Stir it Up: Flint, politics make strange bedfellows

Mar 9, 2016 at 1:00 am

Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been drawn to the tragedy like flies to sugar. Both of the candidates have commercials on the airwaves addressing the Flint situation, which has gained the attention of world media. Sanders' commercial describing a parent watching a child's mental capacity diminish is particularly insightful.

It once seemed that everybody but filmmaker Michael Moore had forgotten Flint.

It's easy to see why the Democratic contenders are drawn to the tragic issue, even beyond their personal feelings. This is an election year and every bit of leverage one can find has to be utilized. The Flint water crisis stemmed from the policy choices made by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and his administration to use the emergency manager law (against the wishes of voters) in order to consolidate power in the governor's office. The crisis occurred when Snyder's appointed emergency manager made a cost-cutting decision to switch the water source to the Flint River, which caused lead to leach into the city's water.

This issue hangs heavy around not just Snyder's neck, but it also drags down the whole run-government-like-a-business penchant in the Republican Party. Snyder insiders have begun to distance themselves from his governing-by-spreadsheet style.

Former Snyder adviser Dennis Schornack told the Detroit Free Press last week: "The issue has totally spun out of the governor's control." He added that if a recall gets on the ballot, "he's dead."

Liability issues, numerous lawsuits, and the possibility that Snyder could go down are throwing Michigan politics into chaos. That's likely why none of the presidential candidates have been seen hanging out with Rick the Nerd and there has been no endorsement. Snyder, who endorsed Mitt Romney a week before the primary in 2012, got the cold shoulder this year. He didn't even show up to the debate, where in better times he could bask in the glow of the stars.

Not that the most important issue in Michigan prompted more than a feeble mention at the debate. Sen. Marco Rubio was asked the question, and he bemoaned Democrats politicizing the issue and went to the Snyder playbook in calling it a "systemic failure at every level."

Rubio went on to say, "I don't think that someone woke up one morning and said, 'Let's figure out how to poison the water.'"

The statement completely misses the point. It's not that someone planned to poison anyone. An uncaring administration and its policies led to this disaster. And uncaring bureaucrats refused to listen to the complaints of people waving bottles of brown water in their faces for more than a year. To top it off, state employees in Flint were supplied with bottled water so they wouldn't have to drink the same water the state and other authorities told citizens was just fine.

Not one of the other candidates at the Fox Theatre made a peep about Flint's water or Snyder as they shouted each other down in a meaningless debate. And Snyder hasn't made a peep about them. Once this primary is settled, I'm sure Snyder, if he's still governor, will endorse the party's candidate. But the Flint situation requires both hands, and I doubt that Snyder will have much time or political capital to spread around in the next several months. With his staff distancing themselves from him, Snyder may well be a man on an island come election time.

Just last April, Snyder was playing coy about possibly running for president. Now he is an untouchable for current presidential candidates. How quickly things change. Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was looking pretty good too, but he dropped out of the race in September. Last week on Super Tuesday, a day that Walker may have imagined his brand sweeping across the nation, he instead made news for tweeting a photo of his hand before using it to sign some bills.

But such is the fate for governors in this election cycle. In the original field of candidates representing the 17 tribes of the GOP wandering in the wilderness, there were nine governors. Donald Trump, a billionaire developer and entertainer (who assures us he has a large penis), has slapped most of them (along with five senators) back and forth across the country. One by one, Governors Jindal, Christie, Bush, Huckabee, etc., were sent packing to their little backwaters. Trump one-upped the Koch brothers by not bothering to buy a governor and choosing to run himself.

Gridlock has been the Republican response to dealing with political impotency in Congress during the Barack Obama presidency. The basic approach has been "if we can't get our way, then we are going to muck things up so that nothing happens." Now Romney, last seen losing in 2012, prescribes more gridlock because the party doesn't like the fact that Trump is leading the pack. Although the GOP establishment doesn't like Trump, it has no clear candidate nor direction to champion. Romney spoke last week, suggesting that Republicans vote for whichever candidate not named Trump was doing the best in a given state (Kasich in Ohio, Rubio in Florida) in order to deny Trump enough delegates for an outright win. Romney (and the Republican establishment) wants to muck things up so that nothing happens and set the stage for a fight at the Republican National Convention. Sounds like what they always do.

Community event The Detroit Food 2016: Food for Change is Thursday and Friday this week (March 10-11) at the Benson and Edith Ford Conference Center of the College for Creative Studies, 460 W. Baltimore in Detroit. This is the annual food summit put on by the Detroit Food Policy Council, which is joined this year by the Detroit Food and Fitness Collaborative. Malik Yakini, a James Beard Award winner, and Kimberly Seals Allers, a breastfeeding activist, are the keynote speakers. In addition to a number of workshops, the urban gardening film Can You Dig This will be screened. You can find out more and register at or contact Kibibi Blount-Dorn at [email protected] or 313-833-0396.

The second event is an appearance by poet and playwright Claudia Rankine in the Madame Cadillac Building at Marygrove College in Detroit at 8 p.m. April 8. Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric won the NAACP American Image Award for Poetry in 2015. Her work is often considered experimental, although understandable and tied to contemporary culture. This reading is the 28th in Marygrove's annual Contemporary American Authors Lecture Series, which focuses on authors of color. It is free and open to the public. Go to for more information.