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Governor Snyder is fighting a losing game in Aramark scandal

Sep 17, 2014

Some years ago, I was studying some primitive TV campaign ads. One of them featured candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower being asked by a housewife, "Well, the Democrats have made mistakes, but weren't their intentions good?"

Squinting at cue cards, the nearsighted Ike replied woodenly, "Well, if you have a school bus driver who goes off the road, hits a pole and lands in a ditch you don't say his intentions are good. You get a new bus driver." 

Last night I thought it might be a good idea to send that ad to Governor Rick Snyder, with a note: Think about Aramark.

Aramark Correctional Services has been an embarrassment ever since they were hired to run the newly privatized prison food service.  And now one of Aramark's food service workers has been arrested for smuggling illegal drugs into the state's St. Louis prison in Gratiot County.

A spokesman for the Corrections Department said they included marijuana, heroin and cocaine.

When asked about this, the governor said, "Those are concern points. There are a number of issues in the past, and the issue is how do we make sure those aren't continuing issues."

That’s the kind of language politicians use when they want to avoid tough issues.  However, these ARE continuing issues.  And you have to wonder, what part of "cut your losses" doesn't the governor understand?

What's baffling is that politicians appear to feel that when they screw up, they can't possibly admit they were wrong.

Yesterday, of course, Democrats had a field day with this.

Gretchen Whitmer, their leader in the Michigan Senate, said this revealed "a pattern of incompetence that is putting the safety of prison guards and other workers at significant risk."

And she added, "Governor, fire Aramark, or the people of Michigan will have every reason to fire you."

Of course, Senator Whitmer wants the people to fire the governor; she's a Democrat.

And while I do not question her sincerity, someone could put a Machivellian spin on this:  Every day Aramark remains on the job benefits the Democrats.  By attacking them loudly and publicly, the Democrats have made it harder for the governor to do what he should for his political health.

Politically, he can't seem to be giving in to the opposition's demands.  For Democrats, Aramark is indeed the gift that keeps on giving. What's baffling is that politicians appear to feel that when they screw up, they can't possibly admit they were wrong.

Real life works the opposite way.

Public relations professionals say the hardest part of their jobs is so-called "crisis management."

Everyone knows in theory what to do when they  make a serious mistake: Fess up, admit it, apologize and cut your losses.  Everybody knows that -- but when their time in the box comes, they all too often try to hide, lie, or cover up instead.

Democrats want prison food service returned to state employees. That’s anathema to Republicans.  But I’d hope the Snyder administration has been feverishly looking around for an alternative to Aramark.

Yesterday, Snyder said "The critical issue is that we are solving the Aramark problem."  

Well, sorry sir, but there’s no sign of that yet.

And in a world where many decisions are very hard, in this case, it seems relatively easy to see what the state should do. 

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.