But the river water was not properly treated. 

It damaged the city’s pipes, which leached lead into the drinking water. 

Protesters stood largely silent outside an event in Grand Rapids this week where the governor appeared. The coffins represent people who have died in the Flint area of Legionnaries Disease in the past few years.
Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint’s crisis has become a national issue. During a nationally televised Democratic presidential debate in Flint earlier this month, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders found little to agree on, except Governor Snyder.

“His dereliction of duty was irresponsible.  He should resign,” Sanders told the audience to wide applause at Flint’s Whiting Auditorium.

“I agree,” replied Clinton, who also drew applause when she added, “the governor should resign or be recalled.”

In the past six months, Snyder’s approval rating has fallen about 30 percentage points.  A recent poll found 34 % of Michiganders have a favorable view of Rick Snyder.  Six months ago, the governor’s approval rating in the same poll was over 60 %. He still is viewed favorably by a majority of Republicans.

Still, it's quite a reversal for a soft-spoken businessman turned politician once thought to have national appeal. Many political observers say Governor Snyder’s falling poll numbers correspond to his fading influence in Lansing.

Susan Demas, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, says the Republican governor has always had an uneasy relationship with more conservative GOP legislative leaders.

“Those kinds of differences…. start to become more prominent when you have a governor who is politically damaged.  And that is the case for Governor Snyder right now,” says Demas.

Dozens of state lawmakers were milling around on the floor of the Michigan state House on Tuesday waiting to vote on relatively minor bills.

There are big issues to be addressed, including a bailout for the Detroit’s Public School system. 

However, House Democratic leader Tim Greimel says the governor is struggling to get his agenda through the legislature.

'There’s no question that the Flint water disaster has hurt the governor’s ability to get thing done in Lansing,” says Greimel. The Democratic leader recently called on the governor to resign for his administration’s handling of the water crisis.  Snyder dismisses the calls for him to resign, saying he wants to stay to fix the problem. 

Republican lawmakers, like state Rep. Ed Canfield, say the governor is working with them. “He has presented his ideas. We’re going to come back with our ideas,” says Canfield, “I don’t think any of that has changed.”

Governor Snyder insists that he’s committed to solving Flint’s water crisis and other thorny state issues.

“I believe I’ve got a mandate from the people of Michigan to work hard on making this a better state,” Snyder told reporters this week, “I’ve been focused in on reinventing Michigan for several years and I’m going to keep it up.”

But he may soon face another challenge. 

On Easter Sunday, volunteers will start collecting signatures on a recall petition.

Reverend David Bullock is leading the effort to recall Snyder. 

“This is about regular folks in Flint, Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, who’ve been affected by the Snyder administration’s policies…that are simply saying enough is enough,” says Bullock.

The recall campaign will have to collect nearly 800,000 valid signatures in just 60 days.  A tall order, but against a governor whom polls show a majority of Michigan residents have now lost faith in.