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Finley: Stay home and fight for roads, Gov. Snyder

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder said he would wait until after this week's special road funding election to decide whether he'll run for president. The overwhelming defeat of the measure should send a straightforward message to the governor: Don't run, Rick.

Had Proposition 1 passed Tuesday, the major agenda item of Snyder's second term would have fallen in place, and he could have indulged his presidential fantasies guilt-free and without cheating the people of Michigan of needed leadership.

But the trouncing of the ballot initiative the governor championed makes finding another solution perhaps the greatest challenge of Snyder's tenure.

He won't have the freedom to be off milking cows in Iowa and slinging hash in New Hampshire. And that's what a serious presidential bid demands.

Snyder ranks dead last in name recognition among Republicans in Iowa, the first primary state. To get to a competitive level, Snyder would have to eat corn dogs all summer at county fairs. To be a legitimate contender, he'd have to do the same in New Hampshire and, realistically, Nevada and South Carolina, the two other early pick states.

If he's not willing to invest that time, he has no business toying with a presidential run. Even if he is serious, Michigan can't afford to have him off campaigning during this critical period. Snyder claims his national forays are about telling Michigan's story. But as long as its roads are so shoddy, Michigan's story isn't ready for prime time.

This is no time for the governor to go AWOL. Lawmakers are going to read in Prop 1's defeat as evidence that voters have had the final word on a tax increase for roads.

He must convince them otherwise. Michigan's infrastructure is the equivalent of a natural disaster. The roads and bridges are unsafe, they are killing potential jobs and investment, and they won't get fixed without strong leadership.

A governor distracted by presidential ambitions can't provide that guidance. Snyder will have to be in Lansing every day, busting heads and breaking legs and playing the hardest of hardball politics. Meanwhile, he also must sell an unpopular plan to rescue Detroit Public Schools.

What started out as an amusing notion — the tough nerd goes to Washington — is becoming an irritant to Snyder's more loyal supporters.

These are the folks who dug deep to get the governor re-elected just last fall, and had to do so in large part because Snyder's inept campaigning made the race closer and more expensive than necessary.

They had to ante up again to fund Prop 1, and did so to placate the governor, with little confidence it could win.

Now they may be hit up once more to finance a quixotic presidential quest that is even more of a long shot than was Prop 1.

No one seems quite certain what's going on in the governor's head, what possible path he sees to the presidency.

Snyder has done an excellent job as Michigan governor. He rescued the state from the abyss. But he hasn't finished his work here. And because that's true, he hasn't earned the right to go traipsing down the presidential campaign trail.


Follow Nolan Finley at, 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.