The governor who poisoned Flint: The GOP’s Rick Snyder thought he might be president. Not so fast…

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

By Susan J. Demas, 4/2/16

This article ran in Salon.

When Rick Snyder took the reins from Jennifer Granholm on Jan. 1, 2011, there was a certain smugness hanging in Michigan’s raw winter air.

The changing of the guard had been fairly pleasant –– the Republican and Democrat had even held a (mundane) joint press conference on economic development. That stood in sharp contrast to the bitterly partisan transition from Jim Blanchard to the man who defeated him in 1990, John Engler, and then from Engler to Granholm 12 years later.

As the state’s first female governor, Granholm had started her tenure in 2002 with some fanfare –– and had even been buzzed about as a presidential candidate (despite being born in Vancouver, Canada). But by the time her second term stumbled to a close, Granholm was badly bruised from leading the state for the better part of a decade-long recession and the near-collapse of the domestic auto industry. Michigan’s state government had shut down not once, but twice, on her watch. She wanted her legacy to be (finally) diversifying the state’s economy, as she cheered for green jobs, but everyone seemed to know it was too little, too late.

It was little secret that Granholm harbored national ambitions, but she’d bet on the wrong horse in the 2008 Democratic primary –– Hillary Clinton. After Barack Obama was elected, Granholm’s name was floated for Labor, Education and Energy secretary, as well as the Supreme Court. But the Michigan governor was doomed to always be the bridesmaid, something spiteful Republicans never let her forget.

So by the time Snyder’s inauguration rolled around, Granholm seemed somewhat chastened, knowing that her unpopularity had helped pad the Republican’s 19-point margin. The only small comfort was that the Democratic nominee wasn’t her hand-picked successor (Lt. Gov. John Cherry had gracefully bowed out in early 2010). The sacrificial lamb was Virg Bernero, who Fox News had anointed as “America’s Angriest Mayor” for his defense of the auto bailout, but his shouty schtick wore thin rather fast. In other words, he was nobody’s first choice.

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Barb-wired: Ari Adler deploys his rhetorical firepower for House Republicans

Becky Johns Photography  for Dome Magazine

Becky Johns Photography for Dome Magazine

Dome Magazine, 2/11/11

On Ari Adler’s desk, you might just stumble upon a coffee mug that says, “If you can’t say something nice, at least say something funny.”

“I think that’s a description of my style,” said Adler, press secretary for new House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall). “I pride myself in being able to turn a phrase and get us quoted and get our message out there.”

The Waterford Township native hasn’t been typically a bomb-throwing type of spokesman, first in the service of former Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema and now with Bolger. Instead, Adler is known for sharp quotes that elicit a chuckle, like when a Democrat complained last week that Bolger shut down the chamber for the blizzard.

“Apparently, House Democrats were told to go home and throw political snowballs at the speaker,” Adler quipped.

But Adler, 43, says he’s been able to maintain good relationships with his counterparts on the other side, notably Liz Boyd, Gov. Granholm’s former press secretary, and former Senate Democratic spokesman Tom Lenard.

“It got to the point that Tom and I would joke about the barbs we’d send each other’s way,” Adler recalls. “…We would chat behind the scenes and it had a different tone than what we were doing publicly.”

When he was with the Senate majority leader, Adler recalls the media always came knocking about Granholm’s initiatives, as Sikkema was the highest-ranking Republican in the state. The situation is different with Bolger because he’s mostly on the same page with Gov. Rick Snyder. Messages have to be coordinated with the administration and the Senate. There’s also the challenge to create headlines for the speaker in his own right.

“Jase Bolger isn’t afraid to say we need to talk about difficult things,” Adler says of his boss. “I think he sets the right tone.”

Since joining Bolger’s transition team in December, Adler has jumped right into the job, sending out a flurry of press releases on everything from a new, stricter dress code on the House floor (sorry, no jeans or sweats) to issues like alleged Bridge Card fraud.

Adler’s new gig comes after a four-year hiatus from state government, last working as communications administrator for Okemos-based Delta Dental. He also was director of public affairs for the former John Bailey & Associates public relations firm.

“Some people might be surprised that I would come back,” he says. “I was very frustrated about what was going on [before] at the Capitol, with people not working together…But I was very excited about the potential for change. I was happy about the election — not just for the party, but in terms of leadership.”

Although he’d never even met Bolger before their interview in November, Adler did have a pretty big in with his chief of staff, Suzanne Miller Allen. Allen served in that capacity for Sikkema when Adler was his press secretary and deputy chief of staff. Luckily, he and the speaker-to-be hit it off, and he “had a job offer within a couple hours.”

Wiry with squarish glasses, Adler looks the tech-savvy type. And as his frequent Facebook posts and tweets will attest, he is. He fell in love with social media while working in public relations and still advises organizations about using it. Adler also says it has transformed politics.

