Tax relief fight looms over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's budget presentation

Howes: It's good to be Eden Wells — new gig, job protection

Daniel Howes
The Detroit News
Just days before a Genesee County judge ordered Michigan's Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in the Flint Water Crisis, she got a new civil-service job that would make it more difficult for Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer to dismiss her.

Just days before a Genesee County judge ordered the state’s chief medical executive, Eden Wells, to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in the Flint Water Crisis, she got a new gig.

Her newly created civil-service job, posted for all of six days, ensures she could not be easily fired by the next governor for her role (or lack thereof) in a public-heath crisis blamed for the deaths of at least 12 people and the sickening of 79 by Legionnaires' disease.

This is absurd and beyond cynical. Providing such a sinecure to Wells is an insult to the people of Flint. It's an affront to the civil servants of Michigan. It makes a mockery of accountability for the rolling lead-tainted water travesty that has plagued Flint — and Michigan’s reputation — for way too long.

What is it with these people? And by "these people" I mean the ones still controlling Lansing until January, when Gretchen Whitmer assumes the governor's chair, Democrats reclaim the attorney general and secretary of state offices, and a new crop of Republican leaders take their seats in the state Legislature and face divided government for the first time in eight years.

To paraphrase Lord Acton, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Fitting for the era of Trump, Republican lawmakers in Michigan and neighboring Wisconsin are using their post-election "lame duck" sessions to settle political scores and distort the will of voters — presumably under the assumption the public'll forget all about the strong-arming next time they step in the voting booth.

Don't bet on it. The downside of hyper-partisanship and the raw exercise of power increasingly is backlash. It's a blue surge, if not a wave, in the mid-terms. It's the yellow-vest protests bringing the Paris of French President Emmanuel Macron to a standstill. It's protesters working the halls of the state Capitol in Lansing, the opening gambit in a two-year sprint to 2020 and the chance to unseat a president. 

I have a better idea, Republicans: nominate stronger candidates and do a more effective job selling your preferred policy prescriptions. Persuade, don't impose. These lame-duck antics in Lansing look less like anything resembling statesmanship and more like the petty politicking they are.

Before you leave, find a spot in the state bureaucracy to park Wells, now the "advisory physician" in the state Department of Health and Human Services. And pay her almost as much as the $180,000 she made as an appointee of Gov. Rick Snyder, irrespective of any legal culpability in the Flint fiasco.

Before you leave, pass legislation restricting the powers of the next governor, the next attorney general and the next secretary of state, lest they use their constitutionally prescribed powers in the next redistricting to weaken the GOP hold on power. That grip that may loosen further after 2020 should election results mirror last month's Democratic rout in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Before you leave, pass legislation that forces members of public-employee unions to vote every two years on whether to retain or disband their union. It's yet another example of the Republican majority using the waning days of the year to plant its metaphoric boot on the neck of public-sector unions — because they can.

All that's missing are the melodic strains of "Kum Ba Yah." The civility of Snyder's repeated conjuring, his legacy of "relentless positive action," will be revealed by which pieces of lame-duck paper he chooses to sign into law and which he has the courage to reject.

The corrosion of the Flint crisis will linger long after the governor decamps for Ann Arbor. It's traumatized the state's second-largest minority-majority city, undermined the credibility of state, local and federal governments, divided the Republican party and given its adversaries a metaphoric club to wield against the GOP effectively.

Still they don't learn, as the Wells switcheroo demonstrates. Politics today isn't the art of persuasion, it's an exercise of naked power. It assumes the unwashed masses will salute and swallow the result, even if recent evidence suggests otherwise.

Come January, Michigan Republicans will be forced to reacquaint themselves with the unique challenges of divided government. And when frustration rises, as it inevitably will, they should remember the case of Dr. Wells and the fact that they only have themselves to blame.

(313) 222-2106

Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN, listen to his Saturday podcasts, or catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM.