Gov. Rick Snyder, seen here in gear similar to his Super Bowl commercial, has critics whose views change as his positions do. (Luke Clyburn / Courtesy: Noble Odyssey Foundation)
Gov. Rick Snyder is fond of repeating the mantra that he’s not a career politician, but Michigan’s No. 1 nerd has quickly discovered that the vocational field he’s currently pursuing does not allow him to disregard the sometimes vicious and disingenuous debate that goes with the job he wants to keep for another four years.
Michigan is on the rebound and a dispassionate analysis would credit his initiatives with at least assisting in that turnaround.
But this is the world of politics, so opponents seeking to unseat Snyder are offering him no credit for successes, blaming him for those areas where the state is still ailing, and counting on the negativity they are creating to overshadow his accomplishments and unseat him in favor of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer.
The examples are endless.
Michigan is seeing job growth again, with more than 200,000 jobs added on Snyder’s watch, although the unemployment rate stubbornly sits at 8.4 percent. Still, that’s an improvement from the 11.7 percent rate Snyder inherited in a state where the number exceeded 15 percent five years ago.
Schauer has claimed some of the credit for his work in Congress while President Barack Obama was steering GM and Chrysler through bailouts and bankruptcy begun by his predecessor George W. Bush, but a review of auto employment numbers shows it’s not the Big 3 which have driven the jobless number down in Michigan.
An examination of data compiled by Forbes shows Ford has added approximately 1,000 jobs during Snyder’s tenure, Chrysler is up about 10,000 and General Motors has roughly 11,000 more workers.
That represents a little more than 10 percent of the job growth in Michigan, although all those auto jobs were not added in our state.
Another area of dispute Snyder has had to deal with is education spending.
Just two years ago, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, was among those who complained when teachers were asked to cover more of their retirement costs.
In arguing that educators earned their pensions, Whitmer described teachers as “the same people who played by the rules, (and) negotiated for their compensation which included retirement.
The governor agreed and tried to ease the burden by shifting more than $560 million in funding the past two years to pay the costs of retirement benefits in local districts, allowing them to focus on classroom benefits for students and relieving the long term financial pressures.
Showing that no good deed should go unpunished, Democrats now claim those payments are not classroom expenses and assert that Snyder has actually cut funding for education, ignoring their own earlier arguments and those of the Michigan Education Association that retirement costs are part of teacher compensation.
Because Snyder cut per pupil allocations to districts, he was accused of cutting spending on education, but closer examination reveals that Michigan continues to increase its investment in education when all sources of revenue, including federal dollars, are considered.
Additionally, Snyder proposed this week a 2.8 percent increase in K-12 education spending and 6.1 percent hike in university subsidies as part of his budget message, further buffeting the narrative that he doesn’t want to spend money on education.
Snyder may claim to eschew the label of politician but his actions sometimes betray that mindset, as evidenced by the mild tax cuts his budget proposed, made possible by the nearly $1 billion budget surplus his policies have created.
That strategy was recently recommended on my WJR Radio Show by House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, when he said, “People have been taxed enough,” and — be still my heart — “The Tea Party is right about that.”
But this is politics. Even when opponents agree, they come out in disagreement.
Snyder has discovered that on every level, including recent Democratic claims that his cuts in Corrections Department spending led to this week’s Ionia prison escape, a rarity in Michigan.
Of course those same critics have been silent about the spate of violent crimes committed by early parolees who were released in cost-cutting moves initiated by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and supported by her Democratic faithful.
To be sure, Snyder has carried out initiatives to upset voters in almost every demographic, including higher-income seniors who are still stung by the tax hike he laid on them, people who saw their Homestead Tax exemption disappear, and lower-income wage earners who lost their child tax credit.
That the overall impact of his tenure has improved Michigan’s overall economy, job situation, and housing values, should not be up for debate.
But they will be. Because whether he accepts it or not, everything a governor does is related to politics, especially when he’s just kicked off his re-election campaign.
Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760).