“Social media is the new grassroots,” he says. “We used to deliver a message door-to-door. Now it’s computer screen to computer screen.”

That’s a big part of his job with Bolger, and Adler spends a lot of time perusing social networking sites and reader comments on news hubs.

“You can gauge where the public is on an issue,” he says, although he admits he “filters through some of the nuttier comments.”

In his free time, Adler writes for two blogs — neither of them political — Digital Pivot and Here Comes Later, his own creation (his last post was on his hectic schedule), as well as authoring a monthly column on social media in politics for Dome. He does try to squeeze in time with his wife of a year-and-a-half, former Senate staffer Jessi Wortley Adler, and his two daughters, Lainee, 14, and Kenzie, 13.

For the last 10 years, he’s been an adjunct instructor for Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, from which he earned his B.A. in 1989. Adler started out as a cops and courts reporter, working for papers including the Owosso Argus-Press and theHolland Sentinel.

Six years into daily reporting, Adler says, he was “pretty burned out” and applied on a whim for a job with the House Republican caucus central staff. Adler says he was always a Republican, although he was most conservative while in high school.

“If anything, I’ve moved more to the center,” he says. “I’m a pragmatic Republican. Although I lean right, I understand that you sometimes have to make compromises.”

He got the job with the House Republicans in 1995 and eventually moved over as a spokesman for the Department of Transportation (MDOT) under Gov. John Engler. Adler was on Senate GOP central staff when Sikkema tapped him as press secretary.

Now he’s back where he started with the House GOP. One of the biggest challenges is just acquainting himself with not only the 60 freshmen, but all the new staff. He’s worked on the first caucus priorities, $25 million for Pure Michigan funding — which passed this week — and getting rid of the state’s item pricing law.

Of course, Adler expects the budget and business tax debate to dominate, especially after Snyder’s budget presentation next week.

“It’s a round-the-clock job,” he says. “I don’t think a typical day exists.”

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.

I Love a Campaign: A Peek Inside AG Bill Schuette's Blithe Re-Election Bid

By Susan J. Demas, Inside Michigan Politics, 5/27/14

With the advent of the 24/7 news cycle and social media, political campaigns have become joyless, choreographed bores.

Now every flub, every stumble, every freeze-frame photo of a politician scarfing down unfortunately shaped fair food can be endlessly relived on Twitter or MSNBC. And that can be enough to torpedo even seasoned candidates.

So most politicians have retreated to the cocoon of well-rehearsed lines, invitation-only town halls and private, big-dollar fundraisers.

But Attorney General Bill Schuette is from the old-school campaign style of kissing babies and shaking hands at small-town parades. When he announced his re-election bid in March, he crisscrossed the state, gobbling up every morsel of earned media.

And he appears to love every minute of it.

At local GOP Lincoln Day dinners, Schuette doesn't rush in at the last minute for his speech and promptly do a disappearing act afterward. He's there early, chatting up local precinct delegates, party officials and networking college students about what's important to them. After the procession of speeches, Schuette makes the rounds by pouring coffee for guests at every table, like a genteel host of a swell, Mad Men-era dinner party.

“Every cup of coffee counts,” Schuette smiles.

That was a lesson he learned during his first congressional campaign in 1984 when he was a mainstay on the rubber-chicken circuit, and went on to oust incumbent U.S. Rep. Donald Albosta (D-St. Charles) by just 1,400 votes. Schuette vowed to himself that he would never “be a bump on a log at the head table” if he were ever lucky enough to be invited to that hallowed domain.

And he isn't. Some politicians radiate charisma. Bill Clinton is one of them. Kwame Kilpatrick is another. Bill Schuette is a member of that select group --- he's the center of attention in most rooms he enters. Now he probably wouldn't like being in the company of two flawed Democrats. But as a Republican Party activist since his teens, Schuette can certainly recognize the power of possessing that kind of raw, political talent.

Schuette also actively courts the media and eschews browbeating reporters for so-called liberal bias, unlike many Republicans today, while impressively maintaining his Tea Party cred. He's staked out a place as a true conservative in Michigan (contrasting nicely with Gov. Rick Snyder, who's never enamored Tea Partiers). Deftly eading the anti-establishment mood, Schuette won, albeit narrowly, his 2010 GOP convention fight by pinning Gov. Jennifer Granholm-era tax hikes on his rival, then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester).

Still, Schuette underperformed the GOP ticket during a stellar year and has led the unpopular anti-gay marriage fight, convincing many Democrats he's beatable this year. His fundraising prowess and relentless politicking will make him a hard target, however.

