Politics & Prejudices: Snyder: End of the illusion

Jan 20, 2016 at 1:00 am

Gov. Rick Snyder is really a moderate. Pro-business to be sure, but not one of those horrible right-wingers in the legislature.

Actually, he's a closet liberal on social issues and the environment. How could he be otherwise? After all, he lived in Ann Arbor for years.

We've been hearing that stuff for the last six years now. Remarkably, some people were able to keep believing that bilge, even in the face of all the evidence.

Well, yes, he gave businesses huge tax breaks at the expense of schools, but that was just an experiment. Tax people's pensions? Well, be patient!

Signed legislation allowing motorcyclists to ride without helmets, adding to the highway death toll and lists of the badly brain-injured?

A minor flaw, perhaps, they told us, but one of those things he had to do to get right-wingers to go along with his plan to fix the roads.

Except, of course, they never did. Then there was the little matter of going back on what he said ("not on my agenda") and helping ram through right-t0-work. I frankly forget what the excuse was for that one.

Now, however, it's pretty hard to drink the Kool-Aid anymore. Snyder's administration is responsible, first, for switching the people of Flint to a dangerous water source that was initially filled with bacteria and later turned out to be so corrosive it caused lead to leach out of old pipes, poisoning children.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality lied about this, laughed at people's concerns, and tried to cover things up. Even after this began to be exposed, Snyder did virtually nothing for months, except get Flint reconnected to clean Detroit water when the pressure was too great to resist.

He waited until Dec. 29 to fire Michigan Department of Environmental Quality director Dan Wyant and his obnoxious press aide, Brad Wurfel, best known for telling a reporter concerned about lead poisoning to "relax."

Most savvy politicians would have deep-sixed this pair the moment it was known that the water was poisoned, and the DEQ had been giving out bad information. In this case, there was the added complication that Wurfel's wife Sara was Snyder's own press secretary, who eventually found another job.

Snyder didn't can her husband till after that. Our governor, however, apparently has trouble either admitting he is wrong, firing people who need to be canned, or perhaps both. Recall, for example, how long it took him to fire Aramark, the prison food contractor from hell. It took two years of maggots and rodents in food areas, improper food substitutions, employees smuggling drugs and other contraband to inmates, having sex with inmates, you name it, before Snyder was finally willing to dump them.

Even then, he was so wishy-washy that he sent out underlings to say Aramark and the state had decided to "go our separate ways."

Other than that, Snyder has become more and more a willing tool of the right-wing's agenda. This very month, he happily signed a bill outlawing straight-ticket voting. Now, there is an argument that can be made against allowing voters to unthinkingly check one box for all of one party's candidates.

Straight-ticket voting is a relic of the political boss system, when many voters were barely able to read. Today, only nine states still have it.

But the people of Michigan have made it very clear this is an option they want to keep. This may be true in part because there are often not enough voting booths in poor and urban areas, and people often can't or won't stand in line for hours to vote. Republicans like anything that helps lower the turnout among voters who aren't like them. So twice in recent years GOP-dominated legislatures have passed bills outlawing straight-ticket voting.

Twice, voters gave them the figurative finger and overturned that with a referendum. This time, however, legislative Republicans resorted to their latest sneaky tactic. The framers of the Michigan Constitution sensibly didn't want voters to be able to play havoc with the budget; figuring spending priorities is what we send elected representatives to Lansing to do.

So the constitution says that voters can't overturn any bill that contains appropriations. Lately, the GOP has been attaching phony, token appropriations to bills they are afraid the voters won't like, which is what they did here.

Underhanded? You bet. Worse, the straight-ticket bill passed the House only because it was tied to another bill that would allow voters to get an absentee ballot for any reason whatsoever. Most states make it far easier to vote than we do. They have early voting days, or make absentee ballots easy to get.

Some let everybody vote by mail, Michigan doesn't. So the House passed no-reason absentee voting — and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and his puppet, Elections Chair Dave Robertson, gleefully broke the agreement and killed it. Snyder signed it anyway.

Soon thereafter, he signed an even worse bill, which forbids officials from even giving the public any information about a local ballot issue for two months before an election. The bill also doubles the amount a fat cat can give to a campaign and makes it easier for corporations to get political contributions and harder for unions. Many of those who voted for it had no idea what was in it.

That's because lobbyists and special interests found a willing tool to, at the last moment, dump pages of toxic stuff into what was a fairly noncontroversial, bipartisan bill. Several Republicans who voted for it asked Snyder to veto it.

The Detroit News editorial page, which has been described as the Republican Party's brain, urged the governor to veto this. Virtually no one thought he would sign it. But Snyder did anyway, saying he hoped the legislature would fix the problems. It no longer matters whether he is as bad as the worst of our neo-fascists, or if he is, as some still argue, a naïve patsy who gets tricked into supporting their agenda. For all intents and purposes, it's his agenda too.

Fortunately, the governor's total mishandling of the Flint water crisis has now destroyed any chance of his having a political career beyond this job.

Nationwide, he is now swiftly becoming known as the governor who poisoned little kids with lead and then clumsily tried to cover it up.

Good luck finding something relentlessly positive about that action.

Just asking Star Wars: The Force Awakens is on track to becoming the biggest-grossing Hollywood film of all time, and is the first Star Wars movie to have a major black hero; Finn, who deserts the dark side to join the resistance.

But there was one line in the movie which nearly knocked me off my popcorn-encrusted seat. Some of us remember the huge controversy stirred years ago by the character Jar-Jar Binks, who seemed to evoke old racial stereotypes.

Suffice it to say that The Wall Street Journal called Binks "a Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit ... crossed annoyingly with Butterfly McQueen." Well, you'd think the creators of the film might have learned a lesson.

But you'd be wrong. It comes out eventually that when he was part of the evil Stormtrooper base, Finn (John Boyega) confesses he only worked in ... sanitation. Yowza! They got dat colored Stormtrooper pegged, sho nuff!

You just couldn't make this shit up.