JACK SPENCER: Monitoring the ‘Nerd’ factor
Four years ago Rick Snyder introduced himself to the voters of Michigan in an ad that aired during the Super Bowl. It was an innovative TV spot that portrayed him as a “nerd” and suggested a “nerd” was what the state needed as its Governor.
Whether “nerd” was an appropriate description of him or not, during his three years in office Snyder’s approach to governing has at times swerved away from the usual political pathways. Perhaps to his credit, Snyder appears to put policy before politics more often than is the case with most elected officials. To believe that he ignores the game of politics completely would be naive; but generally when one opposes the Governor’s position on an issue; it is an honest disagreement over policy. More often than not; Snyder seems to make decisions based on what he really thinks is best for Michigan.
Snyder’s relative disregard for politics sometimes makes obtaining his goals more difficult than necessary. It’s not that he fails to end up where he wants to be; it’s just that frequently he doesn’t take the most convenient and direct political route to get there.
No one should be surprised that Snyder’s instincts are those of a corporate executive; not of a politician — but the two roles are not always interchangeable. Good executives keep a constant eye on the bottom line and that alone tends to yield results that make shareholders happy. Elected officials can’t always rely on that dynamic; for them, focusing too much on the bottom line might not pay dividends to the voters quickly enough to secure their reelections.
Based on the economic numbers, Snyder has succeeded in turning the state in the right direction. Considering the condition of the national economy, this turnaround probably represents a significant accomplishment; but few would characterize it as spectacular. Precisely how many Michigan residents are feeling the effects of the state having turned the corner remains an open question.
In December, this columnist was asked if there would be a Michigan tax cut in election-year 2014. According to all the rules of the political game, the answer should have been easy — “Yes, of course there will be a tax cut.” But with Snyder in the Governor’s office, the question was a stumper. It came down to a straight 50-50 guess; and this columnist guessed “no.”
As late as mid-January, after his State of the State Address, Snyder still had most Capitol insiders guessing on the tax cut question. They knew that politically a tax cut should be in the cards; they knew Republican lawmakers wanted to pass a tax cut; but they also knew “this” Governor doesn’t always play the political game according to Hoyle.
Now we’re told that there will be an income tax cut. Snyder is expected to announce it officially in his budget presentation. Nevertheless, the political backdrop to the tax cut seems unusual; or — more accurately expressed — off the beaten path.
Obviously the Governor and Republican lawmakers would benefit in the election from the tax cut; but its political impact could be minimized unless Snyder readjusts his posture and fully embraces it. Once again we see the “nerd” aspect of Snyder’s approach pulling politics slightly off center.
No doubt; a majority of voters will view the tax cut as positive. But the deeper political advantage of passing a tax cut goes beyond the dollars and cents voters would save. If utilized properly the tax cut should provide evidence to voters that Michigan’s economy is indeed improving. In other words, the tax cut could serve as a vote-clincher for Republicans with (what may be many) Michigan voters who aren’t as yet fully convinced that the state’s economy is on the upswing.
With this in mind, the natural thing to do would be to present the tax cut as the inevitable result of an economic turnaround. The Republicans would be expected to say — “We made the tough decisions, cut taxes for small businesses to help the economy, got your government’s house in order — in fact, we’ve succeeded to the point where we have a budget surplus and can start cutting your taxes.”
Also, and possibly as important, there ought to be a not too subtle implication that this (income tax cut) is precisely the kind of thing the Governor and his fellow Republicans were aiming for all along. To have the optimum impact, the tax cut should come across to voters as an unspoken and confident wink and nod intimating: “See, we knew what we were doing – we always planned to give you a tax break in the end.”
Yet, the Governor’s current positioning on the tax cut gives no such reassurance. Instead, the clear impression is that he agreed to the tax cut reluctantly, and only after negotiating it down to a smaller cut than Republican legislators wanted.
This hesitancy on the Governor’s part is apparently based on real doubts that a tax cut would be the most prudent thing to do. What’s missing from Snyder’s current stance is any hint of a confident wink and nod to the voters. Here again we see the business executive side of his nature conflicting with political considerations.
We are in a very early stage of election-year 2014. Chances are that Republican candidates, including the Governor, will end up using the tax cut to maximum effect, either very soon or belatedly.
Presuming that’s what will happen; it will be one more example of Snyder arriving where he needs to be politically, but only after taking an unnecessarily indirect route to arrive there. Maybe he really is a “nerd” after all.
Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.