Natural disasters, like the rain and floods that pounded metro Detroit this week, present a unique challenge for chief executives like Governor Rick Snyder. Natural disasters are certainly not like the slow work of trying to mend an economy, for example.
With natural disasters, all of an administration’s emergency planning is stress tested in real-time with real-life consequences. Years ago, Governor John Engler said a big natural disaster is any governor’s worst nightmare.
And, like most things with government, there are political consequences to natural disasters. How, for example, the public measures the way a chief executive handles the situation.
Here in Michigan, with the November election just two and a half months away, this was an important week for Governor Snyder. Which is why, when the magnitude of what was happening in metro Detroit became clear, the governor cut short a trip to the Upper Peninsula - a trip that included a fundraising event in Marquette - and returned downstate to reassure people that he was aware and in charge.
His administration certainly did not want a repeat of last winter, when Snyder was excoriated for not, at first, being visible during a powerful ice storm that knocked out electricity to big swaths of the state. We should note as well, however, that the governor’s Democratic challenger, Mark Schauer, was also not particularly visible during that ice storm.
So, this week, Governor Snyder flew south by helicopter, surveyed the damage and talked to the media. It was this latter part of his trip - speaking on WJR’s The Frank Beckman Show - that the Governor tried for a little empathy. “I’ve been through a lot of things like that… We just recently had holes in our roof from storm damage to our lake house, in terms of, yeah, we have a vacation place, and I had a limb come down from holes in the roof, had water running through the place. Those experiences are not pleasant ones, and we had to take some trees down,” the Governor said, trying to go for the common touch, the ‘I feel your pain’ explanation.