The AG's media-friendliness and high profile are another asset, but that doesn't mean he's unscripted. Schuette, after all, learned politics at GOP National Committeewoman Ranny Rieckers's knee (Vol. XIV, No. 29). His well-oiled AG and campaign operations, populated with the incomparable Rusty Hills, a former John Engler acolyte, and amiable former AG Mike Cox veteran John Sellek, are known to email reporters additional background for questions they've asked two minutes earlier --- while Schuette is still holding court at the same press conference.

And like many politicians, Schuette comes armed with his standby soundbites (“I'm a voice for victims; “My job is to defend the Constitution;” “It's part of my record”). But Schuette's gift is weaving those platitudes into long, folksy anecdotes, never losing sight of the point he's trying to buttress. Although he's the scion of a Dow Chemical powerhouse (and stepson of another), William Duncan Schuette usually comes off as a pretty regular guy.

So naturally, there's been talk of a 2018 Schuette gubernatorial bid for decades (especially after he announced he was running for the job known as “aspiring governor”). IMP talked to Schuette last month about this election and the next (this was also before Democratic attorney Godfrey Dillard threw his hat in the AG ring). Schuette also talked about his difference with Snyder, his victory in the U.S. Supreme Court affirmative action case and a bit about college basketball.

The following are excerpts from IMP's exclusive interview. The remainder will run in a future issue.

IMP: Mark Totten has been the only Democrat running for AG, but Democrats have been known to push aside frontrunners at their conventions,often to ensure that women and minorities are represented on the ticket. How will you alter your campaign if it doesn't turn out to be Mark Totten that you're running against?

Schuette: You know, every election is a job interview. You get to state your case and I'm going to take my case directly to the citizens of Michigan as a voice for victims, as a voice for the Constitution and as a voice for Michigan. I'm going to talk about my responsibilities as a voice for victims, voice for the Constitution and voice for Michigan. And whoever the Democrats may put up against me, I don't worry about that. I can control three things: my record, which is strong; my organization, which is the best around, and I say that out of giving them credit, not being rude to others; and thirdly, fundraising. And those are the winning ingredients for a campaign.

And we're going to win and I'm going to get re-elected, but I take nothing for granted. I like campaigning; I like mixing it up, talking about issues and so I'm going to work hard on that. But you have to earn it every day. What struck me was watching the March Madness and all of that, and I think I have this right. And it was after Michigan State, unfortunately, lost to UConn. And one of the players was being interviewed about Shabazz Napier. And this Napier guy was actually the point guard, the quarterback on the basketball court … for UConn. And the player said about Shabazz Napier, 'That guy had the will to win.'

… And I have the will to win. And I don't take anything for granted; I work real hard. But I've got the will to win. And we've got a great team that has that same attitude, as well.

So I'm looking forward to the campaign, but you've got to earn it. And I'm respectful that voters are the employers and I work for the citizens of Michigan. So whatever candidate might emerge from the Democratic decision-making, I'm not worried about that. I'm just going to talk about my record for victims, the Constitution and Michigan.

IMP: Do you think your recent victory with the U.S. Supreme Court on affirmative action will help your campaign?

Schuette: Well, you know, it's all part of the record. That was a monumental decision. And as I said, it was a victory for the Constitution. The decision by the United States Supreme Court was also a victory for Michigan, the citizens of Michigan. Because we enshrined in our Constitution this basic concept that it's wrong to treat people differently based on the color of your skin, your gender, your ethnicity, your national origin. And that's embedded, emblazoned in our Constitution by the voters who overwhelmingly supported that [in 2006]. But it was also a victory for the rule of law. So those are three outcomes of [the] decision.

That decision is part of my record. I'm defending the Constitution --- you know, I took an oath. And I don't take oaths lightly. On January 1, 2011 --- and I say this at a lot of my speeches --- … I took an oath to preserve and protect and defend the Constitution over there on the [Capitol] steps. My wife and my children were there. … That's what I'm going to do.

And I don't half defend it --- I totally defend it and the laws, whether it's the admissions clause, the pension clause, sticking up for cops and firefighters and the Natural Resource Trust Fund provision that I wrote an opinion on saying, 'Hands off. It's not a private piggy bank for folks,' or the marriage clause. Defending the Constitution is not optional as attorney general --- it's mandatory. It's not a discretionary task. It's part of the job.

And so the outcome of the Supreme Court I think was a tremendous victory for the Constitution and it's part of the record. I was hopeful the Supreme Court would make that decision, but as a judge on the Court of Appeals, I never prejudge what justices do. I support my defense; I think it's a positive thing for me. But more importantly, I think it's a positive for the state, the Constitution. This isn't about me; it's about defending the Constitution and the provisions in it.

IMP: There's a natural tension between governors and attorneys general because you have different jobs. Governors often want support for their policies, while it's your job to uphold the law. There have at least appeared to be differences between you and Gov. Snyder over issues like the Detroit pensions, next steps on the same-sex marriage case. Are there are differences or is that a perception?

