Mackinac Island — Gov. Rick Snyder says he doesn't think about his legacy, but that's what he will be fighting to preserve as he heads out on the campaign trail over the next year to ensure like-minded Republicans stay in power in Lansing long after he's gone.
The term-limited governor is re-engaging the Relentless Positive Action PAC he used in the last election cycle to hold the GOP majority in the House.
"I'm very proud of the platform, the foundation we've built," Snyder said in sit-down interview here during the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference. "It would be great to see people continue on that path. Make it better, make it their own. But we don't want to see it messed up."
Snyder says he will encourage Republican candidates to ask the classic campaign question:
"Is the state better today than it was when I came into office? And it is in so many ways."
But the governor would add a twist — is the state better for the future? And again he says the answer is yes.
"One of the messages I want to get across is of of fiscal responsibility," Snyder says. "I want us to continue to pay down our long-term debt. In 2038, we won't have any long-term debt if we stay on this payment plan. That is huge for future generations."
Snyder took issue with a recent Citizen Research Council report that forecast a dire fiscal future for the state because of the enormous unmet costs to fix the infrastructure and meet legacy obligations.
"We're not doomed," he says. "I did my own analysis before their report came out. Things do tighten up for awhile. But if we stay on a relatively positive economic path, we work through all of that constructively and then we start generating better results on the upside."
Despite strong economic growth during his seven-year tenure, Snyder has struggled to keep his approval ratings respectable. That was true even before the Flint water crisis. In his 2014 re-election, he won by just four percentage points even though all Michigan economic indicators were racing upward.
Still, asked if Republicans should run on his record, he says, "Absolutely. Part of it is they should not go back into the old sound bites that sound good but they are not as fiscally responsible and as job focused as they should be."
Part of his own campaign trail message will be one of civility and relationship building in government, something he's sometimes struggled to achieve with his own GOP-controlled Legislature. And there's a lesson in that for Republican leaders in Washington.
"Fighting is not governing," Snyder says. "Fighting is something you do when you're in the minority. When you're in the majority, you need to stop fighting and show the people you can get results. It requires compromise and working together."
Snyder says his approach is recognizing he and lawmakers do have differences, and concentrating instead on where they can come to agreement.
"And isn't the state better off for that?" he asks.
The governor recognizes Republicans face challenges in 2018, "including what's going on in Washington,” as well as the state's historic restlessness with the party of incumbents. It's been more than a half-century since a party has succeeded itself in the governor's office.
He does believe President Donald Trump could help GOP candidates if he campaigned on his behalf. But Snyder acknowledges that he's not spoken directly with the president, whom he did not support in 2016, since the election. He works instead through cabinet officers and his friend, Vice President Mike Pence.
"I don't view (a meeting with the president) as a requirement. I'm more interested in what gets done, rather than in the trappings of how they get done."
As for his priorities for his final year in office, Snyder says he will focus on career training, bringing accountability and transparency to education, and continuing to attract jobs to Michigan.
He said he believes he's checked off most of the to-do list he brought to office with him, except perhaps no-fault insurance reform and local pension reform.
"There will always be more things you want to get done," he says. "I'm never going to be content or complacent. There will always be one more thing I wish I'd gotten done right up until my last day in office."
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