Gov. Snyder: I’m still politically relevant

MACKINAC ISLAND — Gov. Rick Snyder is trying to hit the refresh button on his political capital.

In his opening remarks at last week's Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference, Snyder told the business crowd he was focused on finding solutions to the state's challenges — namely, lead-contaminated drinking water in Flint and a long-running legislative battle over the proposed debt restructuring of Detroit Public Schools.

During his first appearance at Mackinac, he compared talking to the media to talking to Eeyore, the forlorn donkey from Winnie the Pooh. The context? Chatter over the prospects for his political career and even whether he would leave office before the end of his term.

"The reports of my demise are well overblown," he told the crowd. Some people later commented he sounded defensive.

"I probably cleared the air on the first day," Snyder told Crain's in an interview Friday on Mackinac Island. "The tone was not good on ourselves.

"I viewed the second day as, 'OK, now that the air's been cleared, let's talk about that future.'"

Snyder's message is focused on Michigan's future but, simultaneously, he has to navigate his own. With two years left in his second term, the Republican governor is dealing with challenges in Flint and Detroit that threaten to overshadow his efforts to reduce unemployment, boost skilled-trades employment and address crumbling infrastructure.

"He knows that he is being … seen as someone who has lost his political capital...and he's trying really hard to push back on that," said Ron Fournier, a Detroit native and senior political columnist for the National Journal who presented at the conference.

"He struck me as someone who was, generally speaking, awfully determined to put up the façade as someone who wasn't in doubt," said Fournier, who said he sat down with Snyder for 20 minutes on the island. "(He was) really defensive, leaning really hard with his case and his talking points for the progress that has been made in Flint and Detroit and the successes that he thinks he's had and where he hopes to take the state."

Snyder remains popular among business leaders. He had a 59 percent approval rating in a May survey of Crain's subscribers conducted by Lansing-based Epic-MRA. More respondents favor Snyder than President Barack Obama or any of the remaining candidates vying to replace him.

Survey respondents overwhelmingly say they believe Snyder should remain in office, with 78 percent in favor of the governor finishing his term.

Among all voters, it's a different story. A new poll of likely statewide voters found 52 percent disapprove of the job Snyder is doing, The Detroit News reported.

Ken Sikkema, a Republican who served as Senate Majority Leader from 2002 to 2006, said Snyder can remain an effective governor, but that he must “recognize the hand he’s been dealt.”

“He has two liabilities,” Sikkema said. “One is the Flint hangover. Clearly, there is a public perception that his administration is responsible for what happened in Flint. It happened on his watch and that’s a liability. Second, he’s in the last couple years of his term. For any governor, that’s a liability because you’re basically a lame duck.”

Even before Flint, Snyder had trouble moving his agenda, Sikkema said. “If you look at the record, 2011-12 were super-productive, Sikkema said. “But after 2012, things really slowed down. It wasn’t just Flint. I can’t think of one big thing that’s been done in the past few years, and that’s a problem.”

For Snyder to be effective, he needs to think carefully about what he wants to accomplish, and who his partners will be to achieve those goals, Sikkema said. “It’s harder but it’s not impossible. He just has to pick and choose wisely.”

Some business executives say Snyder is wounded but has an opportunity — if he takes it — to lead not only on Flint and DPS but also on the rest of his agenda.

"You're in a boxing match. Someone hits you with a blow across your face. What do you do?" said Ron Boji, president of Lansing-based real estate developer The Boji Group, who attended the conference. "That's where the strong lead...

"While Flint has been an area of significant attention because of the catastrophe that has happened, it has not stopped him from moving our state forward and has not stopped our business leaders," Boji said. "You multitask."

During Snyder's interview with Bridge/Crain's, he often referenced a multi-page handout on Michigan successes, such as record-low unemployment and a roads funding plan. In addition, action in the state Legislature could mean a Detroit schools funding plan is in the home stretch.

"I don't think it's in anyone's interest for the governor to even consider resigning," said Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, the state's business roundtable. "We need his leadership going forward."

When it comes to Flint, though, Snyder did not use the Mackinac stage to demonstrate that the water crisis is a "wake-up call" to fix the state's underinvestment in infrastructure, said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Lansing-based public relations firm Truscott Rossman.

"If I were him, I would have said, 'I've got 18 months. That's it. And I'm asking you to help me.' He didn't do that," Rossman-McKinney said.

The crises with Detroit schools are another opportunity to prove his mettle, several business leaders said.
His roughly $720 million proposal to restructure DPS — championed in the Senate by Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart — appears at risk of falling short over concerns from House Republicans and charter school supporters that a proposed education commission would restrict charters by allowing a mayoral-appointed task force to determine where in Detroit both traditional public schools and charter schools can open and close.

