Early Monday morning, Gov. Rick Snyder was asked almost sympathetically by Pancakes and Politics moderator Carol Cain what the past six months have been like for him (being listed among the 19 most disappointing leaders by Forbes magazine, being brutally grilled by a mocking and incredulous Congressional committee investigating his involvement in the Flint water crisis, the swell of lawsuits, etc.) In response, Snyder, the keynote speaker, gave what was perhaps his best answer to date trying to describe the level of strife and turmoil that has become his virtual everyday existence as he continues to navigate the relentless not-so-positive fallout of what will go down in history as one of the worst failures of state government in Michigan’s history.
Or at least he almost did.
“It’s a humbling experience. And it’s a huge challenge. That’s the honest answer. It’s been a very difficult time period. But what I keep in mind is there are people suffering more in Flint, and I want to do something about it,” he said.
So far, so good. If only he had stopped there…
“If you step back and look at it, you have a handful of career civil servants, been there 20 and 30 years, who did not apply common sense. …It was an absolute lack of common sense.”
For some reason, Gov. Snyder simply can’t answer any question related to his culpability in the Flint water crisis without pointing out that the real problem wasn’t so much him as it was that he was ill-served by incompetent staff members who should have known better. It’s like he wants to accept full responsibility, knows he should accept full responsibility, but…he just can’t. Just like one would hope he knows that he really should make a trip to Flint and meet directly with the residents. Face-to-face. Concerned public servant to outraged constituent. Take their rage full frontal. Answer their questions. All of them. Something he should have done long ago. But…
He just can’t.
Instead, the Governor pushes forward in the only way he seems to know how, acknowledging that mistakes were made, but shedding those mistakes as relics of the past. As if there is some measure of salvation to be found in the safety of a rear view mirror, where crises are closer than they may appear but no match for the gleeful possibility of something better up ahead. As Scarlett O’Hara said so melodramatically in the classic movie Gone With the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day.”
To that end, Gov. Snyder addressed the sold out morning crowd at the Detroit Athletic Club, spilling over with Movers and Shakers, with much of his familiar optimism about the greater days that lie ahead for Michigan, and about all that he has managed to accomplish so far.
“Looking back five years, how many of you thought Detroit would be as exciting as it is [now]?” he said.
“Great, good things can happen when people work together.
“And to put things in context, the state is doing good overall economically. We have many challenges, but we are the comeback state in the United States. We’ve created 440,000 private sector jobs in the last few years. That’s huge. That’s among the top in the nation. If you look at our unemployment rate, it’s below the national average. When did you think you’d hear that again? It’s the lowest in the last 15 years.
“In terms of personal income, we’re seeing that go up in Michigan. That’s something that declined for over a decade. If you look at the last year we rank #4 in the nation in personal income growth. If you look at us compared to the national average, we’ve been above the national average 4 of the past 5 years. So it’s not just about creating jobs, it’s about creating more opportunities for people to have a better quality of life.”
Snyder pointed out that when he first took office in 2010, Michigan unemployment was 11.2 percent and there were 80,000 open jobs. Today unemployment has dropped to 4.8 percent and there are 102,000 open jobs, he said. So when confronted with those who call for his resignation, Snyder characterized his response thusly:
“Do you roll up in a ball? Do you walk away? If something happened on your watch that you’re responsible for, what are you gonna do if you were in my shoes? You’re gonna do something about it. You’re gonna be more committed to solving that problem as much as anyone, and that’s where we’re at today. So the way I view it is you take your shots, you deserve them. You deserve a lot of grief, you deserve the people up in Flint being angry at you. But you don’t back away. You say how do you turn it around, how do you make Flint a better stronger place, and that’s simply what that’s about and what I’m trying to do.”
And when asked how his efforts might be hamstrung by the recent string of lawsuits directed his way (one class action filed by the Detroit Public School Board, one federal RICO lawsuit, and one threatened by Flint’s Mayor Karen Weaver who has reserved her right to sue if she feels Michigan is shortchanging Flint), his response suggested a sincere belief of Snyder’s that his tried and true approach of relentless positive action will prevail in the end.
“There are lots of lawsuits, and there will probably be more lawsuits. The issue is, how do we do good things to help the people of Flint? And that’s where I’m putting my focus. These lawsuits, lawyers can do well by them. And again, I appreciate the legal profession. It’s not a knock on them. We have a system that is set up to address issues like that. But what I want to do is say, what can we do near term? And we are. …you have to just keep working. You just keep going and you get the job done. If you look at it, there are a lot of great things going on in the state of Michigan that I’m very proud of in terms of things we’ve been doing the last few years.”
Tomorrow is another day…