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Poplin: A governor with
a distaste for government

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Tell the editor, Kyle Poplin, what you think of Gov. Rick Snyder and the Flint water crisis. Post here, email theannmag@gmail.com, visit facebook.com/theannmag or go really old-school and leave a message at 369-4239.

Protesters hold a Jan. 18 rally in Ann Arbor calling for Snyder’s arrest. | The Michigan Daily

Protesters hold a Jan. 18 rally in Ann Arbor calling for Snyder’s arrest. | The Michigan Daily

Gov. Rick Snyder is a man in search of an image.

He calls himself “one tough nerd” but nobody really knows what that means. He promotes his “relentless positive action” but he’s not especially positive. He wants to be the casual trendsetter who doesn’t wear neckties, even though he looks to all the world like a man who’d be comfortable wearing a tie to a pig pickin’.

When he says he’s a  politician who dislikes politics, he’s getting closer to the truth. But we’ll take it one step further and say he’s a governor with a distaste for government.

It’s crazy to argue that he intentionally poisoned children in Flint; he clearly did not. But he did undermine democracy and that led to poisoned children.

Snyder’s been successful in his private life, becoming rich and powerful by making good, sound decisions. When he scanned the state from Lansing and saw institutions in crisis, he chalked it up to incompetence and felt qualified — by virtue of his proven decision-making skills — to step in and fix it, even if doing so made local voters irrelevant. This is not armchair psychoanalysis of Snyder, it’s the step-by-step thinking that leads a governor to use Michigan’s emergency manager law. Snyder’s not the first governor to use that law, he’s just its biggest fan; since he took office in 2011, he’s placed seven cities (including Flint) or school districts under the control of an emergency manager.

Emergency management is tidy. It replaces the sausage-making of democracy with the clarity of dictatorship. One person makes decisions previously made by many. But if you use it — overriding local voters, consciously depriving them of their Constitutional rights to local representation — then you’d better be the shining star and magical delegator that you think you are.

If, however, your hand-picked manager-minions do no better than the taxpaying citizens you just made irrelevant — in fact, your minions do much worse — you should expect to have your expensive dinners interrupted, your home protested, your very right to hold office contested.

It’s not a surprise that Snyder embraces the emergency manager form of government. He promised during both of his gubernatorial campaigns to apply business principles to state government, and the emergency manager is much like a “direct report” in the business world. And it shouldn’t be surprising that the emergency managers in Flint made big, unorthodox decisions; that’s exactly what they’re hired to do. The problem is, they do so without the background knowledge of the elected representatives they’re usurping. That’s a dangerous formula.

Snyder now finds himself in a box. He brought Flint to its knees by leaning on the balance-sheet-oriented system that he’d worked to his advantage his entire life. The only way to put the city upright again, however, is to involve all levels of government and all Michigan’s citizens in the process. In other words, he now needs to get knee-deep in politics, which is not his strong suit.

Will the governor look inward to fix the problem, inventing yet another image for himself as the teeth-gritting, protest-ignoring problem solver? Or will he humble himself and finally embrace the concept that the government is the people?

Kyle Poplin

Kyle Poplin is co-founder and editor of The Ann magazine.

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