Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
It’s no secret that I’m opposed to the Detroit Public Schools (“DPS”) plan passed by the Michigan House of Representatives. I’m only slightly less opposed to the DPS plan passed by the Michigan Senate. This post is not about the merits of the competing legislative plans or why I oppose them; I’ve already covered those topics at length. This post is about something different—namely, the ambivalence and equivocality of Governor Rick Snyder.
Snyder was the original booster of the Senate’s DPS plan. Snyder championed the “Old Co/New Co” idea, and began pushing what would become the Senate legislation early in the process. During his 2016 State of the State Address, Snyder praised State Senator Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) by name. Hansen is the primary sponsor of Senate Bills 710 and 711, which form the centerpiece of the Senate DPS package. At least initially, it appeared to everyone that Snyder was ready to fight to get the Senate plan passed.
But is he still?
Now that the House and Senate are at an impasse on the DPS issue, we might expect to see Snyder heavily involved in the negotiations. Nope. As far as we know, Snyder has not personally reached out to make deals, whip votes, or persuade intractable state representatives to support the Senate legislation. Sure, he sent Dick Posthumus over to the Capitol Building a couple of times. But Snyder, himself, has adopted a new position of equivocality with respect to the interchamber disagreement, and has become increasingly taciturn concerning Hansen’s Senate bills. Indeed, he stated publicly at the Mackinac Policy Conference that the House legislation isn’t all that bad, hinting in very Snyderesque style that he’s now probably willing to sign either chamber’s plan.
You remember John Engler, don’t you? Given a GOP-controlled House at loggerheads with a GOP-controlled Senate, and faced with a fast-approaching deadline to get something done, Engler would have pulled out all the stops. He would have personally met with legislators and lobbied for his bills. He would have made promises, offered campaign assistance to those who would support his plan, and threatened to run primary challengers against those who would not. In the end, he likely would have gotten exactly what he wanted.
But Snyder is no Engler. Snyder repeatedly said that right-to-work legislation was not on his agenda. Yet he did nothing to dissuade his fellow Republicans in the Michigan Legislature from passing a right-to-work bill. He then alacritously signed it into law. In fact, Snyder blithely defers to Republican lawmakers on a regular basis, routinely suggesting that he has some sort of moral duty as the state’s top elected Republican to sign whatever piece of rubbish the GOP-controlled Legislature sends to his desk.
It really seems that Snyder is not concerned with specific issues or legislation. He is satisfied as long as something—anything—gets done, irrespective of the particulars. As long as it looks like the big problems are being solved, Snyder does not trifle himself with the details. He is the quintessential bean counter, tallying success according to whether a bill has been signed, not the content of the bill.
As much as Engler was criticized for his frequently coercive, LBJ-like tactics, I wonder if it might be better to have a strong governor with a specific legislative agenda than a vacillating, wishy-washy governor who’s not willing to dig in and defend his position. While Engler’s agenda was often damaging and harmful, at least he was a leader. By comparison, Snyder is a weakling.
It’s time for Snyder to put his money where his mouth is. If he still wants the Senate DPS plan enacted into law, he should walk across the street to the Capitol Building, twist some arms, make some deals, and bring this stalemate to an end. But if he really doesn’t have a preference, and is planning to sign whatever scrap of paper is ultimately enrolled, he should stop feigning interest and admit he just doesn’t care.