Rick Snyder, Republican hero

Thirty years ago [sic], I was visiting the drinking water treatment plant of Cambridge, Mass, and noticed a wonderful little Rube Goldberg contraption that dribbled a white powder onto a small turntable, from which an oscillating arm with a little scraper attached pushed intermittent tablespoonsful into the water flowing past in a flume underneath.  “What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s lime. We put it in to correct the pH [acidity], so the water doesn’t dissolve lead out of the pipes and solder joints.”

Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan elected in the 2010 state-level GOP wave that also washed the unspeakable Scott Walker and Sam Brownback onto local beaches, is having a terrible time in the last couple of weeks with this Flint water fuss.

Snyder’s big governing idea was to take over management of failing cities and towns in Michigan from their elected officials, and to have his political cronies, hard-headed CPAs like himself who understand that government is the problem, run things, and to stop running things that cost any money. In Flint, his local catspaw realized that big money could be saved [oops; just wait for the lawsuits to unfold] by switching the water supply from the Detroit system to the Flint River, and the Snyder people had already so thoroughly protected Michiganders from the ravages of government that none of the remaining environmental or utility officials in the state knew the slightest thing about water or plumbing.

What this did was to poison 100,000 people with a chronic neurotoxin, lead dissolved out of old pipes by river water that is slightly acidic, like most Northeast surface streams. A local pediatrician with a foreign name, and a smartass pointy-head professor from Virginia, tried to get Snyder’s gang’s attention, but of course they failed for about a year, because seriously, how many of those poor people stuck in Flint would vote Republican or contribute to GOP campaigns anyway? So the poisoning went on, until the inexcusably sentimental and unrealistic lefty agitator Rachel Maddow made it a national story. Along the way, it appears they saved $100 per day by omitting the gadget described above.

Oh yes, Snyder is also just finding out about a year-long Legionnaire’s disease outbreak, that’s killed ten people so far, that might have something to do with this. Snyder’s people were apparently trained to protect him from bad news; his chief of staff is all bent out of shape about blaming people for stuff, obviously a good fit with his boss.

It’s still going on, and what struck me today is Snyder’s complete ideological collapse and hypocrisy: he wants the federal government to come in and fix things for him. and he wants to deliver the whole stinking mess he made back to…Flint’s elected officials! Have we ever seen such a perfect storm of incompetence, cruelty, cowardice and cynicism?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

6 thoughts on “Rick Snyder, Republican hero”

  1. You don't understand, Michael.

    Federalism is wonderful. State governments really care for the people, who they are so close to. We need more Snyders, not fewer.

    More to the point, if someone – a private individual – had done to the residents of Flint what Snyder and his gang have done, how long would that person go to jail for?

  2. My parents, who live in Ann Arbor, really like Rick Snyder and voted for him twice as governor of Michigan. I'm trying to decide if it's appropriate to remind them of my disagreement at the time. The Flint water crisis is, among other things, a reminder for why separating those who govern an area from direct accountability to the people in that area is a really bad idea.

  3. "Snyder’s big governing idea was to take over management of failing cities and towns in Michigan from their elected officials,"

    The only reasonable alternative to this would seem to be cutting them off from all state funds; You can't just let them fail indefinitely at everybody else's expense.

    But it does seem clear that somebody at the state Department of Environmental Quality has a lot to answer for. Snyder, too, *if it can be demonstrated that he ordered the failure to add anti-corrosives*.

    I mean, haven't we already established in the case of the IRS targeting scandal, that the buck doesn't stop at the top, short of absolute evidence of direct orders?

  4. "… a wonderful little Rube Goldberg contraption that dribbled a white powder onto a small turntable, from which an oscillating arm with a little scraper attached …"
    This looks like something else entirely. Has Mike opened the Berkeley branch of the RBC drugs policy cartel? Special focus on delivery technology.

  5. Michael, I'm having trouble with your last sentence:

    "Have we ever seen such a perfect storm of incompetence, cruelty, cowardice and cynicism?"

    Short memory?

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