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What does Snyder stand for?

Jun 6, 2016

Forty-eight years ago today, Robert Francis Kennedy died in Los Angeles, shot by a lunatic after Kennedy claimed victory in that year’s California Democratic primary.

Kennedy, in his final campaign in that truly horrible year, often stunned reporters by his willingness to speak truth to power.

Nobody, whether they loved or hated him, ever had any doubt where RFK stood. Which is something, regretfully, that can’t be said for Governor Rick Snyder.

I didn’t attend last year’s Mackinac Policy Conference, but I can tell you that the contrast was dramatic between the way Snyder came across this year and the way he was received in past years.

The conference is put on by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, and those who attend it are a largely business-oriented community, overwhelmingly Republican.

In past years, they’ve regarded Snyder with something between admiration and adoration, and he’s come across like a conquering hero. That wasn’t the case this year, when he opened Mackinac with a rambling, defensive and faintly embarrassing monologue.

Any time a politician begins a speech by saying “the reports of my demise are well-overblown,” you know they are in trouble. He went on to blame the media for having a pessimistic attitude about the disaster in Flint, and said that talking to them “was like talking to Eeyore,” the gloomy donkey in the Winnie-the-Pooh books.

While the governor did admit poisoning the city’s water was “a major setback” he said, “Let’s not dwell on the past. Let’s not dwell on what went wrong. Let’s learn from it.”And in a cringe-worthy moment, he asked those listening words to the effect of “Haven’t you had anything go wrong in your lives?”

Well, I suspect it would be hard not to want Flint behind you, even though it isn’t going away. And to the governor’s credit, while he was asleep at the switch for far too long, he has belatedly stepped up and owned his responsibility.

But what baffles me is if he has a moral bottom line? Most recently, Snyder fought for a comprehensive plan to save and reform Detroit Public Schools, a plan that had bipartisan support.

Key to it was the creation of a Detroit Education Commission, which would determine where any new schools, conventional or charter, could open, and prevent horrible ones from defrauding students year after year.

The Senate passed it.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan enthusiastically supported it. But the state house, many of whose members take money from the charter school lobby, sabotaged and destroyed school reform.

They passed, instead, a bill which the Detroit Free Press editorial page editor succinctly called “bought and paid for garbage.”

You might expect the governor to angrily announce he would veto the bill, but that won’t happen. The state house has sabotaged him again and again, and the governor hasn’t stood up to them.

And this week, he said he plans to work hard to reelect the Republican majority in the house, because, “we’ve had a great partnership there, and I think it would be great to continue that.”

Had Democrats held the house, his school and road packages would probably have passed. If you can make some sense of what our governor stands for, you are doing better than me.

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.