A few days ago, I received the following note from an individual who identified himself as working ‘inside the belly of the beast,’ in Lansing. I followed up with the questions below, and, given his responses, and a few other things that he mentioned, I have no reason to believe that he’s lying about his insider status. At any rate, I thought that you might appreciate his insight on the behind-the-scenes dynamics directing state politics.
First, here’s original note:
Rick Snyder had the chance to be the next Bill Milliken, a sort of post-partisan technocrat who didn’t buy into all the normal GOP bullshit but just wanted to cut taxes and generally make things work better. He shit the bed. Time and again he’s bowed to the demands of the craziest elements in the State House and Senate. These are people who don’t believe in science, who want to put women back in the kitchen, and who are terrified of allowing non-whites and young people access to voting. They also believe in magic in terms of economic policy. Snyder has been flaccid in standing up to them, just look at the domestic partnership legislation he signed. If the Governor had been more like LBJ and actually pointed out to legislators that he was elected to govern a state of 10 million people, not some district where 5,000 primary voters get you to Lansing, then he could have succeeded. If he’d focus solely on job creation and better governance, he’d be in great shape. Instead, what we’ve had is a governor who has relentlessly and positively allowed the GOP to put him over a barrel.
Now, here are my follow-up questions. Assuming you get something out of them, there will likely be more:
MARK: Realistically, in the case of the domestic partnership legislation that Snyder signed, what could he have done differently? I’m not attempting to make excuses for the man – I think his signing of the bill was reprehensible – but I’m curious to know how he could move forward with his other initiatives without the support of the legislature, which, as we both know, is run by the lunatic Tea Party fringe of the Republican party. Had he refused to sign, what would have likely been the outcome?
SOURCE: I think that he would still have been fine with them if he had vetoed the bill. He’s not through his first legislative election year as a sitting governor, so the caucus will stick with him pretty much regardless of what he does. That will probably be the case through 2014. After that, if he wins, he’ll start getting ignored. He could have vetoed the bill and kept the caucus with a little more work, he just didn’t want to.
MARK: Are there other examples, aside from the legislation that stripped the domestic partners of non-university state employees of their health insurance coverage, of Snyder giving in to the far right?
SOURCE: From a social front there haven’t been any incredibly bad bills that have gotten through yet, but there are plenty that have been introduced, had hearings, etc. If he was really about being a good governance/non-partisan sort of governor, he’d speak out against these bills publicly, or at least privately sent the message to leadership to knock this shit off. He definitely went along with all the attacks on labor, and we’ll see the rest of it later this year, as more anti-worker, anti-women and anti-environment bills come before him for his signature.
MARK: Is the sense in Lansing that he’s spineless and ineffective, that the Republican legislature is outmaneuvering him at every turn, or that he actually believes this shit?
SOURCE: He was very effective for the first half of 2011. He’s been led by the caucus since that point on. We’ll know for sure based on which bills come to his desk this summer and fall, and which he signs.
MARK: How vulnerable is Snyder come reelection time, if at all? Do the Democrats have anyone who could realistically take him on?
SOURCE: I think it will depend more on Obama’s election than what Snyder does. If Obama is re-elected it will probably be a bad year (2014) for Dems when Snyder is up. If the economy picks up at all, I think he’s in very good shape as an incumbent. If Obama loses, I think Snyder’s a one termer because off-year elections for the incumbent party are tough. The only two presidents in the last 100 years to pick up US House seats were FDR in ’34 and Bush in 2002.
The Dems have a shot to take him down, but only if they get behind someone quickly. They need a strong front runner who easily takes the primary and can provide a person everyone can get behind. Somebody like Gary Peters could work. Gretchen Whitmer, or somebody like that, could work too, but they’d need to get their name ID up quick. Sadly, I think that Snyder is in a pretty good place to win re-election.
MARK: It’s been a while since we’ve talked about mass transit on the site. As I understand it, Snyder had, unlike some other Republican governors, stood up to the Tea Party, and said that he’d work with the Feds to see rail investments made across the state. There was some grumbling on the right, as I recall, and I believe a few legislators gave moronic speeches about how such initiatives were “socialist,” and how the government shouldn’t be in the business of providing infrastructure, but my sense was that Snyder had won them over, perhaps with the signing of the anti-gay legislation. Where does that stand now, and is my reading of events even remotely accurate?
SOURCE: I think it’s somewhat accurate but it’s much more determined by what happens with the Feds. The confusion in Congress, and the awful funding agreement they passed last year, have really dampened any progress on transit. I think Snyder can use transit to triangulate a bit with the GOP caucus, especially when you have nit-wits like the Mayor in Troy who’s rejected funding for rail. She is a useful idiot for Snyder.
MARK: Speaking of the Republicans in Lansing, how likely is it that the Democrats could make any headway, chipping away at their majorities? If I’m not mistaken, the Republicans have a 26 to 12 advantage over Democrats in the Senate. That, I suspect, isn’t something that’s likely to change anytime soon. In the House, though, it’s 63 to 47, which seems more doable. Which races, from your perspective, are in play? And how do we position ourselves to win them?
SOURCE: The Senate is set until 2014, but the House is in play. The Dems have an outside shot of taking back the House. I think they’ll pick up 5-7 seats. If Romney sinks as the GOP nominee, then we’ve got a 50-50 shot of taking the House.
In Washtenaw we’ll pick up one seat (the 55th) because of redistricting. If we get people (women especially) motivated, then we could maybe take back the 52nd, which Mark Ouimet has now. Ouimet is Snyder just on a smaller scale. He was elected basically by saying he’d be a rational Republican, and then he’s gone along with every bad decision the caucus has made. He should be vulnerable, but the Dems are way too late in getting a quality opponent with Gretchen Driskell.