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Snyder and the appearance of political 'cronyism'

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Control – the ability to command and direct events – is the elusive ambition of politicians. Politicians seek office promising to get things done or, in some rare cases, to stop something from getting done. But, mostly, they want to control their fates. We all want that, of course, but, it is not that simple.

Public life is complicated and messy.

Take, for example, Gov. Snyder. In just less than a week, Snyder will deliver his fourth State of the State address. He’ll wax on about the accomplishments of the last three years as he also proposes an agenda for this year and lays the groundwork for his reelection bid.

And, yes, we say his reelection bid. Though the governor has not yet announced he will seek reelection, as we’ve talked about before on It’s Just Politics, Snyder is certainly already acting like a candidate. The governor’s reelection campaign has already bought airtime, just like they did four years ago, on Super Bowl Sunday. (One more reason we know Snyder will run again: He’s said the Detroit Lions will be in the Super Bowl before he leaves office… yet another thing he can’t control.)

Going into the 2014 election, Gov. Snyder and other Republicans would like to be focused on good news likerevenue surpluses and balanced budgets. But something always seems to get in the way. And, this week, that was the continuing drama surrounding former state Treasurer Andy Dillon’s personal and professional life.

It was revealed that Dillon has remained on the state’s payroll at the same salary since he resigned last November. The newsletter MIRS found Dillon’s name and salary on a list of appointed state workers. His job title: senior advisor to the treasurer.

Last fall Dillon resigned because an acrimonious divorce kept blowing up in public. He felt that stepping out of the spotlight would be better for him and his family, that it would reduce the threat of public embarrassment.

Now, there is certainly an argument to be made in keeping Dillon on in a temporary advisory role. As the architect of the state’s emergency manager law and in the midst of the Detroit bankruptcy, there are huge financial issues facing the state.

But, because of the way this was handled, Dillon is back in the spotlight and the Snyder administration is embarrassed. If the Snyder administration had said up front that the plan was to keep Dillon around – not just vague allusions, but a real explanation – this would have been old news, and not a sensational revelation.

Compounding the governor’s problem here is that this fits into an already established narrative that Snyder looks out for executives, business friends, and fat cats rather than the “everyday voter.”

For example, Snyder’s long-time friend Rich Baird was paid to be an advisor out of the governor’s controversial not-for-profit NERD Fund (that’s before the administration moved Baird onto the public payroll after public outcry). There were also the giant raises for the state’s investment fund managers and quarter-of-a-million dollar salaries for the governor’s budget director and economic development chief.

This week’s Dillon episode, fairly or unfairly, plays into that narrative. And, after a point, it just becomes impossible to shake.

This is as Democrats, both statewide and nationally, want to make income inequality an issue. Snyder’s likely Democratic gubernatorial opponent Mark Schauer recently calledfor an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

Meantime, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson wasted no time dropping the “crony” bomb on Snyder and Dillon, calling it political “cronyism” in a press release and on Twitter.

All of this has got to be immensely frustrating for Snyder, who’s obsessed with long-term planning and being strategic.

But he’s finding, like countless others have, that breaking news and unplanned events can get in the way.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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