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Snyder's last State of the State was little noted, and will not be long remembered

Jan 24, 2018

Governor Rick Snyder gave his last state-of-the-state speech last night, though for a good chunk of it we really had Governor Richard Dale Snyder, his actual full name, wearing a dark suit and a blue tie, warning the lawmakers to be fiscally responsible.

The speech, like virtually all such speeches by all governors, was little noted, except by political reporters. Nor, to further steal from Lincoln, will it be long remembered. But it was interesting for a number of reasons.

It was partly a looking back and summing up, an attempt to remind the state, and perhaps himself, of all the accomplishments of the past seven years. Some were very real. Snyder said he’d break ground this year on the new bridge across the Detroit River, something essential for our future prosperity, and something he made happen.

I think it’s clear that he handled the Detroit bankruptcy and emergency management about as well as anyone could have. He often blundered with the legislature when he first arrived, and it took some time for him to understand that the lawmakers weren’t his employees. Yet he managed to get his annual budgets adopted long before the deadline.

That’s a far cry from the temporary shutdowns and last-minute irresponsibilities of the Granholm era. A lot of what we saw last night was, indeed, the accountant-in-chief, warning his fellow Republicans not to go crazy with tax-cut fever that would blow a hole in future budgets and our state’s future prosperity. They are, in this election year, unlikely to listen.

He didn’t say he’d veto legislation that he thought imprudent, perhaps because that would now seem an empty threat. Earlier this month, when lawmakers contemptuously overrode his vetoes on two tax bills, precisely one of the ninety Republicans in the legislature voted to sustain Snyder’s veto. That’s not to say the governor was wrong.

But as often happens, he seemingly didn’t get the politics. The governor does have his spending wish list too. He said he’d add more money for roads, though it’s not clear how he plans to get it. He also said the public schools were going to get the largest increase in per pupil foundation grant funding in many years, but he offered few details.

There were moments when we got glimpses of our guv at his nerdiest. There was a touching one when two-year-old Jeremiah Nelson, born with severe spina bifida, drove a special robotic car designed for him by two high school robotic teams.

Rick Snyder loves technology, and it has clearly made that child’s life better. But the governor didn’t mention that his blind faith in machines also resulted in a rogue computer accusing 37,000 innocent people of unemployment insurance fraud.

The governor said he would roll out an initiative every day next week on infrastructure and the environment, something that struck me as too frenetic for a legislature largely preoccupied with winning reelection, running for other jobs or finding safe places to land.

To ask them to seriously consider all that is a bit much, especially when he’s also planning to roll out his “Marshall Plan for talent,” next month.

But let’s give the governor his due. He’s got less than a year left, and instead of coasting, intends to keep pushing for things in which he believes. It’s hard not to admire that.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior 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.