New emails from the Snyder administration about the Flint water crisis have been voluntarily released and the revelations have not been kind to Governor Snyder and his inner circle.
“I don’t plan on resigning”
The administration is in the process of uploading thousands of emails that are supposed to help the public understand the events leading up to the crisis and the administration’s response. What we’ve seen is an administration that, in many respects, didn’t communicate with itself.
Governor Snyder, who’s made competent management the hallmark of his administration, seems to be a manager who’s out of touch. And for the first time, people are publicly asking: Can and will Rick Snyder finish out his term in office? He says he can and he will.
“I’m working hard to solve the problem in Flint. I don’t plan on resigning,” he told reporters last week after being asked that question.
Why didn’t he know sooner?
But the fact that the question is being asked is significant. And Snyder now faces another perilous political question and then even another more-perilous political question. The first, made famous during the congressional Watergate hearings: What did he know and when did he know it? The second, regardless of the answer to the first: Why didn’t he know sooner?
Governor Snyder and his communications team have tried to disburse the blame and label this as a failure at the local, state, and federal levels of government. (And, clearly, there were failures at all levels.) Also, the governor has said there is a culture problem within some state departments. But there also seems to be a culture problem in the front office. There is still no explanation as to why senior administration officials were so unwilling or unable to approach the boss with troubling news.
Lots of people, including the governor’s top lawyer and his chief of staff, believed this to be a questionable decision and, yet, none of them seemed to have the ear of the governor, including his chief of staff. What does it say about a management system where a chief of staff can’t compel action?
What comes next?
These are all questions that could easily become part of both the congressional hearings that will take place March 15th and 17th in D.C., as well as the legislative hearings that are supposed to happen soon in Lansing.
Clearly, the stakes are very high for the people who live in the city and will have to live with the results of the water disaster. But this also has big implications for the future political course of Michigan.
The state Republican Party regularly sends out email blasts calling on Democrats to not “politicize” Flint. But those demands are, in fact, quite political. The political stakes have become very big.
Looking toward the November election, 110 seats in the state House are up and the Republican majority in that half of the Michigan Legislature is on the line.
The Flint water crisis has also become a presidential campaign issue. Democrats will use it to create a narrative of Republican incompetence. That’s a big reason why the Dems chose Flint as the place to stage a presidential debate this coming Sunday evening.
Snyder, the CEO-CPA turned politician, has made measurable results - the bottom line - his thing.
In November we will see measurable results once the votes are counted. A lot of political wins and losses now depend on his capacity to deal with this political deficit because, as the saying goes, elections (like executive actions) have consequences.