Don’t look now but the city of Detroit, which has gone through the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, is poised to regain control of its own destiny.
And that’s very good news for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
To be sure, Detroit’s underlying problems are immense and whether civic leaders have learned anything from the past is open to question. But the city has gotten it’s pension problems under control, it has shed billions in debt, police and fire response times have improved, and there appears to be a new determination among politicians to address problems that previous administrations allowed to fester.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Snyder announced that the emergency manager he appointed to guide the city’s finances through the bankruptcy would be stepping down, giving city fathers control over their budget once again. And it wasn’t lost on observers that Snyder said he wanted to take the message of Detroit’s resurgence on the road next year to “explain the Michigan story to the rest of the country.”
“As we solve these problems, one of the things you find is the perception of an area tends to lag five or 10 years behind the reality of it,” he said. “As we’ve shown the vast improvement over the last few years, now it’s time to start talking about the success in Michigan.”
Although officially the trips are aimed at promoting the local economy, they will also help boost Snyder’s national profile at a time when the emerging 2016 GOP field is anything but settled.
And while Snyder’s uneasiness talking about social issues means he will have a tough time winning the party’s nod — and he’s not taking active steps toward a candidacy — his economic background and success governing a blue state could make him an attractive running mate.
Snyder plays coy when asked if he’ll run for the White House, keeping the door wide open. He says his focus – “right now” – is on launching his second-term initiatives.
“I don’t want to even start that speculation, but you know that there are traditional timelines that people have to look at if they’re looking at those things,” he said. “I’m just focused on being governor right now. I appreciate you asking, though.”
Michigan is a purple state with enough of a blue tinge that the Democratic Senate candidate asked President Barack Obama to come campaign with him, even as most in his party shunned him this year.
Detroit in particular has been a haven for Democrats. Obama won Wayne County — which includes Detroit — by 47 points in 2012.
When Snyder put Detroit into managed bankruptcy, Democrats pushed back. Public employee unions said they would not let allow any cuts to benefits. But the Republican governor, who just won reelection in November by 4 points, worked with local leaders, creditors and the conservative state legislature to strike a so-called “grand bargain.”
Snyder, a former chief executive of Gateway Computers, told POLITICO that the federal government could learn a lot from what he and his allies just accomplished.
Snyder is one of several governors who have emerged in the Obama era as “technocratic Republicans.” Mitt Romney was the most prominent of this new breed of GOP politician, until he tried to rebrand himself as a conservative ideologue.
Basically, the technocrats eschew ideology in favor of conservative pragmatism. Social issues like abortion and gay marriage are downplayed in favor of fiscal conservatism and competent governance. This is a formula that has proven itself successful for Republicans who govern in blue and purple states, which is why Snyder has suddenly gotten some people interested in his chances for 2016.
Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker, Iowa’s Terry Branstad, and Snyder would all be considered second tier presidential candidates if they were to run. But what about the second spot? A strong conservative like Ted Cruz might look very hard at a blue or purple state governor for the vice presidential slot. Not so much to “balance” the ticket but because their statewide organizations would be of great help in getting out the Republican vote in the general election.
But who knows? By 2016, Detroit might be in big trouble again and people will have forgotten Rick Snyder’s role in saving it. And it’s not like the GOP doesn’t have enough candidates already. Snyder isn’t even the most prominent RINO who would be entering the race.
Given all of that, Snyder will probably pass on running in 2016.