Scrambling to hide the truth

Feb 26, 2016

Yesterday was extraordinary because of two things no one could have foreseen a year ago. Michigan Republicans are now fully engaged in a desperate and probably doomed struggle to prevent their party from nominating Donald Trump for president.


The DeVos family yesterday endorsed the latest best hope of doing that, Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Meanwhile, in Lansing, another team is trying to save the administration of Governor Rick Snyder, even as the latest damning revelations cast real doubt on whether they will be able to do so – and whether this administration is worth saving.

We learned yesterday that the governor’s two top attorneys urged that Flint be returned to Detroit water as early as late 2014. One of them noted that General Motors was refusing to use Flint River water because it was rusting engine parts.

Another, Michael Gadola, who grew up in Flint, blasted the emergency manager for not checking with him before making the switch, and added:

“My Mom is a city resident. Nice to know she’s drinking water with elevated chlorine levels and fecal coliform.”

The aides knew this was dynamite. One of them clearly wanted to make sure their communications weren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

And the governor did absolutely nothing. We do not yet have confirmation that he was told about the alarms his key aides were raising.

But there are really only two possibilities. One is that Snyder knew and took no action, and the other is that his top staffers treated him like a house plant and didn’t bother to clue him in on the key warning signs of what would become a huge national scandal.

These emails do confirm that his PR staff treated concerns about the water and the people of Flint with condescension and contempt.

Flint was “turning in to (an) unfortunate and unnecessary PR issue,” Sara Wurfel, the governor’s press secretary, wrote to another Snyder aide a little over a year ago. She, of course, is married to Brad Wurfel, the former press secretary for the Department of Environmental Quality, who sneeringly told a Michigan Radio reporter than anyone concerned about lead poisoning should just “relax.”

It took the governor many months to get rid of those two. Yesterday, in a move that looked panicked, their replacements, new communications director Meegan Holland and press secretary Dave Murray were effectively fired, kept on the payroll but shunted into minor jobs.

I certainly find the notion that this mess can be “fixed” with a different PR team curious and appalling, but the governor, or whoever is making decisions for him these days, apparently thinks that will work. Meanwhile, Republicans here as elsewhere are in panic mode, trying to prevent what now looks impossible to prevent: Donald Trump.

The end may not be long. Fourteen states vote Tuesday, and if Trump wins Texas, it is hard to imagine Ted Cruz continuing. Michigan follows eleven days from now. After Ohio and Florida vote a week later, it may be over.

Suffice it to say that none of these candidates wants Rick Snyder’s endorsement. Think about running for office as a Republican in November in a state led by Snyder on a ticket headed by Trump. Lots of Republicans already are. Wouldn’t you like to see their emails?

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's 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.