Democrats, activists hit Snyder ahead of State of State

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Lansing — Hundreds of protesters jammed the state Capitol steps Tuesday evening, calling for the ouster of Gov. Rick Snyder over the Flint contaminated water crisis before his statewide address.

Chanting “Flint Lives Matter” and “Snyder Must Go,” protesters ranging from United Auto Workers members to Flint activists and residents braved the bitter cold to hold up signs mocking the governor and his handling of the crisis that has engulfed his administration.

Inside the Capitol, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was the guest of state Rep. Brian Banks, D-Grosse Pointe. Jackson visited Flint on Sunday and called the city “a crime scene.” Snyder plans to focus most of his speech on Flint.

Former Congressman Mark Schauer, the Democrat who lost to Snyder in 2014, said the governor must “own this man-made disaster in Flint, Michigan.

“Make no mistake, Gov. Snyder is responsible,” Schauer said. “Your emergency manager’s decision creates it. You and your own administration rejected, minimized or hid evidence of the problem and the fact that children were being poisoned by Flint River water.”

Snyder has said his administration is at fault and has repeatedly apologized for the Flint situation. He has resisted calls for his resignation, saying he is focused on constructive solutions to the city’s problems

Schauer said he doesn't have “a political score to settle,” but that Snyder needs to take this situation seriously and “should turn over every document and every email relating to this mess.” Snyder told The Detroit News on Monday he is considering publicizing his own emails regarding Flint.

Cindy Estrada, a UAW vice president, said “no one listened" to the residents of Flint even after the reported rashes and sickness in children.

Even after General Motors Co. decided the Flint water was too damaging for its parts, the governor and his administration were too slow to respond to a national crisis, she said.

“What I don’t understand is how this governor yesterday can make a comment on Twitter and say that people are politicizing this issue,” Estrada said Tuesday. “Well, this is a political issue. Our kids are being poisoned because they only want to pay attention to cutting costs instead of looking out for our children and our elders.”

Jennifer Depew, 49, of Marquette held a sign that read “Let’s get the lead out of Flint’s water,” and said she was protesting the administration's handling of the crisis, “which needs to be managed for years to come.”

“I was exposed to lead as a child so I firsthand know that it can severely affect your life,” Depew said. “We need tankers of water. We need to get those pipes replaced. And we need research studies to track changes later in life as well as to treat them.”

The Michigan Republican Party was stationed on the steps of the Capitol Tuesday afternoon collecting bottled water to send to Flint residents ahead of Snyder’s speech.

Ronna Romney-McDaniel, chair of the state GOP, said others have politicized the issue and that the gesture of gathering water was to show the Republican party is serious about Flint residents, too.

“Right now as a party we felt it's incumbent upon us to start using our voice to help rally people around Flint and help them find good community organizations that are collecting water,” she said. “This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue. This is a Michigan issue. We have families who are struggling. I'm a mom. I get that. We have got to rally around this community.”

Romney-McDaniel said that “there’ll be time for finger pointing later” but that her goal is to change the dialogue to how to “help a community in crisis and take the anger and vitriol out of it.”

“I understand why it’s there but we need to come together,” she said.

GOP officials said they have collected 10,000 bottles of water. The governor’s office is helping to figure out where to distribute the water and staff members to assist in the effort.

“We should have done it sooner, absolutely without question,” said Sarah Anderson, spokeswoman for the state GOP. “I think part of what's motivating us now is that we've seen a lot of people who have a bully pulpit and instead of using it to (donate to worthy causes) point fingers and place blame. If you have this platform, why not use it for good.”

The governor has ramped up response efforts in recent weeks, activating the Michigan National Guard and requesting federal assistance from the Obama administration, which declared an emergency but not a major disaster.

Water response teams have visited more than 21,300 Flint homes since Jan. 9, according to the state, distributing more than 37,300 cases of water, 53,700 filters and 7,300 testing kits.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon, who joined Greimel at a Tuesday morning press briefing, listed the Flint water crisis among other “scandals” involving the governor and GOP-led Legislature, including allegations of spending abuse in the Detroit Education Achievement Authority and questions over the firing of aides to former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.

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