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Saturday, January 19, 2019

By Mary Sanchez, Tribune Content Agency

If there was ever any ethical foundation supporting the administration of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, it has been obliterated.

The first duty of any government is to serve it citizens — openly, without favor or prejudice, and in such a way as never to knowingly inflict harm.

In causing — yes, causing — the poisoning of the city of Flint’s water supply, Snyder’s administration have violated that trust. Trampled it, really. And in the process they showed contempt for the people of Flint.

Citizens complained. Experts remonstrated. Yet more experts were enlisted to make a credible case for concern. It didn’t matter. Public health in Flint didn’t matter. What mattered was politics.

In April 2014, the water supply of Flint was switched to the Flint River. It was a cost-saving solution. Flint, as most of us have known since Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary “Roger & Me,” is a struggling, impoverished postindustrial landscape. State-appointed emergency managers had been assigned to Flint to address its fiscal problems. So the lake water supplied by Detroit had to go. Too expensive. But the water from the Flint River, a historical dumping site for industrial effluent, wasn’t treated properly, a necessary step to keep old pipes from corroding and releasing lead into the water.

The result was toxic water. People quickly began complaining of rashes and other problems. Pediatricians noted eye-popping levels of lead in the blood of children. Technicians found off-the-charts levels of lead in certain water samples taken from residents’ water faucets.

This went on for 18 months before the water source was switched back to Detroit last fall. United Way of Genesee County, Mich., estimates that 6,000 to 12,000 kids were exposed to lead in the drinking water for an extended period, and that the cost of treating and caring for those poisoned by lead could reach $100 million.

At its heart, the contaminated water crisis in Flint is simple. Everyone at some point — the governor, consultants, legislators, Flint’s state-appointed emergency managers and the various staffers surrounding all of the people with the lofty titles and salaries — discounted the people of Flint.

It wasn’t their children who were exposed to irreversible brain damage from lead poisoning. It wasn’t their families breaking out with rashes. And it wasn’t their minister who stopped performing baptisms, fearing a toxic blessing for newborns.

Those problems were Flint’s, and Flint apparently doesn’t really deserve better.

We get this inkling from 275 pages of newly released emails from the governor’s office. They were only brought forth under duress — now that the National Guard is delivering clean bottled water to Flint. Now that a federal emergency declaration has been signed by the president. Now that the lawsuits are being filed and $28 million in emergency state money had to be offered up.

The governor’s emails show state officials dismissing residents’ complaints as politically motivated and downplaying the findings of outside experts invited by residents to test the water.

Now certain Michigan Republicans are wailing that the issue is being politicized by Snyder’s critics. Well, who politicized it? Principled public servants would have taken complaints from citizens seriously and sought unbiased evidence to investigate — not dismissed them as “political” or otherwise inconvenient.

So, yes, this reflects badly on the Republican governor who supported the system of state-appointed saviors for the poor in the form of inept emergency managers.

Racial and class insensitivity is certainly a factor. Flint is more than 55 percent African-American and has a 40 percent poverty rate. It’s easier to ignore people if they don’t look like you or vote for you.

But that’s not the whole story. Multiple agencies and countless public workers mindlessly marched forward without adequately addressing the uproar coming from the people using the water.

Some of the people snared in the negligence — including the emergency manager at the time the water was switched to a dangerous source — are African-American. Clearly, a lot of people shoved plans forward without questioning, without addressing dangers.

Fingers have been pointing at the emergency manager at the time of the water switch. And that man, now the emergency manager of Detroit schools, points to the previous manager. Technically, he argues, his predecessor made the decision.

The state legislature bears fault too. It twice approved acts to appoint emergency managers for Flint. The second time, it added language to prevent the people of Michigan from using a referendum to take back control of their cities, as they did in 2012.

Snyder, in his state of the state address, attempted a “buck stops here” gesture. “To you, the people of Flint, I want to say tonight, as I have before, I am sorry, and I will fix it,” he said.

The question is, will he — will anyone — learn from it?

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at

Photo: Flint resident Ruby Adolph carries bottled water and a replacement water filter she received at a fire station in Flint, Michigan January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

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42 responses to “Poisoning Flint’s Water: Political Contempt In Action”

  1. Sand_Cat says:

    Snyder is sorry because he’s suffering political inconvenience.

    Like much of the GOP, he obviously couldn’t care less about poor and non-white people, or about self-government for them. The whole “emergency manager” scam is just another way of denying the votes of the poor and the non-white.

    • Polana says:

      Also don’t forget, those managers sold taxpayers properties to the rich for a pennies on the dollar. Snyder will be rewarded for being a good little soldier – will be re elected again. He did a good job with his promises and he delivered – to the wrong people.

  2. Darsan54 says:

    Snyder is throwing the little people under the bus in the time-honored corporate tactic of blaming whoever is not in the room.

  3. 1standlastword says:

    As for me this proves that the only thing more toxic and deadly than Flint water is pernicious republican leadership!

    And oooh how the proponents of a federal government small enough to “drown in a bath tub” run to “Uncle Sugar” after their policies fail

  4. charleo1 says:

    The Country can learn much from Flint. In too many ways to describe, in ways that have not even yet been considered. Flint should present us all with a great teachable moment. First, Flint is an example of how important local, and State elections are. And the great harm that can come from gerrymandering so severe, that only the purest of ideological purists may be successful. When apathetic voters stay home, and extremists are elected in such numbers that they have unstoppable power, and the Governor is a mere rubber stamp. Flint should remind us that politics, and civic duty not only still matter, but matters now maybe more than ever before. Flint can also teach us it’s not always about cutting taxes, and saving a buck.That the prime responsibility of any government remains the safety, security, and the well being of the people. And when that is forgotten, or abandoned for radical dogma, or by jumping on some political bandwagon adhering to some nihilistic nonsensical, anti-government claptrap, and attempting to govern in that fashion. Then real people, in this case the most vulnerable, the children of Flint were the victims of all that. And so the Governor, and his solid red nincompoop of a legislature should apologize, and should be ashamed of themselves. But the rest of us can learn a lot from Flint. I think we owe it to ourselves, but mostly to those kids.

  5. Hopefully someone will squeal on Snyder and he will end up in the slammer.

    • Polana says:

      Crispy Christi should be fried too. Sandy victims still not being reimbursed, and money gone to his cronies and his pockets. Forget the bridge scandal.
      I have no clue why even people vote for this guys or for any Republicans over and over again. Voters gets slapped in the face and I guess they want more slapping until they R DEAD.

      • dtgraham says:

        I’m so surprised that Christie hasn’t been charged yet. As you said, never mind the childish bridge retribution — which no one seriously believes that Christie didn’t have a hand in — what about the shakedowns and other financial shenanigans between Christie and David Samson?

        I’ve heard that Paul Fishman is known for working slowly, but this slowly?

        • Polana says:

          Money talks BS walks. He will get away w/it unless the lady speaks up – not going to happened – she probably got paid very nicely to keep her trap shut. She has no job that pays well and to keep her high priced lawyer. I don’t think he works pro bono, Scandal this big require highly priced lawyer not some red neck
          hilly billy. Somebody is paying him the big bucks for her to be mum. That’s the politics and we always loooosee big, because most of people keep these crooks in the office and they become immune to anything.
          The new disease that is spreading SPTDD (SarahPalinTrumpDonald Disease) and new just popped up SNAVAA (Stupid Naive American Voter at it Again).
          TCFD – Ted Cruz Fear Disease,
          JBWMDDA – JebBushWithMassive Destruction Disease Again
          BCDID- BenCarlson Drug Induced Disease
          It seems only Kasich is with some reasonable views.

          • dtgraham says:

            I heard Darrell Hammond explain the new disease as JBIRALG. “Jeb Bush is really a little girl.” His name is Jebra.