Schuette: You know, there is a really good relationship and I really like the guy. We have a really good governor. And about 95% of time, we're in agreement, which is about the same percentage as the best man at my wedding --- so I think that's pretty good. But we're not clones of each other, nor should we be. And I don't think people expect us to be. The governor and I have operated differently and that's OK. He's more [Bill] Milliken, less [John] Engler. And again, that's all right.

He's a smart guy and [my wife] Cynthia and I enjoy him and [First Lady] Sue [Snyder]. We just saw him last week; he was in Midland. Cynthia and I enjoy being with the governor. And this is the first time --- people might forget … --- in 63 years that there's been a Republican governor and Republican attorney general. So this is a highway, a path not traveled before.

And I think when there was split political parties in each of those responsibilities, the differences were ignored because that's [Frank] Kelley, that's [Jennifer] Granholm, that's [Mike] Cox, that's Engler, what have you. But I think when you're in the same party, sometimes those small number of issues where you have a different point of view get overblown.

But we kind of have a no-fire clause. It's called the Constitution. And so we work very well together. Sometimes there are differences of opinion. I respect his; he respects mine. The pension issue, again, that's part of my job to defend the pension clause in the Michigan Constitution. That's my job as attorney general. So I've done the other clauses, as well --- marriage, admissions, the Natural Resources Trust Fund. So he understands my responsibilities, just like [Detroit Emergency Financial Manager] Kevyn Orr does. Kevyn's a sharp guy, bright attorney; he understands my constitutional responsibilities. So we work all those things through.

IMP: It's widely presumed that you're going to run for governor in 2018. And I know that most public officials don't want to talk about their future plans. But you've been a former congressman, judge, state senator –-- you've obviously thought about this, right?

Schuette: Well, I've thought a lot about my responsibilities as attorney general, that's for sure. And I'm going to work really hard to make sure I'm elected to a second term and I'm confident that will occur. I don't take that for granted. I'm not bombastic and as I've said that before --- I tell my team we've got to win every day. We won yesterday; we're going to win today; we've got to win tomorrow. The future will take care of itself. There's no grand design; there's no secret plan. I'm going to do my job --- hopefully, do it well and the future will take care of itself?

IMP: Does running Michigan interest you?

Schuette: You know, my calling has always been service. And that's what it's always going to be.

Mike Bouchard Runs as Straight-Shooting Voice of Experience

Dome Magazine, 3/16/10

Hurricane Katrina was slamming into New Orleans, leaving most of the coastal city underwater. The Category 5 hurricane would eventually claim the lives of 1,836 souls, making it the deadliest storm in eight decades.

It was August 29, 2005, and the raspy voice on the other end of the line belonged to Jefferson County Parish Sheriff Henry Lee. They had no communication system or bullets and desperately needed help. As the director of government affairs for the Major County Sheriff’s Association, Mike Bouchard was the man to call.

“And then his undersheriff called and he was actually crying,” the Oakland County sheriff recalls. “They couldn’t get any help out of the federal government, his deputies hadn’t slept in 48 hours, a lot of them didn’t know if their own families were alive — but they were still on the job.

“I called every federal agency I could to get approval. So they ran us around the circle like that for 24 hours. And I just said, ‘forget it.’”

That’s when Bouchard phoned three other large sheriff’s departments in Georgia, Alabama and Florida to form one of the first caravans with his Oakland County team. They headed down immediately and Bouchard surveyed the damage via helicopter. Then deputies started 12-hour shifts, setting up their own self-contained compound just outside the city in the parking lot of a shuttered restaurant.

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Pete Hoekstra: Getting Down to Business in 2010 Race for Governor

Dome Magazine, 11/16/09

When U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flicked off the lights in Congress last summer instead of taking up the GOP’s offshore drilling legislation, a Twitter star was born.

Pete Hoekstra, the Republican congressman from Holland best known as the party’s point man on counterterrorism, might have seemed an unlikely tweeter. But the former furniture executive also is known for his brevity, so the 140-character-or-less format proved a good fit. And while Hoekstra was huddled in the darkened chambers with GOP lawmakers, including Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton), he kept the outside world abreast of their “Drill, baby, drill” protest.

“We found it to be an effective way to communicate,” smiles Hoekstra, who’s running for governor next year.

Since July 2008 he’s averaged more than one tweet a day, with 8,704 (and counting) followers. While that doesn’t begin to approach the territory of Twitter top dog/actor Ashton Kutcher (3,978,133 followers) or congressional king John McCain (1,576,416), Hoekstra’s missives certainly have courted more controversy.

On his 11th trip to Iraq, in February, he tweeted details from the itinerary, such as being in the green zone in Baghdad, which Democrats claimed revealed classified information and jeopardized members’ safety. The flap caused the Pentagon to announce it will review congressional communications from war zones.

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