Editorial: Snyder’s Mackinac task

The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder will likely have a markedly different Mackinac experience this week than what he’s used to. For five years, the governor has arrived on the island for the Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference as the exalted leader of a state business community thrilled to have one of their own calling the political and policy shots in Michigan.

Mackinac has been the place for him to take victory laps, to find affirmation for his agenda and to lay out his vision for the future to a receptive audience. He has been among friends on the island.

This year, that may still be true, to a certain extent. But it’s also true that Snyder limps onto Mackinac a much depreciated governor from a year ago, when he was still toying with a presidential bid.

The reason, of course, is Flint. Snyder’s mishandling of the lead-in-water crisis has brought his governorship to the edge of disaster. He and his staff are the subject of state and federal criminal investigations that could result in criminal charges against some members of the team.

Snyder has faced jeers at public appearances, calls for his resignation, ridicule on the national political stage and, perhaps worse, the loss of credibility needed to lead the state in through a particularly challenging period.

His fall has been Shakespearean.

And not undeserved. Snyder made poor choices regarding Flint, and his response to the the initial crisis was inexcusably neglectful. He has simultaneously accepted responsibility and blamed the bureaucracy. But this government belongs to him. If, after a full term, it was still dysfunctional, a large chunk of the blame rests with the governor.

And yet he is still the governor, with two-and-a-half years left on his tenure.

It is essential to Michigan that he regain both his own confidence and that of the people of Michigan in his ability to lead. Michigan can not afford to drift for such a long period under the leadership of a neutered governor.

The state has been through that once. The last two or more years of the Jennifer Granholm administration turned into a waiting game, as the business community in particular decided that nothing positive would happen to reverse Michigan’s long slide while she was still in office. In the end, she skipped the Mackinac conference altogether, recognizing she had little support and not much to offer the attendees.

But with Michigan facing slowing growth, a meltdown of the Detroit Public Schools and no clear resolution to the crisis in Flint, drifting to 2019 is not an option.

Mackinac is an opportunity for Snyder to find his mojo, or as much of it as he possibly can.

He’s got to step up on the island, present himself as the relentlessly positive leader of his first term, and make this conference about proving he can still fix things, particularly his own messes.

Outlining a point-by-point strategy for Flint, and effectively communicating it, would be a good start. His allies in the business community could help him if they better understood his plans.

Snyder once changed the national conversation about Michigan’s business climate. Now, because of the criticism he’s received for Flint, his effectiveness as an advocate for the state is marginalized. One of the challenges the business community must figure out on Mackinac is how to put the story of Michigan’s comeback back in the spotlight.

It’s easy to forget in the midst of his downfall that Snyder pulled Michigan out of a decade long recession with bold leadership and innovative policies.

That’s the kind of governor Michigan still needs. Perhaps Snyder can find him this week on Mackinac.