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Politics & Prejudices: All the governor's men



When I was waiting last week to see who would be criminally charged in what I think we should all call Flintwatergate, an irreverent thought flew through my head:

Maybe the indictments will stop at Howard Hunt, Gordon Liddy, and the Cubans. For those of you younger than some of us aging, self-indulgent baby boomers, those were the band of oddballs arrested in the initial break-in at the Watergate hotel, in the far-off world of June 17, 1972.

Richard Nixon and all the president's men labored mightily to get the case to stop there. But they failed, and as all the world knows, entire boatloads of high officials, including two U.S. attorneys general, were trundled off to prison.

Tricky Dick, of course, became the only president to be forced out of office. Will Flintwatergate go the same way?

Evidently not.

Michigan Attorney General (and unannounced candidate for governor) Bill Schuette filed a raft of felony and lesser charges last week against two mid-level employees in the badly misnamed Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Those guys, Steve Busch and Mike Prysby, weren't famous before, but have since been swiftly convicted in the press. Schuette also charged Mike Glasgow, the Flint utilities director, who had been supervisor of the water treatment plant at the time they failed to add corrosion control materials to the water.

I have some suspicion that the utilities director may be a pawn of sorts; Republicans have been hot from the start to tie some Flint city officials (read: Democrats) to a scandal brought to you entirely by Republican appointees.

That's been hard to do, because Tricky Rick, oops, Gov. Rick Snyder, had taken all power away from Flint's elected officials and vested it in a series of emergency managers.

But they think they have a scapegoat in Glasgow ­— even though a week before the city made the fatal switch to Flint River water, he strongly recommended against doing so.

However, Todd Flood, the special prosecutor Schuette named to get justice, claims Glasgow had "a corrupt mind to do that." Well, we'll see how all this plays out.

But the indictments, Schuette and Co. say, won't stop here. "There will be more to come," the attorney general says. One member of the investigative team, former FBI agent Andy Arena, says this will be the "biggest investigation in the history of Michigan," and added: "Nobody is off limits."

O boy! Could Tricky Rick could go the way of Tricky Dick?

So far, it seems almost certainly not. Watergate turned out to be a criminal conspiracy directed from the very top.

Flintgate appears to be more like Ronald Reagan's 1986 Iran-Contra scandal. In both cases, you had a passive leader who wasn't very interested and didn't pay attention to detail.

True, when you read the now-released emails from Snyder's closest staff members, it's between hard and impossible to believe he didn't know more earlier than he did.

After all, we have his own attorney complaining that his mother was drinking water with fecal coliform bacteria, and a chief of staff who knew all about the problems many months before Snyder claimed he had any clue. Both men saw him whenever they wanted to, sometimes every day.

But sympathy for humans isn't clearly our accountant-in-chief's motivating impulse, let alone poor ones who don't have rich or well-connected friends and who vote Democratic, if they bother to vote at all.

However, Rick Snyder does have something to watch out for. Schuette now has a vested interest in making Snyder look bad — and in at least appearing to bring his water-poisoning administration to justice. Consider this.

Schuette, who has never been a friend of Snyder, clearly wants to be governor more than an addict wants a fix.

After Flint, and eight years of the Snyder administration and our hugely unpopular, people-destroying, GOP-controlled legislature, Democrats should be able to win the next statewide election pretty much by default, and everyone knows it.

Schuette's only chance is to show that he is a different kind of Republican, who rides in on a white horse to clean up corruption and restore faith in government.

True, it took the Dow Chemical heir sometime to realize that; he dragged his feet on even starting an investigation.

But now he gets that this could be his ticket to the big time in a way wasting the state's money beating up on poor gays never could.

Nixon did have one advantage over Snyder: He could, and did, fire attorneys general who didn't do his bidding. He has no authority over Schuette — and right now, virtually no political support or allies anywhere.

You can expect the attorney general to milk this case for all its worth, for as long as he can. Mark Dobias, a savvy and witty attorney in Sault Ste. Marie, told me he hoped for a public show trial, of the sort they used to have in the Soviet Union.

He may well get one before this is over. If so, let's hope On-Duty Schuette embarrasses himself less than he did when he spent millions to try to prevent two gay nurses from adopting some special needs kids whose lives they had essentially saved.

How the GOP could have been saved Probably too late now, but there was an opportunity for the Republicans to save themselves from Donald Trump and electoral disaster.

What's more it would have involved Gov. Snyder, if he could have been persuaded to do the right thing. The GOP's idea of trying to rid themselves of Trump was having the snooty loser Mitt Romney denounce him without saying who people should support instead. That likely got The Donald more votes.

No, the only thing that would work would be for the party to spend millions for half an hour of prime television time on multiple networks, and put Snyder on, with these instructions:

Endorse Trump!

Carry on for half an hour in your high-pitched nasal whine about how you are sure President Trump would do for America just what you did for Michigan. Talk in great wonkish detail about the pension tax and emergency managers.

Use the phrase "relentless positive action" a lot.

Then tell all about how you kept an eye on Flint, and explain that it wasn't your fault, and that you quickly reacted within, oh, two-and-a-half months of discovering the water was contaminated. Not only that, your lightning leadership enabled you to find out there was a Legionnaires' disease mini-epidemic in Flint only a little over a year after it happened.

Seriously. A Snyder endorsement may be the only thing that can save us now. Rick should be willing to be big about it; his political career is beyond repair. His policies have caused people to be poisoned or ruined; now, it's his turn to give back, act like he was still at Gateway, and take one for the team.

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