  6. Buford2k11 says:

    Snyder is a Koch puppet…that is all we really need to know…

    • Eleanore Whitaker says:

      Aren’t all the Corn Pones and Mutton Chops these days? That is why Citizens United must, must, must be repealed. It is too easy to use that BS about corporatiuons being people to get around the Constitution. Now we have men in this country who make the laws they like best.

    • Polana says:

      THEY ALL THEIR PUPPETS. Nobody will pay millions of dollars and to get nothing for it.

  7. Eleanore Whitaker says:

    The U.S. Constitution does provide for the removal of politicians who do not live up to the oath they take to “serve the people.”Snyder is using every excuse in the book. Doesn’t MI have a state Supreme Court where the people can force him to be accountable? The reason for a Constitution is to insure that ALL states act in the interests of the people who pay politicians salaries. But, as you can see, now that their salaries are paid more by billionaries and corporations who are “people,” this is how they get around Constitutional violations.

  8. Independent1 says:

    This is just one more example of how the GOP care little to nothing about the serving the people while they focus on ensuring that the already wealthy will end up paying as little in taxes as they can make possible; even if that means the people they were elected to serve will end up dying prematurely or being severely damaged mentally or physically.

    • Eleanore Whitaker says:

      They all swear an oath on the day of their inaugurations…if they are NOT living up to the purpose and intent of that oath, they must be removed as the Constitution states.

  9. rednekokie says:

    This particular Republican governor and his Republican state house have continually, ever since they have been in office, attempted to run minority people out of the state by such tactics and this, as well as removing duly elected officials and replacing them with dictators, answerable to no one save the governor.
    He and his ilk are a prime example of the greed for power at any cost the Republican party in its entirety exhibit daily throughout the country.
    This state, along with Kansas and Wisconsin, are three of the most notorious examples.
    I will not do business in any state which acts in this manner — indeed, I have already declined one contract in Michigan, and will not entertain another until these perverts are put out to pasture.

    • rollwhip says:

      You’re only helping them. One aspect of this story that’s not usually mentioned is just the general reality of Michigan politics. Almost all of the state outside of the SE despises and resents the Detroit area, and for decades have attempted to shift as many resources away as possible. And not just to help their own areas, it’s done with actual malice. This episode is just the most extreme and immediately disastrous consequence of it. But it’s not at all new or limited to Snyder.

      The better way to fight them continues to be supporting the turnaround of Detroit itself as much as possible. A healthy Detroit eliminates almost all of their power. Which is why they don’t want that.

  10. 1Zoe55 says:

    Can anyone imagine this toxic water debacle happening and continuing for as long as it has in a white, upper-class area? Of course not, this governor and his cronies would be using every available resource to keep their children safe, including asking for federal help. I keep thinking of the phrase “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Now this phrase should be “who will rid us of these meddlesome, fewer regulations and smaller government Republican/TeaParty members?” Vote all of them out!

  11. stsintl says:

    Reaganites keep quoting the famous words of Reagan that “Government is not the solution, government is the problem”. How true it is when the government is in the wrong hands [Republicans]. This racist bigot, along with other GOP governors, had also announced that he would not allow Syrian Refugees to settle in Michigan.

  12. Jim says:

    That governor should go to prison, & stsinti I don’t want Syrian refugees coming to the u.s. either.

    • Daniel Jones says:

      It would be safer for them in a civilised country than in this one, but if they aren’t terrorists, they have every right to take their chances in the country that gave the world Charlie Manson, Tailgunner Joe, Ted Nugent, Autogrief, Dick Cheney, and Donald Freakin’ Trump.

      • Jim says:

        I don’t think this is a good time for refugees from that part of the world to come here for a while given this crisis + over population is a serious problem even if gov. Denise it.

        • stsintl says:

          Did you know that Steve Job was a Syrian?
          By the way, Michigan has been the home to largest population of Arabs [Christians and non-christians] for over hundred years. They built the economy of Michigan. Over 30,000 Americans are killed by Non-Arab Americans every year. Let’s start throwing out these gun toting, bible waving NRA Terrorists first.

