Commentary
8:54 am
Wed April 13, 2011

Governor Snyder: Not a Politician?

There’s one thing everyone has agreed on ever since Rick Snyder burst on the scene less than a year and a half ago.

The man is not a politician.

Before he announced he was running for governor, Snyder’s name was barely known to anybody in political circles. He had never  been involved in politics at any level. When he began running his famous “nerd” commercial during last year’s Super Bowl, the verdict from the experts was clear: Clever commercial. Catchy concept.

Calling yourself a “tough nerd” might work in some sophisticated high-tech west coast place. But not in lunch-bucket, brawling, blue-collar Michigan.

And we all knew that Snyder’s lack of political sophistication will eventually do him in. That seemed to be confirmed when he began ducking most of the primary campaign debates. Not ready for prime time. Yet the non-politician won the Republican primary easily last August, leaving a prominent congressman and the state attorney general in the dust. The general election wasn’t even a contest.

Rick Snyder won all but five counties. Okay, the experts said. But he is a historical accident. He’s going to find out that governing is not like running a business. Snyder is going to be dealing in a completely unfamiliar arena, with people not beholden to him.

The odds of his being successful are small. Well, after barely three months in Lansing, here‘s what the political novice has done. First, this freshman Republican governor got an amazing deal from a Democratic president. The Obama administration agreed to count the money Canada offered to advance us for a proposed new Detroit River bridge as federal highway matching funds.

What that means is that if we accept the $500 million Canada is willing to give us, we can use that to get two billion dollars for our roads from the feds. Next, our non-political governor got the legislature to quickly pass his bill to give state-appointed emergency financial managers broad new powers.

He then proposed a revolutionary new budget that would give business an enormous tax break. His fellow Republicans largely loved that, as you might expect. But he proposed to pay for this by taxing pensions, and ran into massive resistance. Senior citizens are the most reliable voting group, and many new legislators feared being promptly unelected next year if they went along with the governor.

I expected the lawmakers to be fighting about the details of this all summer. But yesterday, surprise, surprise, the governor and the legislative leadership announced an agreement.

The pension tax will be phased in. Those born before 1946 won’t see their pensions taxed at all. Early baby boomers born before 1953 get a partial exemption, and everybody else will see their pensions taxed when it comes time to get them.

That spares the politicians the wrath of the voters, and over time, gives the governor precisely what he wanted.

All this ought to make it clear that while our new governor may never have been a precinct captain, he is, in fact, the most skilled political operative in this state in a long time.

The fact that most people still don’t think of him as a politician is additional proof that he is, in fact, one of the best we’ve ever seen.