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Trying To Get A Handle On "Rick Michigan"

As anybody who's read this blog knows, I don't have much love for the right wing or most things Republican. But lately, when considering the Michigan governor's race, I've been dogged by a weird sentiment that I'm starting to find a little scary: I think I actually like Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder.

Don't get me wrong. I still don't know if I can vote for the man — Dem candidate Virg Bernero is a solid progressive and I like that he chose a smart black woman, Brenda Lawrence, as his running mate  — but I'm having a tough time zeroing in on much about Snyder that I can say is distasteful. (I'm glad the candidates are finally going to debate.)

I mean, first off, the candidate dubbed "Rick Michigan" packaged himself as a "tough nerd" early in the campaign season. I may be little more than a "'hood intellectual," but I'm still an intellectual dammit, and I appreciate a politician willing to put smarts and reason at the center of his campaign. I've seen some question Snyder's true "geek" credentials, but I still prefer him selling himself this way as opposed to him pimping his religious fervor or some needlessly divisive, third-tier "cultural issue" like transsexuals and driver's licenses.

There's also the fact that the tea baggers refused to back him in the GOP primary, a sure sign that Snyder's at the very least sane.

And I have also been impressed by his continued insistence on the importance of Detroit and other urban centers to the success of any state turnaround. (And the fact that he said it to crowds in places like Grosse Pointe and Grand Rapids during the GOP primary campaign is just as key.)

“For Michigan to be a great state, Detroit needs to be on the path to being a great city again. And we all need that attitude regardless of where we live in the state. We need to provide an environment where our young people want to stay and can stay and have careers in Michigan,” Snyder said.

Maybe this type of talk doesn't play well in other parts of Michigan, but I think it's absolutely true, a long overdue admission from the right and a refreshing change from those in the Michigan GOP who want to pretend the state's largest city doesn't exist.

Now, do I have my problems with Snyder? Oh, sure. If anything bothers me about the guy so far, it's his running-mate choice (Brian Calley strikes me as a bone Snyder's tossing to the anti-abortion choice crowd) and Snyder's incessant "CEO" talk. In the first instance, I'm pro-choice so there's no getting around the fundamental disagreement there. And in the second instance, I'm wondering when We The People are going to stop falling for this b.s. notion that, because a guy ran a big private company, he's capable of governing.

Exactly which part of the track records of recent "CEO politicians" — from Bush to Bing — are we supposed to find so impressive?

Snyder's success at Gateway does not automatically guarantee that he can turnaround one of the most economically moribund states in the country. In fact, given recent history, his having been a CEO might even be a strike against him in my book. That said, however, he's easily smarter than Bush and probably far more resolute than Bing so I'll withhold judgment on the CEO thing for now.

I think my biggest issue with Snyder, though, is that I don't really know much about the man, and he probably wants it that way. Do I like him because of what he's shown really — or do I just not dislike him because he's played his cards close to the vest? Jack Lessenberry got at this same issue recently:

Right now, Snyder, a venture capitalist from Ann Arbor who has never before run for office, is able to be all things to all people. His views on many topics are so little known that people with widely differing views are able to believe he is on their side.

His ideas, while presented reasonably and inoffensively, strike me as fuzzy and a bit bland (but then so has much of this entire guv's race). I've read Snyder's white papers on issues like urban renewal, and his proposals strike me (and others, too) as long on rhetoric but short on detail. Yeah, I don't disagree that the "cool cities" concept was seriously lame, but what specifically does Snyder have planned? I can't really tell. (I also can't say I'm crazy about his plan to replace the Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate tax on businesses.)

Still, in an era in which so much of the right seems marked by sheer lunacy and raging hatred, I'm compelled to admire Snyder's willingness to embrace moderation. He's been cordial even to Bernero, and the two appear to have found some political common ground on some issues.

Again, none of this means I'll vote for Rick Snyder. Being a "decent guy" is about as essential to running this state as being a "CEO" as far as I'm concerned. And I'm sure it won't be long before one of my progressive brethren hits me with some information on Snyder's politics that will force me to reconsider this entire post. (Leave it to Michigan Liberal to get me re-thinking even as I'm researching and trying to wrap up this post...)

So sure, Snyder could turn out to be a GOP kook in moderate camouflage. But I haven't seen a lot to suggest that. For now anyway, Snyder presents himself as an admirable model of reasoned political thought and intellectual flexibility. Mike Cox and Pete Hoekstra he ain't. Hard not to be thankful for that at least.

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