Finley: Snyder obliged to protect his legacy

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Rick Snyder has no use for Bill Schuette, the Republican attorney general seeking to succeed him as governor. But he is intensely interested in his own legacy, and in assuring the policies he's put in place to restore Michigan's prosperity survive long enough to become ingrained in the state's DNA.

That's at risk if Democrats sweep into power in the November election. 

"His legacy is up for grabs," says Greg McNeilly, a west Michigan GOP strategist. "All the things he's done to make Michigan a business friendly state will be undone."

Yet the animus Snyder feels toward Schuette apparently outweighs his self-interest in preserving the hard-won gains that have made Michigan stronger during his eight-year tenure. Snyder has not endorsed Schuette, and is not working on his behalf, even though the Republican nominee says he will continue pressing the Snyder comeback agenda if elected.

"It would certainly be helpful to have Snyder on board and actively engaged," says Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the state Republican Party. "The governor has never been particularly political, and he can't do much to rally the base.

"But he can move independents. He'd add a certain degree of credibility."

Snyder feels he was a proxy target of Schuette's investigation of the Flint water crisis, which led to the indictment of two senior members of his administration. He backed his lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, in the GOP primary, which turned into an intra-party blood-letting that left Schuette weakened coming into the general election campaign.

"From a team perspective, the governor should make that whole," McNeilly says.

Detroit News pollster Richard Czuba of the Glengarifff Group notes that Snyder has a relatively high approval rating for a governor completing two terms. He believes Snyder could keep home those Republicans who are lukewarm to Schuette. McNeilly agrees.

"He could help with the southeastern Michigan business community," the strategist says.

Snyder would be most effective in turning the focus of what has been so far, in McNeilly's words, an issueless campaign away from personalities and toward policies.

Finley writes: "Whether Snyder could turn a tough election in to the Republicans' favor is questionable. But he owes it to himself to try."

What's at stake are the business tax and regulatory reforms that Democrats continue to denounce, but which have produced more jobs and higher wages. Democrats looking to raise funds for road repair and schools would turn first to higher taxes on business.

And then count on them to fulfill a wish that has been lingering for decades: a progressive income tax.

School choice would also be greatly restricted, hampering Michigan's efforts to reverse its education slide. 

We've been in this place before. Former Gov. John Engler over his 12 years pushed through scores of initiatives to shrink government's size and influence and loosen Big Labor's grip on the economy. Nearly all of them were undone by his successor, Jennifer Granholm.

Whether Snyder could turn a tough election in the Republicans' favor is questionable. But he owes it to himself to try. Snyder talks often about how easy a job the governor will have in 2035, thanks to the policies he's championed. But they haven't yet taken firm root, and if he's replaced by a governor who doesn't share his vision, they will blow away.

"It will be as if he was never here," says McNeilly.