          • Jim says:

            I want to keep my gun and I’m don’t like the NRA but I wouldn’t call them terrorists that’s going to far, yes we kill each other a lot no doubt but under these circumstances things could get much worse if we bring those refugees here, not saying many are terrorists but likely some will be radicalized here.

          • yabbed says:

            Go back to sleep, Jim.

          • Jim says:

            I’m not I’m right.

      • Polana says:

        Don’t forget the Mighty OxyMoron Sarah Palin

  13. Wrily says:

    Snyder and his gang have poisoned much more than the residents of Flint. They have poisoned the infrastructure of the city. They have poisoned the economy of the city. Good luck selling a piece of property in the city of Flint. Good luck running a restaurant in the city of Flint. The list goes on, but . . .

  14. CrankyToo says:

    The Republican version of fiscal conservatism at work! Spend a 100 million to save a hundred thousand. And never mind about the pain and suffering inflicted upon who-knows-how-many lives. Those people don’t matter to the GOP; they vote blue.

  15. yabbed says:

    We have always shown contempt for the poor and the marginalized and the non white. Debtor’s prisons, slavery, Jm Crow, racism, the war on drugs and three strikes, gerrymandering and voter suppression, the lack of social welfare and health care. Children go hungry every day in this country. They are abused, undereducated, denied opportunities. Poisoning their water is just another reminder to them and to us how little anyone cares about the poor.

  16. 11thStPopulist says:

    “Principled” and “Republican” are oxymorons. There was $ at stake here – filthy Flint river water is much cheaper than clean Detroit water. So where are the Repub presendential candidates on this poisoning scandal? (Dems – Hillary, Bernie – have taken a moral stand). Along with the clean up effort, there needs to be some serious recall petitions launched in Flint.

  17. Sterling Harris says:


  18. Lately, I’ve been able to gain further clarity on the issue of racial bigotry, and how the mythical concept of “race” plays itself out in the attitudes and policies in America for instance. The notion of “Race” and the desire to “quantify” and classify groups of people into nice “bite-sized” and convenient packets with designations like “caucasian”, “negroid”, “mongoloid”, “black”, “white”, “yellow”, etc are the outcomes of leading thinkers in Europe in the 15th-16th centuries and later. The quasi-scientific theories put forth were carefully documented, expanded on, taught in schools, and in many churches—all of which “colored” the attitudes of early European explorers to the New World.

    The explorers, armed with this “insight”, exported these notions to colonial
    outposts in the Americas and elsewhere in the form of policies, laws enacted(e.g., Chinese Exclusion Act, the first “Immigration Act”, anti-Miscegenation Laws[first in Maryland and Virginia] and eventually to all the lands conquered in America). And Flint is another consequence of such laws, policies and sentiments inculcated by the false notion of “Race”, “Racial Superiority”, purity and supremacy of Christianity in comparison to other Religions, “Jim Crow Laws”, ad nauseam.
    (Many ill-educated and petty-minded individuals like to invoke the name of Rev. Wright and Al Sharpton as the real cause of racial strife, and even accuse them of being racists—quite a ridiculous and immoral assertion in light of this country’s early history and deft application of laws along the lines of Racial Supremacy, as enacted and implemented by the early English settlers).

    The tragedy in Flint is just another reminder of the corrosive influence of racism—a topic addressed repeatedly by Baha’u’llah in His Tablets; by Abdu’l Baha during his
    visit to America and Canada in 1912, during which time he exhorted the Baha’is to hold Race Amity meetings(the first was held in Wash. DC— refer to the link “”; again by letters addressed to America by Shoghi Effendi in his “Advent of Divine Justice”(a noteworthy part is the section entitled “The Most Challenging Issue”). And now, the Universal House of Justice has been channeling a lot of messages to Baha’is and world leaders to the threat of racism and other forms of prejudices, among other factors, to the well-being of humanity.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  19. Bill says:

    The GOP doesn’t care about PEOPLE.

    • Irishgrammy says:

      Abso-friggin-loutely! But boy howdy, the GOP loves, loves, loves power and the money and influence that goes with it!

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