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Lessenberry: More questions than answers in Snyder's State of the State address

Jack Lessenberry
Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan PoliticsJack Lessenberry talks with Morning Edition host Emily Fox about what will happen in Flint and politics, now that Gov. Rick Snyder has given his long-awaited State of the State address. 

The Flint water crisis was the first order of business in Gov. Rick Snyder’s address last night. He apologized to the residents of Flint and then said he would release all of his e-mails related to the crisis.

He also asked the Legislature to approve $28 million for Flint, to help with the short and long-term issues with the water crisis. Does Lessenberry think all of this is going to ease the outrage we’ve been seeing on this issue?

"It certainly won’t go away," he says. "Of course, we don’t know for sure if the Legislature will approve all this, although it seems likely they will. But we don’t know how severe the effect of the brain damage to the children with lead poisoning is going to be.

"There’s the whole issue about what the governor knew and when he knew it, and why weren’t actions taken earlier," Lessenberry says. "The attorney general, who has ambitions to run for governor has launched an investigation, and people are going to be centering, I think, on the fact that the governor took no action for a long, long time. This is not going to end anytime soon."

During his speech, Gov. Snyder tried to lay out his timeline of what he knew and when, and he talked about the Department of Environmental Quality’s role in the crisis, how the DEQ kept saying the water quality was fine, despite signs and studies that it wasn’t.

The DEQ also seemed to cover up the issue by dropping two of the highest lead samples from its report, and that report eventually showed that Flint’s water was fine, when it wasn’t. Snyder says there will be new leadership in the DEQ and he will hold individuals accountable, but what do Lessenberry think that will look like?

"I don’t know what that will look like," he says. "There’s an interim director there now. What we don’t know is why the governor was so lethargic to begin with.

"Indeed, there are a lot of people raising questions about the DEQ, including the federal EPA. And the governor seemed curiously deaf to all of this, and didn’t seem to ask for any answers, until it was really thrown in his face at the end of December. So is the DEQ going to have more oversight, are there going to be procedures in place, accountability and transparency? A lot of questions have yet to be answered."

There were other things that Gov. Snyder talked about in his State of the State address last night. He talked about infrastructure needing to be improved and Detroit Public Schools. Was there anything else in the address that stuck out to Lessenberry?

"He’s got a couple of additional problems," Lessenberry says. "One is that the Legislature is dominated by Tea Party interests, people who don’t really want to raise taxes for anything.

"It’s also an election year, and Republicans are petrified that this will cause them to lose control of the state House of Representatives, and they don’t know what to do about that.

"There’s a real question about how effective Gov. Snyder can be for the last three years of his term, and one top Republican strategist said yesterday that they had just handed Democrats an issue on a silver platter.

"It may sound harsh to make this about a partisan consideration, but partisan considerations are at the root of everything, but I really don’t think the Republican majority has any idea about what to do or how to do it."

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