The House late last week approved legislation that would turn the proposed Detroit Education Commission into an advisory board rather than an entity with governing power.

Snyder says he continues to support the DEC, as does the Senate, but he's also cognizant that a compromise needs to get through the Legislature.

Snyder said he doesn't want to lose sight of the fact that DPS legislation would include hundreds of millions of dollars to help the district pay back operating debt and return control to a locally elected school board — both of which he believes would be seen as significant accomplishments.

John Rakolta Jr., chairman and CEO of Detroit-based Walbridge Aldinger Co., and co-chairman of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, called Snyder "a stalwart. He has been unbelievably supportive."

Regarding Flint, Kevin Hand, managing director of Birmingham-based consulting firm Conway MacKenzie Inc., and another conference attendee, said Snyder's administration appears to have somewhat mended fences with Flint city leaders, including Mayor Karen Weaver. That is in part due to Lt. Gov. Brian Calley's work in the city, he said.

Snyder himself will have to be more visible in Flint, Hand said. And progress on DPS, in particular, will have to be made soon to prevent attention lingering on the issue during the Legislature's summer recess and into lame-duck session this fall. If he does, Hand said, "it does give him the opportunity to get back to his agenda."

The Detroit chamber named infrastructure to its post-conference "to-do list," and Snyder has appointed a commission that is studying the state's infrastructure systems with the intention of recommending solutions this fall.

Snyder said he has not stopped working on his other policy priorities, including energy, criminal justice reforms, economic development and skilled trades.

"These have all been operating in parallel. They just haven't gotten the visibility" Flint and DPS have, he said. "Being a great state is more than the government. It's about how we can be partners. And you need the public-private partnerships to make that happen, and that's where the business community has a bigger role to play still."

Bridge Magazine senior writer Ron French contributed to this report.

