Howes: Snyder presidential talk confounds GOP heavies

Daniel Howes
The Detroit News

More power to Gov. Rick Snyder's attempt to tell the Michigan comeback story in a nascent "Making Government Accountable" campaign, pegged by some to be a proverbial toe in the Republican presidential waters.

There is a story to tell. It's one of reckoning and redemption, of a resurgent auto industry and a restructured Detroit, of more disciplined state budgeting and a more competitive tax environment, of the birthplace of the modern labor movement becoming a right-to-work state and arguably a better place to do business.

But making a credible shot for the GOP nomination in a stacked field is something altogether different. That's what some of the state's most experienced Republicans with deep pockets are privately telling the governor, politely advising him to avoid the circus and focus on his day job.

They want to back a winner for president who combines the right political skills and the right record for the right time. They're not persuaded that the venture capitalist-turned-governor has the resume, the political savvy, the style and the passion to be the guy for 2016, if ever.

They may have a point, whatever the push for Snyder coming from Bobby Shostak, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, and Bill Parfet, the chairman of Mattawan-based MPI Research Inc, who is said to be raising money for Snyder's potential effort.

The governor's airing of his national aspirations revives a recurring theme for Snyder, last seen in his campaign for re-election: start late and move slowly in the apparent belief that his record can overcome suspicions in his party and a non-existent national organization.

He'd face brutal competition, starting with fellow Great Lakes governors who have the records, the national name recognition, the political teams and visibility in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Ohio's John Kasich last weekend addressed Granite State Republicans.

Kasich hammered his opponent last year by nearly 31 points. A plurality of Wisconsin voters elected Walker three times in the last five years, most recently by nearly 6 points. Snyder won re-election by just 4.2 points over a weak Democrat opponent, suggesting he would be the least likely of the three to carry his own state in a general presidential election against, say, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Worse, the governor's dalliance with what kinda', sorta' looks like a presidential flirtation comes as the signature effort of his second term — a ballot question to fund road and infrastructure repairs — looks to be heading for defeat the first Tuesday in May.

If it does, a presidential bid likely would be over before it might start. Instead of devoting the remaining two weeks to stumping for the ballot question, the governor is scheduled to attend the White House Correspondents dinner this Saturday in Washington and join an hour-long panel on Monday in California to discuss the Detroit bankruptcy.

Exactly whose profile are those stops intended to raise — Snyder's or Michigan's? Here's a state whose awful roads are deemed a threat to increased economic development opportunities, a Washington-based non-profit said in a report released Monday, but its governor is flirting with a presidential foray experts summarily reject.

More telling, Snyder is not expected to play an on-camera role in planned TV ads backing the roads measure. Because he's "for better or worse" closely associated with the measure, says a staffer close to the situation, the ballot question needs Democrats and independents to have any real chance at passage.

Republican opposition is growing. At least seven of 14 GOP district committees oppose the roads ballot question, officially known as Proposal 1.

"In my 25 years of activism within the Republican Party," Rochester Hills Rep. Tom McMillin said in statement over the weekend, "I've never seen anything like this — so many District and County Republican party committees coming out against a significant proposal by a sitting Republican governor."

If it fails, Snyder would be faced with a signature defeat that would make the Republican-controlled Legislature less likely, not more, to craft and support a "Plan B" to fund repairs to Michigan's dismal roads and bridges.

Last week, at a Pancakes & Politics breakfast in Detroit, the governor said he was "fired up being the governor of Michigan. And hopeful that comes across. This is not just a job. I love this state.... I'm fired up to keep going."

Going where is less certain than it should be, thanks to the presidential distraction. Whatever the pull of national office for a two-term Midwest governor, or the success of the Detroit bankruptcy, or balancing the state budget, those, by themselves, are not sufficient arguments for the next level.

Snyder — and Michigan — are reaping the benefit of the federal auto bailout, the economic recovery and six straight years of expanding auto sales. And Michigan finally has a good-news narrative going in Detroit, courtesy of Chapter 9, the "grand bargain" and billions in private-sector investment.

There's more work to be done, and Snyder has more than three years to do it.

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Daniel Howes' column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and can be found at