Mackinac Island — Gov. Rick Snyder used his opening remarks Wednesday at the Mackinac Policy Conference to try to beat back at a growing argument that his administration has been paralyzed by the Flint water contamination crisis.
“The reports of my demise are well-overblown,” Snyder said to laughter and applause from business and civic leaders packed inside a Grand Hotel ballroom.
Snyder kicked off the annual three-day conference on the heels of a new statewide poll showing his disapproval rating at 52 percent of likely general election voters — a reversal of fortune from his 55 percent approval rating a year ago.
While acknowledging his administration “suffered a major setback” in the Flint lead-contamination crisis, the Republican governor said he is focused on making the city’s water safe to drink again and building a long-term economic recovery for Michigan’s seventh largest city.
“This should be about solutions. This should not be about dwelling about problems for the next two or three days,” Snyder said. “Let’s not dwell on the past. Let’s not dwell on what went wrong. Let’s learn from it. Let’s understand we still need to help people.”
But Democrats said the governor is ignoring problems in his response to the Flint crisis, pointing out a $128 million Flint aid bill Snyder proposed in mid-February still hasn’t cleared the Legislature.
“The Republican governor of the state of Michigan should be able to get the Republican Legislature to act on his agenda, and that’s simply not happening and certainly a reflection on his leadership,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.
On stage, Snyder compared his interviews with journalists before the speech — including The Detroit News Editorial Board — to talking to the pessimistic and gloomy donkey cartoon character of Disney’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” series.
“It was like talking to Eeyore,” he said, later adding that “All it did was get me more fired up. And I hope I’m getting you fired up.”
In an interview with The News, Snyder downplayed his job approval rating.
The second-term governor said he is more focused on Flint’s long-term recovery than how the city and state governments allowed lead to contaminate the city’s water.
“If you look at it, the damage that’s been done in Flint has largely been done and started turning around back in October in terms of people not drinking the water,” Snyder said, referencing Flint’s switch back to Detroit’s water system. “Now we’re in the recovery phase, and there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
More than 1,700 business, education, nonprofit and political leaders are registered for the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference.
The Detroit chamber of commerce is steering clear of fostering the Flint water crisis “blame game,” CEO Sandy Baruah said.
To help Flint’s recovery, the Detroit Regional Chamber is running a crowd-sourcing campaign this week to raise money for the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, which will pay for long-term health care needs of Flint children exposed to lead poisoning. Two weeks ago, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint raised $6.7 million for the fund.
The Flint-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation will match dollar-for-dollar donations to the fund from conference attendees and by late afternoon $90,000 had been donated, Baruah said.