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Michael Kiella
Sun, 06/05/2016 - 11:38pm
If he was a leader, he would be leading. He has accomplished nothing but two purposive, yet shameful actions that resulted in catastrophic outcomes. And now, he relies on party politicos of days gone by to convince us that he still has a chance to make a difference. If he was a leader, he would be leading.
Sue Cozat
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 8:51am
I agree
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 8:04am
Very well said Michael. Gov. Snyder seems to believe that words trump actions - they do not. He has cemented a legacy as the most destructive governor in Michigan's history, and all he can hope to do is roll back a portion of the horrendous damage he presided over through mobilization of Michigan's government in returning a functional water system to Flint and recognizing that infrastructure doesn't take care of itself. His "economic miracle" is a cruel joke built on taking dollars from those who could not afford it.
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 9:05am
He was irrelevant the day he was elected. Created his governorship on lies (SPARK) and we went downhill from there. Remember the famous $1.8 billion tax cut for businesses that would create sooooo many jobs? A con job, the first of many.
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 9:30am
It is hard to do your job when all you get is opposition from democrats, unions, and other useless entities. Money is getting to Flint, and the city is ripping off $2,400 in permit fees for each pipe replacement. Justify that as anything other than a money grab. Money has been legislated to fix the DPS financial mess, yet those at the local level do not want to do anything to fix the problems that caused the mess in the first place. I don't think giving someone over $600,000,000 is disrespecting them one bit, yet the mayor of Detroit and all the residents there say it is. It is disrespecting the hard working citizens of out-state Michigan to see our tax dollars being continually funneled to cities that have zero ability to govern themselves.
Dan Sibo
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 10:10am
Saying "I’m still politically relevant." seems to be the most recent version of "I am not a crook."
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 11:36am
What is ridiculous is that while Snyder lead the poisoning of Flint and it should be on his tombstone it is hardly Snyder's only screw up. Whether forcing retirees and public school students to pay for Snyder's personal tax cut or the veterans being abused in the State's nursing home which Snyder privatized or maggot filled rotten prison food Snyder ordered or the no bid contracts to Snyder family and supporters or the deregulation of for profit charter schools or abolishing worker safety or allowing increased pollution in urban areas or placing more restrictions on access to women's health care or abolishing the earned income tax credit or doing nothing of substance about pothole filled roads or creating a secret slush fund in the governor's office or creating a secret group to destroy public education or abolishing item pricing so consumers do not know what they are paying or signing more voter suppression laws to make it harder for seniors and minorities to vote or denying workers the right to unionize....there are many more bad things Rick Snyder has done---he should not be allowed to live in Michigan. An enemy of the state of Michigan could not do more to harm its citizens than Rick Snyder.
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 11:38am
We are paying his attorney fees. His attorneys are telling him he can better defend himself from within. The problem with that strategy is it is the state that loses. No forward progress.
George R.
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 11:58am
I have been reading the Bridge for 6 months now. The articles and now comments indicate for me a left wing democrat lean that has gone to far. Note the comment by Elliot above. Unhinged democrat. Please unsubscribe me.
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 3:09pm
Governor Snyder's administration is now the topic of case studies of how not to govern in university settings. This administration has caused more pain and tragedy in this state than any governor in my lifetime. The total cost of these "mistakes" will take away money that could have been used on education and infrastructure. If George R. (comments) wants to talk about "left wing democrats", lets take a look at the current make up of the Michigan leadership who is all republican and so arrogant they don't even see the impact of what they have done. I wonder if one of them or one of their family members was impacted by the water in Flint (lead poisoning or Legionella's) how understanding they would be. It seems this leadership is so out of touch with the population of Michigan but the business owners "love him". For Governor Snyder to say he is still politically relevant is sad. His legacy will show up in the text books as a way not to lead, and those who support him are just as blind.
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 5:55pm
The almost a governor is the worst kind of republican! His business is business first and always - and damn the Michigan residents and Michigan failing infrastructure. From reduced business taxation to create jobs which failed as that really wasn't the intent - to very increased taxation of seniors, veteran's and retirees who must now decide between paying for health requirements or paying the increased taxes which only benefited the wealthy. Now because he doesn't trust his own attorney general, Michigan citizens are paying $1.2 Million for outside lawyers in case he is taken to court and held responsible for his many non-caring fiascos including Flint. Who supports him? Why big business of course who owe him big time for larger profits due to less taxation. Lets be mindful that the nerd couldn't have done the harm he reeked upon Michigan without his self serving republican troops in the House and Senate. So unless you vote his troops out in November it will be more of the same which you will deserve what you get because you failed to act to stem this nerd tide. Voters need to vote for their needs and wants - do not vote for the nerds minions who caused these statewide problems.
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 8:52pm
“I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest for the governor to even consider resigning,” said Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, the state’s business roundtable. “We need his leadership going forward.”He will go down in history as the biggest mass poisoner the country has ever seen! Who wants something like that to lead the state, we don't want his resignation we want him in prison, where he belongs!
Herman Davis
Mon, 06/06/2016 - 11:45pm
Governor Snyder just doesn't get it, he's no longer wanted. He's ruined too many family's lives, and simply don't care. He thinks he can just pick up where he left off and continue. It doesn't work like that, for it's about trust, and he cannot be trusted. "Get out of Dodge" you've lost your welcome.
benda redding
Tue, 06/07/2016 - 8:15am
He helped Detroit in several very meaningful ways and he helped the state by giving Detroit a very good EM, Kevin Orr, and our bankruptcy proceedings put Michigan back on track. True, slow to act in Flint. When there is a crisis in the state, the main guy/gal should show up in that town and show your concern. Snyder's legislature hasn't helped the state much nor have they been a plus for Snyder, what concrete things have they done? An immature bunch of arrogant persons looking out for their own bank accounts.
Colette Gilewicz
Tue, 06/07/2016 - 9:40am
If you have to tell people you're still politically relevant, it means you're not.
Wed, 06/08/2016 - 5:40am
Of course business loves him, why wouldn't they. Point to all the good things he has done for Mi. Go ahead I am waiting. He and Walker in Wi. are two pees in a pod. Oh I am sorry I should have said PEAS in a pod. Fix our roads and infrastructure. Quit saying the lotto is really helping and supporting education. Help reign in run away college costs. Your concept of better practices you forced on schools cost my wife her job after 26 years. One more thing tell me the advantages of an at will contract other than to benefit business. I await you responses. R.L.
Wed, 06/08/2016 - 10:56am
A bunch of bitter uninformative, uninteresting comments from the left side of the spectrum in response to article designed to do little else but elicit them. Bridge and readers can and should do better.
Wed, 06/08/2016 - 7:34pm
Matt who are you referring to in your comment. Could you be a little more specific. R.L.
Michael Kiella
Thu, 06/09/2016 - 3:56pm
To those that feel the comments here are left-leaning, please provide examples, and evidence that have right-leaning tendencies, or are centrist. Delight us with a new perspective that is neither left, nor right. That is the purpose of this find the balance on topics and issues based on evidence, and careful analysis of our collected experience and knowledge. I want to hear your voice...not be hit by a stone...please contribute.
Thu, 06/09/2016 - 7:24pm
Michael I am not sure exactly what you mean. I enjoy reading the Bridge and it's many comments. The media seems to concentrate on the negative and blames each political party. No one has responded to my request to tell me the advantages of at will contracts to working people, and some of the accomplishments of our Gov. Also the lack of transparency in Lansing. Love to hear the other side. R.L.