Mich.’s Snyder may be low on fuel, but Dems’ tank is empty


DETROIT — Nobody is saying this yet, but could it be that the political juggernaut called Rick Snyder is running out of gas?

For all of Michigan Governor Snyder’s repetition of “relentless positive action,” his legislative priorities are bogged down. His proposal to increase gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to fix state roads was sneered at by his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

Though there is some discussion of raising the sales tax, it is far from clear that lawmakers will vote in favor of any new road money.

The Legislature flatly refused Mr. Snyder’s request to create a health-care exchange to help citizens find options. Nor are they willing so far to go along with another Snyder priority — accepting an offer to add nearly half a million uninsured state residents to Medicaid, even though Michigan would never pay more than 10 percent of the total cost.

And last week, when the governor proposed a major overhaul of medical coverage that would drastically limit benefits for those catastrophically injured in auto accidents, his proposal was savagely attacked by one of his party’s senior statesmen, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who is an accident victim.

Mr. Patterson called the proposal “an embarrassment.” He added that if the example of his own suffering helps beat Governor Snyder’s proposal, “then some good will come of it.”

Plenty of governors have had trouble with legislatures before, even ones controlled by their own party. But what appears to be happening seems to stand in stark contrast to Mr. Snyder’s first year, when his legislative successes came close — by Lansing’s standards — to a wildfire shooting through dry grass.

During his second year, the governor’s record was more mixed. But he was still very much Lansing’s dominant personality.

True, he seemed to bow more to the demands of a GOP legislative majority that was considerably more right on social issues than he was — or at least was perceived to be.

Mr. Snyder agreed to new, seemingly petty restrictions on teachers’ unions. He signed a bill to repeal the motorcycle helmet law, which, from a cost-benefit analysis, defied common sense.

But when lawmakers refused even to vote on a new bridge across the Detroit River, the governor shrugged, found a legal loophole, and made a deal with Canada to build it anyway.

Then last December, during the most frenzied lame-duck legislative session in memory, Governor Snyder reversed course and supported Michigan becoming a right-to-work state, possibly because he sensed that the bill would be passed in any event.

So far this year, the road has been rockier for Mr. Snyder, 54, a self-made multimillionaire who never took part in politics until he decided to run for governor.

Mr. Snyder was widely praised for his decision in March to appoint an emergency manager for Detroit. Initially, his choice of bankruptcy lawyer Kevyn Orr was seen as a positive.

But that was followed by embarrassment when it turned out that the man he hired to get Detroit’s finances in order had unpaid liens on his house. How, some wondered, could that governor’s team not have thoroughly vetted the man to whom they were giving more power than any elected leader in Detroit history?

Soon after, the man of relentless positive action found himself relentlessly dodging a bigger issue: Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema, whom many see as a national disgrace.

While the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in March about two cases involving same-sex marriage, Mr. Agema posted a hate-filled and mostly untrue rant against gay people on Facebook.

Though some called on the national committeeman to resign, Mr. Snyder was stonily silent. Finally, when cornered by a reporter April 8, he said, “I’m not going to get in the middle of all that.”

How all this will play out is far from certain. Those who once defended the governor as a secret moderate now are silent.

His move to the right likely will hurt his chances to get legislation passed. Democrats have been so weak in the Legislature, especially the Senate, that they are irrelevant.

Virtually all the infighting has been between the GOP governor and GOP lawmakers. Two years ago, Mr. Snyder might have gotten some bills through with a minority of Republican votes, plus substantial support from Democrats. Now, few Democrats are willing to support the governor on anything.

Does that mean that Mr. Snyder is toast when he runs for re-election next year? Not quite.

Michigan hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate for president since 1988, or re-elected a GOP senator since Richard Nixon was walloping George McGovern years before that. But as unpopular as Governor Snyder may be, Democrats have no candidate to oppose him. Some are pushing former congressman Mark Schauer to challenge Mr. Snyder, though he doesn’t seem eager to make the race.

You can’t beat someone with no one. Now, as angry as some may be toward Mr. Snyder, no one is precisely whom Democrats have.

Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade’s ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan. Contact him at: omblade@aol.com