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Howes: Good to be Dr. Eden Wells

Daniel Howes
Detroit News

It must be good to be Dr. Eden Wells. She’s Michigan’s chief medical executive.

Just days before a judge ordered her to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in the Flint watercrisis, she got a new government gig. The job is newly created and posted for all of six days, and get this, she was the only applicant.

The move ensures Wells can’t be easily fired by Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer for her role in the public health crisis; one that is blamed for at least 12 deaths and the sickening of 79 more from Legionnaires' disease.

She gets paid close to the $180,000 she made as an appointee of Governor Rick Snyder – whatever her culpability in the Flint fiasco.

This is absurd and beyond cynical. It’s an insult to the people of Flint. It’s an affront to the civil servants of Michigan. It makes a mockery of accountability for the lead-tainted water travesty that has plagued Flint for way too long.

And by “these people” I mean the ones still controlling Lansing until Whitmer becomes governor on New Year’s Day. Democrats will reclaim the attorney general and secretary of state offices and a new crop of Republican leaders are seated in the Legislature.

To paraphrase Lord Acton, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Republican lawmakers in Michigan and neighboring Wisconsin are using the lame-duck legislature to settle political scores and distort the will of the voters.

Presumably that’s under the assumption the public will forget the strong-arming next time they vote. Don’t bet on it. The downside of hyper-partisanship and the exercise of raw political power is backlash. It’s a blue surge in the midterms, yellow-vest protests bringing the French government to a standstill, Brexiteers threatening the government of Britain’s Theresa May.

And it’s protesters walking the state Capitol in Lansing; the opening move in a push toward 2020.

I have a better idea for Republicans: nominate better candidates, and do a better job selling your preferred policies. Persuade, don’t impose, because these lame-duck antics are short on statesmanship and long on petty politicking.

Want some examples?

Like passing legislation that would restrict the powers of the next governor, attorney general and secretary of state – all duly elected and all, of course, Democrats who could impact campaign finance rules or redistricting in 2020.

Like passing legislation that would force members of public-sector unions to vote every two years on whether to retain or disband their union. It’s yet another example of the Republican majority planting its metaphoric boot on the neck of organized labor. Why? Because it can.

All that is missing are the melodic strains of “Kumbaya.”

Hard lessons unlearned are not lessons at all, as the Eden Wells switcheroo demonstrates. Politics today isn’t the art of persuasion. It’s an exercise of naked power – until they don’t have all of it anymore. Then they’ll only have themselves to blame.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.
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