Politics & prejudices: Relentless negative action

Jun 8, 2016 at 1:00 am
Bill Schuette, Michigan attorney general
Bill Schuette, Michigan attorney general Photo: michigan.gov

You have to give Rick Snyder credit for something. He has suffered perhaps the most embarrassing rebuke at the hands of law enforcement authorities of any Michigan governor ever.

Sometime after it became clear that his appointed emergency managers poisoned the water in Flint, and he dragged his feet about doing anything about it, the governor evidently decided to launch one or more internal investigations, presumably to figure out who to blame.

But late last month, local, state, and federal authorities landed on him like a pro wrestler on a tieless squeaky mat.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton called on Snyder to stop his apparently ham-handed probes, because they said they were damaging the criminal investigations they are running.

Additionally, U.S. District Attorney Barbara McQuade attacked an investigation being conducted by the Department of State police. The Snyderites were stunned. Press Secretary Anna Heaton released a statement that bleated: "No agency has ever raised any concerns with our office before now."

Then Snyder signaled that he would do as requested. He had little choice. He could, after all, scarcely attack the criticism as a partisan witch hunt. Not only is Leyton a Democrat and Schuette a Republican, they ran against each other in 2010.

Nobody these days has much admiration for Snyder, who apparently didn't worry for a minute about Flint's kids. He didn't even consider not giving them the bad water, even after a General Motors plant announced in October 2014 that they were paying extra for another water source, since the Flint River water was corroding their engine parts!

That doesn't mean that Schuette doesn't have his own self-interest primarily in mind. He plans to be the GOP nominee for governor of Michigan in two years.

If he's to have any hope of winning in November, he'll have to separate himself from a fellow Republican pariah named Snyder. (Leyton, for reasons I can't quite fathom, has transformed himself into Schuette's mini-me and acolyte.)

But it scarcely matters; Snyder is political carrion, with scarcely more clout on many issues than the homeless ranters on the corner. To some extent, this is unfortunate. His plans to save Detroit's public schools and fix the roads were better than anything proposed by the legislature.

Snyder deserves some credit for the masterful handling of Detroit's bankruptcy, and assuming the needed new bridge over the Detroit River actually happens, Snyder will be the only reason we allowed Canada to get it done.

However, except for getting himself elected, he has absolutely no feeling for politics, people, or how to make government work. I was at first astonished that Schuette launched his public attack on Snyder's investigation without giving him a heads-up first.

Frank Kelley, who was Michigan's attorney general for 37 years, early on adopted the policy of never blindsiding a governor like this, even one with whom he politically disagreed. (I know something about this, having co-written The People's Lawyer, a book about Kelley's life and career.)

But then I learned that Schuette for once may have been justified; Snyder was so politically stupid he didn't even tell the state's chief law enforcement officer that he was launching an investigation.

John Selleck, Schuette's main mouthpiece, told reporters that the attorney general only learned of the governor's internal inquiry into the Department of Environmental Quality when Snyder mentioned it in a press conference.

Now, granted: Snyder and Schuette never have liked each other. But given that Snyder has gotten the taxpayers to cough up $1.2 million for his legal expenses in connection with Flint, don't you think he ought to have informed the office of the attorney general that he was launching his own probe?

Oops. Well, payback time. When the attorney general's spokesman was asked if his boss's action was a warning to Snyder that a criminal charge of obstruction of justice was possible, all Selleck would say is this:

"Prosecutor Leyton and Attorney General Schuette felt it was necessary to make clear the gravity of the situation."

How this will all play out isn't clear, but three things are: A) Snyder really ought to quit. There's no way he can ever be a fully effective governor for the next 2 ½ years B) Neither Schuette nor the Democrats want him to quit; that would mean they'd have to contend with an incumbent Gov. Brian Calley, who could and would run for re-election C) Snyder will never quit, unless as part of a plea bargaining deal. Look: If this multimillionaire cared about the people, would he be asking the taxpayers to cough up $400,000 to protect him against civil and $800,000 to protect him from criminal liability in regards to the Flint mess?

That's relentless positive public service for you!

Gang that can't shoot straight update

John Stuart Mill, the 19th century philosopher whose essay "On Liberty" has been forced on generations of students, supposedly referred to conservatives as "the stupid party."

However, he was British, died in 1873, and never experienced the delights of today's Republicans and Democrats. Had he done so, he might well have decided instead that the liberals were the stupid party, and usually the only option to the other, aka pure evil, party.

Case in point: Democrats and labor unions are usually happy to raise millions for sometimes hopeless candidates, or ballot proposals that have little chance of passing, and many of which would scarcely change the status quo if they did.

But when it comes to trying to fix the system so that real change is possible, forget it. Currently there are 27 Republican state senators and only 10 Democrats. (They had 11, but one had to quit when they sent him to jail.)

Thanks to outrageous gerrymandering, it is literally impossible, given the shape of these districts, to imagine Democrats winning a state Senate majority, absent a GOP-caused catastrophe worse than the Great Recession.

Last year, the League of Women Voters of Michigan held a series of forums around the state on redistricting. Pretty much everyone agreed it was needed. But the league did nothing.

Nobody was willing to make an effort to try and get it on the ballot. Nor did the labor unions or the Democrats or any supposed good government groups get behind an effort to ask the voters to change to a vote-by-mail system, something that would have both helped democracy and saved money.

Recently, I spoke to a league chapter in Leelanau County, near Traverse City. "They (state League of Women Voters officials) said they didn't have enough money to get (redistricting reform) on the ballot," one member said.

Right. Well, there was this little socialist guy named Bernie Sanders who wanted to run for president and didn't have any money either, and decided to try to raise it cheaply online.

Last time I checked, he'd taken in more than $200 million. You can't fault the Democrats, however; they were too busy being ecstatic that they had persuaded Little House on the Prairie 1970s TV actress Melissa Gilbert to run for Congress.

Unfortunately, she turned out to be a political airhead who owed the IRS more than $360,000, and tried her best to be more inept than Terri Lynn Land.

Eventually, after it turned out she defended a child rapist and didn't have the guts to answer questions at a chamber of commerce function, she claimed illness and fled the race. That left Democrats with no candidate against the fragrant Mike Bishop, a mostly owned subsidiary of Matty Moroun.

Somewhere, Soapy Williams is crying.