A Refreshing Approach to Politics in Michigan

If Rick Snyder is a faux reformer, he disguises it well behind gobs of data and the passion of an evangelist.

Source: Congressional Resource Service
Ron Fournier
Add to Briefcase
Ron Fournier
Dec. 15, 2015, 2:32 p.m.

A mul­ti­colored quilt of circles and squares, con­nec­ted by faint gray lines, charted the 80-plus pro­grams serving low-in­come Amer­ic­ans for $1 tril­lion per year. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder stared at it.

“How many un­du­plic­ated people are on this?”

He wanted to know how many Michigan res­id­ents were rep­res­en­ted on the chart that Nick Ly­on had brought to the gov­ernor’s con­fer­ence room for a Nov. 30 meet­ing. Ly­on is dir­ect­or of Michigan De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices.

“About 2.5 mil­lion,” Ly­on replied.

“How many du­plic­ated?” Snyder fired back. “If you just took each one of those pro­grams and bubbles and ad­ded up all the mem­bers. I got to be­lieve there is over 10 mil­lion.”

“Oh yea,” Ly­on said. “It’ll be over 10 mil­lion.”

Snyder nod­ded, his point made: Pro­grams aren’t people. The ludicrously com­plic­ated Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice chart il­lus­trates how gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions are stuck in the 20th cen­tury: While cor­por­a­tions, cam­paigns, and oth­er so­cial in­sti­tu­tions are us­ing mi­cro-pars­ing tech­no­lo­gies to serve their cus­tom­ers (or voters) on an in­di­vidu­al­ized, al­most cus­tom­ized basis, gov­ern­ment still op­er­ates in the macro—count­ing and caring for pro­grams, not people.

A bur­eau­crat looks at the chart and sees 80-plus pro­grams serving 10 mil­lion Michigan cli­ents, double- and triple-count­ing people en­rolled in more than one pro­gram.

Snyder sees 2.5 mil­lion of his fel­low cit­izens lost in a mul­ti­colored maze.

“Just think how crazy the sys­tem is,” the twice-elec­ted Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor told me in a re­cent in­ter­view. “We’re treat­ing it like there’s 10 mil­lion cli­ents in the sys­tem rather than 2.5 mil­lion cus­tom­ers.”

This an­ec­dote il­lus­trates how Snyder tries to ap­proach gov­ern­ing dif­fer­ently. He didn’t start the meet­ing with Ly­on by de­mand­ing to know where cuts could be made, as would a Re­agan Re­pub­lic­an. Nor did he start with the as­sump­tion that more money will solve the chart’s riddle, as would a Roosevelt Demo­crat.

A nerdy, data-driv­en former busi­ness­man, Snyder re­fuses to en­gage in the retro ar­gu­ment over wheth­er gov­ern­ment should be big­ger or smal­ler. He says he wants it to be bet­ter.

After win­ning reelec­tion in 2014, Snyder prom­ised in his Janu­ary State of the State ad­dress to make gov­ern­ment a stronger ad­voc­ate for Michigan res­id­ents strug­gling to reenter what he calls the “river of op­por­tun­ity.”

“What we’ve done is we’ve sliced and diced people in­to pro­grams, we’ve moved away from treat­ing them as real people and, in some cases, we’ve taken some of their dig­nity,” Snyder said in the Janu­ary speech.

“Quite of­ten, we’re ad­dress­ing symp­toms. We’re not ad­dress­ing root cause,” he con­tin­ued. “In some cases, we’re ac­tu­ally fa­cil­it­at­ing de­pend­ence on state gov­ern­ment. That’s not right. We’ve also built a lot of bur­eau­cracy and in­ef­fi­ciency in the sys­tem, and that’s not right.”

A month later, Snyder signed an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der to merge two health-ser­vices de­part­ments, prom­ising “a fun­da­ment­ally bet­ter way of ser­vice. Of ef­fi­cient, ef­fect­ive, and ac­count­able gov­ern­ment. Let’s treat people as people, not pro­grams.”

The cyn­ic in­side me is wary of a politi­cian who prom­ises to re­form gov­ern­ment. I’ve seen Demo­crats like Bill Clin­ton and Re­pub­lic­ans like George W. Bush wrap them­selves in the mantle of change while they pur­sued con­ven­tion­al courses. If Snyder is a faux re­former, he dis­guises it well be­hind gobs of data and the pas­sion of an evan­gel­ist.

