Column: Snyder’s opportunity for reform

Dennis Lennox

Gov. Rick Snyder ran and won the governorship of Michigan by campaigning as a self-professed nerd who was more interested in restructuring state government than refighting the partisan and ideological battles that usually define politics in the state capital of Lansing.

Seven years later, there’s much left for Snyder to do to fulfill some of his promises.

Flash back to 2010. Through both the bad governance of then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the dysfunction of the state Legislature, the Wolverine State was truly a national embarrassment. Lansing was basically bankrupt. Payless paydays loomed. Yearly shutdowns, even if only for a few hours, were commonplace. Between double-digit unemployment and an uncompetitive tax structure, the economy was in shambles.

Against this backdrop the tea party was insurgent. Something was happening.

In hindsight, Snyder was an unlikely vehicle for the tea party. After all, his public persona was that of a moderate Republican in the mold of William G. Milliken, Michigan’s longest-serving governor and perhaps the last of the real Rockefeller Republicans.

But against the field of career politicians competing in the Republican gubernatorial primary he was the only outsider.

Snyder’s platform of reinventing Michigan, including through a vast restructuring of state government, had real appeal with the tea party, which wasn’t initially defined by ideology or even party. Back then, it was regular folks frustrated by government.

While Snyder was propelled to victory by the tea party, the restructuring he promised hasn’t happened.

Yes, Snyder’s numerous regulatory and tax reforms have once again made Michigan a good place to be an innovator, entrepreneur and job creator. This part of his record is to be commended.

However, his failure to restructure government is a notable missed opportunity.

If there was a governor who could have abolished Michigan’s archaic structure of government — be it the numerous state agencies and departments run by obscure commissions or the thousands of local governments that do nothing but burden the wallets of taxpayers — it was Snyder.

That’s because Snyder wasn’t a creature of the Lansing establishment that exists solely to preserve the status quo. He didn’t ascend to the governorship because the vested special interests supported him. He actually refused to accept money from the special interests. Instead, Snyder personally funded a majority of his campaign’s expenses.

Snyder had the political mandate to take on the swamp dwellers that are funded with tax dollars to lobby against the best interests of the taxpayers who fund them.

As Snyder enters his final 14 months on the job he should take advantage of this last opportunity to achieve the real and fundamental reform that he promised all those years ago.

Not only is it the right thing to do — after all, the lines separating Michigan’s 83 counties haven’t been redrawn since 1891 — but it would give the second half of Snyder’s governorship a defining legacy, as opposed to one overshadowed by the scandal in Flint.

Dennis Lennox is a political commentator and public affairs consultant.