The Snyder scandals

Aug 11, 2014

 

Nobody can say Governor Rick Snyder vacillated, when it was learned last week that Scott Woosley, his appointed head of the Michigan State Housing Authority, had been racking up expense account charges fit for a European monarch.

Well, figuratively speaking, that is. I can’t imagine even the last king of Albania paying twelve hundred dollars to have a stretch limo take him across Nebraska. And state officials did deny payment for a “dinner” that consisted only of three glasses of expensive rum.

Enterprising Democratic Party activists used the Freedom of Information Act to ferret out this information. But within 24 hours after it hit the papers, Scott Woosley was unemployed.

The governor didn’t move nearly so quickly when it came to the Aramark Correctional Services abuses. For weeks, there have been stories about maggots on the chow line and scores of Aramark employees fired or suspended for inappropriate behavior. 

Many people expected that the governor would cancel Aramark’s $145 million contract with the state. But that didn’t happen. Instead, on the same day his housing director was sent packing, he announced he was sticking with Aramark.

The governor did assess the private food service company a $200,000 fine, and said they would be obligated to change their training and staffing procedures, whatever that means.

"Maggots crawling through food is a powerful image for any ads Democrats might want to run."--Susan Demas

That didn’t please the head of the corrections workers’ union, who called the fine a mere “slap on the wrist.” 

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer said prison food service shouldn’t be privatized in the first place; he would turn it back to the state.

What we don’t know is if all this will have any effect on the election. While few people up to now have called the Snyder administration scandal-ridden, there have been other financial controversies. Democrats have tried hard, but mostly unsuccessfully, to draw media attention to state office furniture contracts awarded to the governor’s cousin, George Snyder. Earlier on, there was the case of Rick Snyder’s now-closed NERD fund, which allowed donors to give funds secretly that could be spent at the governor’s discretion.

There have also been troubling questions about the Educational Achievement Authority budget. But will the voters blame the governor? Yesterday I talked to Susan Demas, who is now the editor and publisher of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.

She’s been covering politics in Lansing for years. She told me “In general, voters don’t tend to pay much attention to individual scandals.” However, she felt that the expense account and food service troubles do hold some danger for the governor.

Voters, she said, “are sensitive to government officials living high on the hog while they are struggling just to get by.” 

She felt that the prison food scandal is even more troubling, noting that “maggots crawling through food is a powerful image for any ads Democrats might want to run.” 

However, she felt that to make that work for them, Democrats are going to have craft a clear message tying these scandals together -- and tying the blame to the governor.

Whether they can do that is not clear. But with the polls essentially tied in August, you can bet they will certainly try.              

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.