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Commentary

In order to move on, we need to know exactly what happened with Flint

Jack Lessenberry

It hasn’t been very easy to defend Governor Rick Snyder lately, but I think he did absolutely the right thing in refusing to testify before a committee of congressional Democrats about the scandal involving the lead poisoning of the water in Flint.

In all likelihood, this would have been nothing but a partisan witch hunt. He would have been asked questions along the lines of, “when did you stop poisoning children on purpose?”

The Democrats invited him as sort of a publicity stunt, knowing he would refuse, so they could charge him with ducking the truth, and issue statements like the one from Flint Congressman Dan Kildee, who said:

“Governor Snyder’s refusal to show up and testify is deeply disappointing. His administration’s policies led to this man-made crisis, and he needs to answer questions so that the whole truth can be found.”

What Snyder did wrong, however, was this: He had a spokesperson issue a weasel-like statement saying he wouldn’t testify because he had to present his annual budget proposal instead.

What the governor should have said is this:

“I have no intention of taking part in a partisan fishing expedition, but I realize the nation needs to know exactly what happened in Flint. Accordingly, I am asking the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to invite me to testify, and I am asking all members of my administration, including any previous emergency managers, to also cooperate fully.”

If Governor Snyder did that, I think he might win back respect. Given the nature of this crisis, I think he owes that to the nation. But the House Committee, which is controlled by the Republicans, has behaved even more disgracefully than the Democrats.

They have failed to invite the governor or any key members of his administration to testify.

The only major figure they have subpoenaed is Darnell Earley, one of five former Flint emergency managers, who happens to be a Democrat.

Imagine if the House Judiciary Committee at the time of the Watergate scandal had refused to summon any members of the Nixon administration.

That, in effect, is what has been going on here. Governor Snyder is a highly educated man, but I don’t think he is up on his political history.

Nixon tried stalling, ducking, and releasing information only grudgingly, in what one of his aides referred to by the ghastly term, “modified limited hangout.”

All this did was convince people he was hiding something -- as indeed he was.

If I didn’t know better, I would also think Snyder was getting PR advice from the late Ron Ziegler, Nixon’s dreadful last press secretary.

Gov. Snyder signs a bill that secures $28 million in aid to Flint on January 29, 2016 in Grand Rapids.
Credit Gov. Snyder's office
Gov. Snyder signs a bill that secures $28 million in aid to Flint on January 29, 2016 in Grand Rapids.

Instead of going to Flint to sign the bill providing aid for that city, his staff released a picture of a grinning governor doing so in Grand Rapids, surrounded by Republican lawmakers, none of whom were from anywhere near Flint.

This has become a national issue, and the nation is owed a full accounting. If I were Governor Snyder, I would either be on a plane to Washington as soon as possible, or preparing to resign.

We need to know exactly what happened, so that we and he can move on, and do everything in our power to prevent it from happening again.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. 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.

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