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Finley: Prop 1 makes Snyder, Schuette split public

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Michigan's Republican governor and its Republican attorney general aren't as close as you'd expect the state's top two elected officials to be when they're from the same party.

"It's fair to say they aren't exactly buddies," says a member of the governor's team.

The two have quietly clashed on issues, though they've always kept their disagreements private. Until now.

Schuette's decision Wednesday to oppose Snyder's No. 1 agenda item — passage of the sales tax hike to fund road repairs — not only widens their split but makes it glaringly public.

It also gives an early start to the political maneuvering for the 2018 gubernatorial race.

Snyder needs Proposition 1 to pass on the May 5 ballot. Without it, his top priority of making the state's infrastructure competitive for jobs and investment becomes nearly impossible to achieve.

The governor has struggled to get Republican support for the measure, even though it was a GOP-controlled Legislature that put it on the ballot. Most of the organized opposition is coming from Republican splinter groups.

Many traditional Snyder allies who don't like the proposal, including Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, are staying officially neutral so as not to harm the governor.

Schuette instead chose a path that is likely to make his relationship with Snyder even chillier. Snyder was irritated with Schuette for pursuing the appeal of a federal court ruling overturning Michigan's gay marriage ban, which the governor felt cost him support in his re-election bid. The two mostly avoided each other on the campaign trail last fall.

The attorney general says this is a matter of policy, not politics or personal feelings.

"I like the governor," Scheutte says. "We agree 95 percent of the time."

But Snyder and Schuette lead two different camps of the Republican Party. Schuette is a favorite of the tea party and social conservatives. Snyder has tried to keep a blanket over social issues.

Except for the state chamber, most business groups and large Republican donors have signed on with Snyder for the Prop 1 campaign.

That creates an interesting dynamic for the next governor's race. It's no secret Schuette wants to be governor. Nor is there little doubt that Snyder will back his lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, if he chooses to run.

Schuette says his Prop. 1 decision has "zero" to do with politics. But it will pay dividends in a Republican primary dominated by harder conservatives, perhaps more so than courting deep-pocketed donors from the party's business wing.

The question is how vigorous an opponent Schuette will be of Prop 1. Is it enough for him to simply go on the record as opposing the tax hike? Or does he feel the need to actively campaign for its defeat?

That's a high-risk balancing act. If Schuette becomes the face of the Prop 1 opposition, it may solidify him as the conservative choice in 2018. But it's not a slap the governor and his friends in the business community will soon forget.



Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at @nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.