Politics & Prejudices: Time for Snyder to resign

Mar 9, 2016 at 1:00 am

I've never had much tolerance for so-called radicals who demand that politicians resign, or be recalled, or be impeached every time they screw up in some way, even if they make a stupid, even harmful policy decision.

I opposed the vast majority of Gov. John Engler's policies, and always voted against him. Jennifer Granholm was a largely ineffectual twit who was suited only to play governor on TV.

But they were elected triumphantly, and had every right to serve out their terms. Rick Snyder, on the other hand, has done two very good things during his five years in office.

The shovels still aren't in the ground for the new Gordie Howe International Bridge, but it now looks certain to be built. That's a huge credit to Snyder. I can't think of anyone else in either party who would have had the ability to get past Matty Moroun's influence and money and get this done.

I would also give the governor high marks for his handling of Detroit's emergency manager and bankruptcy crisis. Some minor mistakes may have been made, but anyone who says these options weren't necessary is living in fantasy land.

But none of this outweighs the disaster that is Flint.

The basic story has been known for months: Flint's state-imposed emergency managers switched the city from trouble-free Detroit water to the Flint River, apparently to save money.

The state refused to reconsider, even when the water was discovered to be smelly, cloudy, and full of bacteria.

Governor Snyder's team refused to switch back — or add relatively cheap anti-corrosive solutions to the water — even after a General Motors factory refused to use the water because it was corroding its engine parts.

Later, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (a sad misnomer under this administration) denied the growing evidence that the water was causing lead poisoning, belittled reporters who asked about it, and may have deliberately manipulated data to try to cover up the truth.

Finally, when he had no choice, Snyder switched the city back to Detroit water in October — but then did nothing for nearly three months, until a task force he appointed gave him a report on Dec. 29 that essentially told him it was his fault.

Only then did he start firing people.

That was all bad enough. But last month, after repeated plodding, the governor released a flood of emails, first from his office, and later those between his staff. They shocked even the most hardened longtime Lansing observers.

They showed that every member of his inner circle and his top advisers knew all about the problems with Flint's water, including the huge spike in Legionnaires' disease cases and deaths, a year before the governor said he knew about it.

They show that they knew exactly what was going on. Dennis Muchmore, the governor's chief of staff, who had unlimited access to Snyder and usually saw him every day, wrote in an email a year ago, "if we procrastinate much longer in doing something direct, we'll have real trouble."

Meanwhile, back in the fall of 2014, long before anyone knew about the lead contamination, Michael Gadola, at the time the governor's chief counsel, bitched in an email, "To anyone who grew up in Flint as I did, the notion that I would be getting my drinking water from the Flint River is downright scary."

He was also worried because his mother still lives in Flint, and complained to Muchmore: "Nice to know she's drinking water with elevated chlorine levels and fecal coliform."

Gadola added that they needed to get Flint back on Detroit water ASAP. That was almost a year before the actual switch was made. Does it seem believable that neither of these men never mentioned what they feared and knew to the governor?

No one I know in public relations believes that. But let's assume they are telling the truth. In a way, that's even worse.

What can you say about a management culture in which the top assistants to the CEO think it's OK not to let their boss know about a threat that could destroy the entire company?

When all this became known, Snyder, for his part, took to the deer-in-the-headlights defense. "I'm kicking myself every day. I wish I would have asked more questions," he told the press last month. "I'm not going to have that happen again."

Well, that isn't good enough. Snyder, who made millions in the private sector, has to know that if Michigan were a private company, he would have been fired months ago.

Payback and punishment are not, however, the reasons he needs to leave. The staid and straight-shooting Gongwer News Service surveyed top Lansing movers and shakers after the damning emails became public. They "described the revelations in the emails as a mortal wound signifying a colossal breakdown in the administration. At best, Mr. Snyder will limp through his remaining 34 months in office," they said.

That's certainly not in the best interest of Michigan. With all our problems, we desperately need more than a crippled lame-duck governor whose credibility is completely shattered.

That's why he needs to resign. I don't have any great expectations of Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. I'm sure the top leaders and future gubernatorial contenders in both parties don't want Snyder to leave. Democrats want him as a whipping boy.

The most likely contenders for the GOP nomination for governor in 2018, Bill Schuette and Candice Miller, don't want to have to run against an incumbent governor in a primary.

Nor do the leading Democrats, Dan Kildee and Gretchen Whitmer, want to take on an incumbent in a general election.

But they don't matter; this state does. Which is why Rick Snyder, if he really cares about the state and people of Michigan, would have resigned before this column appeared.

Bit of good news Exactly six months ago, I wrote a column ("Nuclear Waste and You," Sept. 9) reporting that Canada was giving serious consideration to burying two decades worth of low to medium-level nuclear waste near Kincardine, Ontario, not far from Lake Huron.

This was especially ironic, given that Kincardine is more or less across from Flint, which eventually plans on using water from the lake once the Karegnondi Water Authority is up and running. (Nothing like a little radioactivity with your lead.)

A final decision on burying the stuff was then delayed because of Canada's national election, though there was little doubt in my mind that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives would have gone ahead with plans to bury the waste, which was mainly things like old mops, brooms, and radioactive engine parts, had they been re-elected.

Fortunately, Justin Trudeau's more environmentally conscious liberals won in a rout, and last month they announced they were suspending indefinitely the decision to bury that stuff here, which was probably the right thing to do.

Canada, after all, has vast space far from the lakes. Unfortunately, this stuff eventually needs to be put somewhere better than in above-ground storage containers, and neither country is a step closer to solving the main problem:

What do we do with not just this stuff, but more importantly, the tens of thousands of metric tons of highly dangerous spent nuclear fuel rods that are in pools of water and above-ground facilities all over both countries?

Let's hope it doesn't take an act of terrorism or a catastrophe to get an answer.