Talk­ing to me about ju­di­cial re­form, Snyder men­tioned that the state cor­rec­tions sys­tem tra­di­tion­ally waited un­til pris­on­ers were three months from be­ing re­leased to be­gin reentry pro­grams. “To be hon­est with you, I think that’s kind of dumb,” he said. Snyder re­cently hired a new pris­ons chief and ordered her to be­gin reentry pro­grams from the start of each in­mate’s sen­tence.

Re­cog­niz­ing the na­tion­al dis­grace of over-sen­tenced drug con­victs, Snyder sup­ports us­ing pro­ba­tion op­tions and di­ver­sion­ary court pro­grams to keep non­vi­ol­ent of­fend­ers out of pris­on. After the state Su­preme Court struck down man­dat­ory-sen­ten­cing laws, Snyder hin­ted that he may ask the state le­gis­lature to ret­ro­act­ively re­duce the sen­tences of people in pris­on un­der the old guidelines.

“These are the things you learn when you get a chance to really dig in,” he said, “and this is what I really en­joy: Dig­ging in.”

He’s dug in­to De­troit, work­ing closely with Demo­crat­ic May­or Mike Dug­gan to se­cure $178 mil­lion in state fund­ing for the city’s bank­ruptcy bail­out. Now that De­troit has made the first step to­ward a dec­ades-long re­viv­al, Snyder wants to solve the school crisis via a com­mis­sion that would over­see all pub­lic and charter schools in­side the city lim­its.

A com­plic­ated school-debt re­struc­tur­ing plan would cost the state $72 mil­lion a year for 10 years. Tax­pay­ers out­side De­troit are likely to balk, trig­ger­ing an­cient ra­cial and re­gion­al rifts, but Snyder thinks he can get it done.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Snyder says he has big plans for his next State of the State ad­dress Jan. 19. He wants to change the way lead­ers gov­ern and in­crease the pub­lic’s trust in gov­ern­ment, two goals worthy of the pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate he de­cided not to be.

“This is cool stuff!” he said halfway through our con­ver­sa­tion, gig­gling like a nerd at his first Star Trek con­ven­tion. “This is what gov­ern­ment can do. So I’m ex­cited about this stuff.”

It’s re­fresh­ing to see a politi­cian as pas­sion­ate about gov­ern­ing as he is about win­ning.

What We're Following See More »
TRUMP CANCELS FLORIDA TRIP
Congress Heads Back to Work to End Shutdown
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate was expected to be back in session at noon, while House lawmakers were told to return to work for a 9 a.m. session. Mr. Trump on Friday had canceled plans to travel to his private resort on Palm Beach, Fla., where a celebration had been planned for Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of his first year in office."

Source:
CLOTURE FAILS
Government Shutdown Begins, as Senate Balks at Stopgap
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A stopgap spending bill stalled in the Senate Friday night, leading to a government shutdown for the first time since 2013. The continuing resolution funding agencies expired at midnight, and lawmakers were unable to spell out any path forward to keep government open. The Senate on Friday night failed to reach cloture on a four-week spending bill the House had already approved."

Source:
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS IN SUSPICIOUS CHECKS FLAGGED
Mueller’s Team Scrutinizing Russian Embassy Transactions
2 days ago
THE LATEST
PRO-TRUMP SPENDING COULD VIOLATE FECA
FBI Investigating Potential Russian Donations to NRA
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency." Investigators have focused on Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank "who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA." The solicitation or use of foreign funds is illegal in U.S. elections under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by either lobbying groups or political campaigns. The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections.

Source:
DISCLOSURES MORE THAN DOUBLED
Mueller Investigation Leads to Hundreds of New FARA Filings
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Hundreds of new and supplemental FARA filings by U.S. lobbyists and public relations firms" have been submitted "since Special Counsel Mueller charged two Trump aides with failing to disclose their lobbying work on behalf of foreign countries. The number of first-time filings ... rose 50 percent to 102 between 2016 and 2017, an NBC News analysis found. The number of supplemental filings, which include details about campaign donations, meetings and phone calls more than doubled from 618 to 1,244 last year as lobbyists scrambled to avoid the same fate as some of Trump's associates and their business partners."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login