Relentlessly positive humiliation

Politics & Prejudices

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Believe it or not, there was a little bit of good news for Gov. Rick Snyder last week, the day the voters dealt him what appeared to be an utterly humiliating defeat on Proposal 1, the constitutional amendment to repair the roads.

Snyder had campaigned hard for it, even though it wasn't his first choice as a way to come up with the money needed. The governor would rather have done it by raising the gas tax and car and truck registration fees.

But when the legislature would only agree to a statewide sales tax vote, he embraced it like it was the Holy Grail.

Day after day, relentless positive Rick was out there, raising money for commercials touting Proposal 1. We saw the governor filling potholes! The governor in a hard hat!

The governor everywhere, fighting for our roads! He got other members of the elites of both parties to join with him in endorsing the bill. Former Sen. Carl Levin. John Dingell, the longest-serving congressman in the history of the universe.

They raised millions for commercials. They were geeked! They were pumped! And they went down to the biggest defeat any ballot proposal has suffered in Michigan's modern history.

Maybe ever, in fact.

The count was Yes: 349,813; No: 1,405,716. That's more than four to one against. Proposal 1 lost everywhere — every county, every city, every demographic group.

Clearly, the governor bears some share of the blame. Early on, he fired (or they quit) the first team of PR professionals hired to sell the proposal to the public.

People never felt they understood it. The ballot proposal itself was totally incomprehensible. People didn't trust the government not to steal the money meant for the roads and use it for something else, as happened with the lottery.

While the ballot proposal would have done a lot of good things — restore the Earned Income Tax Credit, for example, and provide more money for mass transit — few people got that.

For years, I've most admired the people who actually do most of the thankless work of trying to fix and maintain our roads with too many problems and too little money.

On election night, I called Denise Donohue, the director of the County Road Association of Michigan, whose members maintain three-quarters of the state's road system.

She was sitting with her troops, "absolutely crushed by what has happened tonight." Donahue had spent the previous two days driving from Monroe to Mackinac Island and back to her home near Lansing to try to explain the proposal.

Turned out it was hopeless. She told me it was clear to her that the public does want the roads fixed, and is willing to pay to do so. But they didn't like or trust this option.

So it died. But now what? Our roads are still falling apart. The problem is becoming worse and worse, and it is now clear there won't be any new money this construction season.

When the magnitude of his defeat became clear, Snyder withdrew, avoiding the press and having his minions hand out a statement that showed him returning to his familiar soothing mantra: "The relentless part of relentless positive action means that we start anew to find a comprehensive, long-term solution to this problem. Doing nothing is not an option."

Well, no, it shouldn't be. But the legislature has in fact been brilliant for years at doing nothing about this.

When the returns were in, some of the craziest morons in the legislature began talking as if enough money to fix the roads could be found in the current budget, maybe by raiding the Michigan Catastrophic Claims fund for car crash victims.

The saner state Rep. Al Pscholka, the No. 2 Republican in the House, said "the state needs a real, full and comprehensive plan, and we need it now."

He called on his colleagues (who love 10-week vacations the way Casanova loved sex) to work.

"No rest till we have a workable, reasonable plan," he said. Well, good luck with that, Al. I'd feel better if I didn't know your colleagues. By the way, there's probably another casualty of this failed ballot proposal few have mentioned:

Rick Snyder's now presumably stillborn long-shot presidential campaign. How's this for a platform: "Hi! I couldn't get members of my own party in the legislature to fix the roads.

"So I turned to the people, and more than 80 percent of them told me and my ballot proposal to go to hell. Did I mention I won by a landslide the first time I ran and just barely made it the second time? So, elect me for relentless positive leadership."

Ah yes. But, remember I did mention that there was a little good news for our governor, and here it is:

The very same day the voters were embarrassing him, there was a new EPIC-MRA poll showing that Snyder now has the highest approval ratings since he first took office!

A majority of we Michiganders now think he is doing a good job. That has to be heartwarming, since the odds just got bigger that Michigan is exactly where Rick Snyder will stay.

Michigan's Most Incompetent Official

We have a new champion; that dishonor goes to one Inez Brown, the city clerk of Flint, who last month sabotaged this year's mayoral election.

Nothing about a city clerk's job is as important as managing elections, and Brown has time and again displayed absolutely stunning incompetence. Two years ago, she proved she did not know how to seal, recount, or manage absentee ballots, something the state said they were going to help her learn how to do. Well, this year she did even worse.

She told Mayor Dayne Walling and all the other candidates the wrong date by which they had to file their petitions to be on the ballot. The actual date was a week earlier. That means no primary, and the general election in November will be a complete write-in contest. Nothing is more elemental to a clerk's job than knowing the filing deadlines for elections. She should, of course, resign in disgrace. That would be expected in many civilized political cultures. But this is America, where you cling to power until the indictments come.

The bigger question is why the city council just doesn't fire her. In the past, the city has sued her (their own city clerk!) for things like swearing at an employee and "irrational and unreasonable behavior." That was seven years ago!

Why is she still on the job? Oh yeah ... I forgot.

It's Flint.

Jack Lessenberry is head of the journalism program at Wayne State University and the senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio.
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