TIM SKUBICK: What Snyder doesn’t say could hurt him
For obvious reasons, nobody in the capitol press corps would ever admit this publicly. But if you applied a little truth serum, some would begrudgingly concede that Gov. Rick Snyder is a master at staying on message.
You can come at him every which way from Sunday and if he does not want to answer a question, he will not. Period.
This is exceedingly true when it relates to social or wedge issues. Political correspondents love to get into those because they help to define who the politician is and what he or she stands for. And, let’s be honest, it also makes news.
Apparently following the lead of former Gov. John Engler, who refused to be dragged into those debates, this governor is all about jobs and turning the state around and when you move the discussion to abortion, capitol punishment and the like, he clicks on the old fog machine.
For years, until the contentious Right to Work debate, he easily dodged such inquires with his pat answer, “That’s not on my agenda.” That’s now inoperative as they say, so his responses now are a little more wordy but the net result is the same, he won’t say squat if he doesn’t want to.
Yet on the eve of his re-election bid, his evasive answers are starting to stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. Correspondents can now juxtapose what he doesn’t utter against what his potential Democratic opponent Mark Scahuer does say.
He’s been very, very good about being accessible, but the first question out of the box produced this.
For weeks there has been chatter about including gays and lesbians under the state’s landmark civil rights act known as the Elliot-Larsen law.
It bans discrimination based on race, creed, etc., but there is no specific mention of rights for the LGBT community. Advocates have called for this inclusion.
So Mr. Governor are you in?
You could almost hear the switch click.
“Well I’m staying focused on jobs, kids and seniors,” the fog begins to roll in. He concedes that if lawmakers want to get into this, he’s at the ready to review it but when pressed several times to actually take a stance, reporters got nada.
He noted that there is only so much time for so many issues, and he was not about to “speculate” on what legislators might or might not do.
Some would like to think that deep inside the man there is a tolerance and an understanding that perhaps this is the right thing to do, but for whatever reason, there was no self-disclosure.
Be clear here. He is under no obligation to give a clear answer and is not breaking any laws by dancing around all he wants. After all skirting direct responses to controversial questions is a time-honored art form for career politicians which he claims not to be.
But here’s the danger with waffling. Your opponent can appear to be more candid than you are and that could cost you votes.
The gay civil rights question was put to Mr. Schauer.
“Absolutely. Absolutely,” he offered without thinking twice. “We should not discriminate against a class of people because of their sexual orientation or who they love.” And he volunteers “that is just the start,” as he proceeds to embrace changing the state constitution to permit gay marriage. “I would vote yes,” he leaves nothing to the imagination.
Obviously the election for governor will not be decided on these issues, but the more the governor tries to avoid revealing his personal convictions, the more the voters may take a look at Mr. Schauer who appears willing to disclose his.
Some voters may not like what they hear from him, but at least, in this instance, he was nervy enough to self-disclose, while the other guy? Not so much.
Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972.