Snyder actively working for GOP ticket, but not Schuette

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, right, and Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Lansing — Term-limited Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is actively assisting Republican candidates across the state but continues to conspicuously withhold support for GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette. 

Snyder and his Relentless Positive Action political action committee are supporting businessman John James for the U.S. Senate, House Speaker Tom Leonard for attorney general and accountant Mary Treder Lang for secretary of state.

The governor is also assisting “a lot” of GOP state House and Senate candidates, said Amanda Kornegay, a spokeswoman for Snyder’s PAC, which has not yet announced a full list of Snyder-supported candidates.

The political assists have largely come behind the scenes by Snyder, who has repeatedly explained his Schuette snub by saying he’s focused on “more governing, less politics” during his final months in office.

But Snyder has “been quite active supporting the GOP ticket” this fall and involved in other races, spokesman Ari Adler confirmed.

Schuette, the state attorney general, has clashed with Snyder on several fronts, including his prosecution of top administration officials over the Flint water crisis and a 2014-15 Legionnaires' disease outbreak that sickened 79 individuals and killed at least 12 people. The Midland Republican has trailed Democrat Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing in recent statewide polls.

“Gov. Snyder is focused on being the governor rather than on who the next governor will be,” Adler said Wednesday.

“As for the other races, he is lending support to those who have been good partners in Michigan’s reinvention, such as Tom Leonard, as well as folks like John James, who have been in the governor’s corner since before he was governor.”

The fact Snyder is helping support “just about everyone on the ticket but the gubernatorial candidate just reinforces the narrative that he and the attorney general don’t get along and don’t have a good relationship," said Bill Ballenger, an analyst and former GOP legislator.

"I think at this point, Schuette can consider himself lucky that Snyder hasn’t endorsed Gretchen Whitmer," Ballenger added. Snyder's sitting out the race is not an insurmountable obstacle for Schuette, but "it would be much better for the Republicans obviously if they managed to bury the hatchet.”

Asked about the lack of endorsement, Schuette spokesman John Sellek said the gubernatorial election is about "taking our economy forward or back to the Lost Decade," referencing economic troubles under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who left office at the end of 2010. 

"Bill knows that Gov. Snyder brought our economy back from the dead," Sellek said, pinning past economic woes on Whitmer, who served in the state House and Senate under Granholm but was not elevated to Senate minority leader until Snyder's first term. "Bill will build on the recovery to grow family paychecks." 

While they have disagreed on other topics, much of the angst between Snyder and Schuette appears to stem from the Flint water crisis probe.

Special prosecutor Todd Flood has questioned administration officials about Snyder's involvement and filed involuntary manslaughter charges against Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells over deaths in the Flint area Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.

Snyder has kept both officials on the job and last month defended Lyon “as a strong leader” in state government after 67th District Court Judge David Goggins bound the department head over for trial for what he called “corrupt” actions.

In December, Flood's questioning in court prompted Snyder urban issues aide Harvey Hollins to testify that he told the governor about the Flint area Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in December 2015, contradicting Snyder’s testimony to Congress that he first learned of it in January 2016. Snyder was forced to defend his prior testimony as truthful after House Oversight committee leaders asked him to address the "discrepancy in recollection.”

Snyder has appeared at fundraisers for several other candidates this cycle, and his PAC is expected to provide financial assistance to some general election hopefuls. He is also actively supporting Michigan Supreme Court Justice Beth Clement, who is running to keep her post but has been criticized by GOP activists over some of her rulings.

“The governor believes in her as much today as he did when he first appointed her to the Supreme Court,” Adler said.

State records show Snyder’s RPA PAC contributed $58,000 Lt. Gov. Brian Calley for his gubernatorial primary campaign against Schuette and also donated to a handful of legislative candidates, including state Rep. Chris Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township, who is competing for a state Senate seat with Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids.

James, a Farmington Hills military veteran who is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, celebrated Snyder’s backing Wednesday on social media, thanking the governor and his PAC “for supporting our mission of protecting the American Dream for future generations.”

Before he was a candidate for any office, Snyder had appointed James to the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and as board chairman of the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund.

“John is proud to have Gov. Snyder’s support,” said campaign manager Tori Sachs.

Snyder and Leonard, the DeWitt Republican whom he’s backing for attorney general over Democrat Dana Nessel of Plymouth Township, have not always seen eye-to-eye on fiscal policy. The governor opposed Leonard’s high-profile plan to cut the personal income tax rate, which failed in a 52-55 state House vote.

But Snyder and Leonard “have worked well together over the past few years on major reforms that have delivered real results for the people of Michigan,” said Leonard spokesman Gideon D’Assandro.

Snyder has been “very helpful” with Leonard’s campaign for attorney general, he said.