Politics & Prejudices: The Snyder Follies

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Late last year, two things happened that I never would have dreamed possible: Rick Snyder, our off-kilter, emotionally deficient accountant of a governor, made me laugh out loud.

Even more surprising, I found myself briefly sympathizing with Donald Trump, also known as the man who is about to do his best to destroy America. Here's how both happened:

A few days before Christmas, Snyder did a wide-ranging interview with the Detroit Free Press, in which he revealed he'd been calling the president-elect, but that he hadn't heard back. "I've put in messages, but I know he's been very busy," Snyder chirped brightly in his best Kermit voice.

Yeah, Trump's been so busy he's had time to tweet constantly about Alec Baldwin's imitation of him on Saturday Night Live. I disagree with virtually everything Trump has done throughout his rotten and sordid career, except for this:

Why in the hell would he ever call Snyder back?

Snyder didn't even endorse Trump for president, even after he'd won his party's nomination. Beyond that, Snyder is a man best known for his administration's poisoning of an entire city.

If there is a politician who cares less about humanity than Trump, it's Rick Snyder. This is someone who has been behind efforts to severely limit medical benefits for people terribly injured in auto accidents.

There's plenty of money to cover all those unlucky folks for life, thanks to the Michigan Catastrophic Claims fund, which those of us with car insurance pay into every year.

But a lot of people would just love to get their hands on those billions. Three years ago, Snyder tried to cap benefits for everybody, insured or uninsured, at a million dollars.

In exchange, we would have gotten a one-year token cut in auto insurance rates. We were saved, however, by an unlikely angel: Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who had been racked up badly in a 2012 car crash, and used his influence to stop that outrage. Last month, as I've previously noted, they tried, almost at the last minute of a lame-duck session, to cap benefits for uninsured motorists at $400,000.

That too died, but we need to stay on our toes. The forces of darkness will be back. Republicans have almost two more years of total control of state government. They've got plenty of time to screw us over at their leisure, and they'll try.

Snyder, however, may have other things to worry about. For the last two years, he's had very little clout with his fellow Republicans in the legislature. Most of them ran ahead of him in 2014, and in any event, he became a liability after Flint.

Now, however, Snyder may have reason to fear his least favorite fellow Republican, "Trust Fund Bill" Schuette, the state attorney general, may be coming after him. In late December, Big Bill charged Jerry Ambrose and Darnell Earley, two Snyder-appointed emergency managers, with various felonies that could get them both two decades in the can.

Two high-ranking appointees, the city public works director, Howard Croft, and utility director, Daugherty Johnson, were similarly charged. Up till now, Schuette has mainly fingered middle-level bureaucrats.

Suddenly, some of us who have been around for a long time had an image flash from our memories: one of a young, redheaded senator asking in a Tennessee accent, "What did the president know, and when did he know it? "

That was Howard Baker talking about Richard Nixon. Eventually, we got enough of an answer to drive old Tricky from office and lock up much of his administration.

As for Snyder — there are, by the way, eerie similarities between Watergate and Flintwatergate. Back then, we looked for smoking guns in Nixon's tapes; now, we have been searching for clues in the released emails of Snyder & Associates.

We've been asked to believe that our governor knew nothing for months about concerns about lead contamination, though his chief of staff and counsel, who clearly were worried, talked about this all the time.

Ditto with the sudden spike in Legionnaires' disease cases that coincided with the switch to the poisonous Flint River. (A dozen people died, though it was hushed up for months before the public found out about it.)

Everybody in government, however, seems to have known about it except our relentlessly positive governor.

But the investigation is getting ever closer. Attorney General Schuette, who is one of the more nakedly ambitious politicians in a city full of 'em, has a problem: He clearly wants to be governor more than an addict wants a fix.

He probably can power by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley to get the GOP nomination next year — but odds are that may not be worth much. After eight years of the poisoner-in-chief and two years of Trump, things are bound to favor the Democrats.

Schuette has to do something to show Michigan he isn't Snyder. The best way to do this would be by hauling Snyder over the coals, or at least bagging some of his top aides.

Rumor was that the attorney general's boys might be sweating Dennis Muchmore, Snyder's former chief of staff, and trying to get him to help finger his old boss. Others thought the logical next indictment might be Andy Dillon, the onetime Democrat who then served first as treasurer, then as an equally high-paid adviser, after his marital and alcohol problems got in the way. Nobody's talking on the record.

What we do know is that Schuette hasn't ruled out charging the accountant-in-chief. When directly asked about that at a Dec. 20 news conference, he said, "We read the emails and put two and two together. Nobody's on the table; nobody's off the table. If there's sufficient evidence, we charge."

You'd think that would have been enough to ruin New Year's Eve at the governor's mansion. But in what was either continuing wacky denial or a lie of Trumpian proportions, Snyder said in an interview he has "no reason to be concerned."

Unfortunately, his actions indicate that's probably bullshit. Some time ago, he asked the taxpayers to cough up little over a million or attorneys to defend him against potential lawsuits, both criminal and civil. Republicans, who control everything in Lansing, agreed.

Former Attorney General Frank Kelley, who served in the office 37 years without a hint of scandal, thought that was outrageous. "I would have approved defending him once he was sued, but not in spending state money before," he told me.

But we live in a different era. In recent weeks, the amount we've been paying to shield Snyder from justice has ballooned to about $5 million, $3.5 million for criminal defense lawyers alone. Snyder made the absurd claim that "the bulk of their work is document production," such as retrieving old emails to show the public in the interest of transparency.

What a humanitarian. Incidentally, there was an attempt made in the legislature last month to subject the governor and our lawmakers' communications to the same Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) standards that apply to other officials.

Republicans in the state Senate, led by their truly odious majority leader, Arlan Meekhof, killed that.

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