| LANSING, Mich.
LANSING, Mich. Feb 19 In today's partisan
environment, many U.S. politicians tend to hew close to their
base and not worry about angering their opponents, but Michigan
Governor Rick Snyder possesses a rare talent for raising hackles
on both sides.
In early December, the Republican governor angered the
state's powerful labor unions by signing so-called
"right-to-work" legislation allowing workers to opt out of union
membership. Then earlier this month, Snyder annoyed Michigan's
small-government conservatives with a plan to expand Medicaid
and raise the gas tax for road repairs.
Snyder, 54, merely smiles when asked about this knack.
"I'm here to deliver results to my customers," Snyder said
in a recent interview. "My customers are the citizens of
"That's the simple way I look at it, it's about giving great
Now he has in his hands the fate of 700,000 customers - the
residents of Detroit. A Snyder-appointed review panel said on
Tuesday the city is in financial crisis and needs outside help,
leaving it to the governor to decide if he will name an
emergency manager to take over its finances.
"There is very limited political upside to appointing an
emergency manager," said University of Michigan political
scientist Michael Traugott. "But I think Snyder is prepared to
A CEO-turned-politician, Snyder does not easily fit into an
ideological slot. Many of those who know him describe a
long-term thinker who approaches politics through the eyes of a
businessman and does not avoid tough decisions.
Vic Strecher recalled that when Snyder's venture capital
firm invested $2.5 million in 1998 for 30 percent of his
fledgling online healthcare coaching business HealthMedia Inc
(now owned by Johnson & Johnson), Snyder took a hands-off
approach, telling Strecher to get on and run the firm.
When "dotcom turned to dotbomb" in 2000, Strecher said
Snyder was "always a steady force" with a vision for his firm.
"He said we needed to stay focused on the long-term vision
of getting customers good value," he said.
For Snyder's foes on the left such as United Auto Workers
president Bob King, the governor has pursued a right-wing agenda
after running as a moderate in 2010. King says his goal in 2014
is to prevent Snyder from gaining a second term.
"He told people he was a moderate and he has done the exact
opposite, passing some of the most extreme right-wing
legislation," King said. "We'll back a candidate (in 2014) who
is for 100 percent of the people, not just the top 1 percent."
Conservatives have opposed Snyder for taxing pensioners and
supporting a health exchange for Michigan that is part of
Democratic President Barack Obama's healthcare reforms. But they
like the fact he has fixed the state's budget mess.
Long-time conservative operative Jack Hoogendyk says Snyder
is a "bit of an enigma."
"He does a lot of things true conservatives support and a
lot of things conservatives disagree with," he said. "But I
think he views the state's problems through the lens of a
businessman and has taken a level-headed approach to running
'ONE TOUGH NERD'
When Snyder, formerly CEO of venture capital firm Ardesta
and one-time executive at computer company Gateway, decided to
run for governor in the 2010 election, he went into the
primaries as a political unknown considered the most moderate
Republican in a crowded field of five.
Joe Lehman, president of conservative, free-market Michigan
think-tank the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, recalls Snyder
appearing at one of the group's regular breakfast meetings in
2009 ahead of the gubernatorial race. Snyder "was the only
politician ever to stick to our rule that they not give a
"I thought there's no way this guy is ever going to be
governor," Lehman said.
Snyder's campaign, much of it self-funded, included a 2010
Super Bowl ad in Michigan describing him as "One Tough Nerd" who
could fix Michigan's fiscal mess.
The nerd in Snyder was on display Feb. 7 in Lansing as he
fielded questions from reporters about his new proposed budget.
With no papers in front of him, he quoted figures from the
budget and the justification for them with ease.
Snyder says his decisions are based on the simple question
of what is best for Michigan, not partisan politics.
Medicaid expansion, he says, will save the state money
because it will provide primary care to poorer Michiganders
rather than force them into expensive emergency care that drives
premiums up for everyone else.
While ordinary families get that, "you go here," he says
pointing out the window of his office at the state capitol "and
it's this huge controversy."
"Doesn't that show the political culture's kind of messed
On the issue of Detroit, Snyder reiterates a statement from
his 2010 campaign that "Detroit needs to be a great city."
He highlights recent transportation investments in the city
and the need for a new bridge to boost trade and create jobs.
"So let's get the city government's finances fixed," he
said. "And we are going to get them fixed."
How he handles Detroit's future could be a factor in his
likely bid for re-election. And he has to contend with falling
approval ratings in the wake of the "right-to-work" bill.
But when it comes to running for a second term, Snyder isn't
"I haven't formally announced," he said. "But I've got more
work I'd like to do."