Governor Rick Snyder did not leave office a popular man. That’s in large part because of one word – Flint. But he also alienated some people early on by taxing their pensions.
Every other Michigan governor in the modern era was reelected by a bigger margin than they got the first time. But Snyder, who scored a landslide in 2010, barely won in 2014.
Had he been able to run for a third term this year, my guess is that he wouldn’t even have won the Republican nomination.
But here’s something I am fairly sure of. Years from now, historians will look back on his years in power far more favorably than we do today. That’s not to minimize what happened in Flint.
Snyder, a hands-off style of manager, did not exercise sufficient oversight over what was happening there. When the truth finally came out, he was very slow to react, took forever to make any personnel moves, and showed a curious lack of empathy for those affected. Eventually, he woke up and did the right thing.
But not before his political future had been destroyed. He did indeed pay a price for Flint. However, there was also a very different Rick Snyder, the leader who essentially saved Detroit by choosing a superb emergency manager and guiding it through an almost perfectly executed bankruptcy and bailout of its schools.
Detroit is solvent and has a chance today largely because of Rick Snyder. He also was probably the only governor who could have figured out a way to get past Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun’s control of our legislature and make a deal with Canada to build a new bridge which will be badly needed by the economies of both nations in the decades ahead.
We also shouldn’t forget that 680,000 lower-income Michiganders have health insurance today because Snyder managed to get the legislature to accept Washington’s offer to expand Medicaid to those who are earning slightly more than deep poverty wages.
And last week, Governor Snyder again was the adult in the room compared to the irresponsible and ideological legislators, who rammed through more than 400 bills in a two-week lame duck session. Many of them were nasty, vindictive and probably unconstitutional. One two-bill package would have forbidden local communities to prevent pet shops from selling puppies from puppy mills, horrible factory operations where dogs are abused.
Perhaps the most outrageous bill would have allowed the legislature to intervene in court cases where they didn’t think the state attorney general was doing the right thing – a clear violation of the constitutional separation of powers. They did this, of course, only because a Democrat won the job last November.
Snyder, who hasn’t often vetoed bills, did kill both of those, as well as dozens of other bad laws passed by the legislators, many of whom were term-limited or had been defeated, and so didn’t have to worry about ever being held accountable.
He did sign some bills he shouldn’t have. Those included new anti-environment laws that stipulated the state could not set standards stricter than the federal government’s. He also happily agreed to cynically weakening minimum wage and sick time laws they passed earlier to prevent people from voting on them.
In the end, Rick Snyder should be remembered as someone who almost always sided with business on economic issues, and was more moderate on social ones. But when it mattered most, he usually chose common sense over ideological madness.
In today’s world, that’s worth noting.