TIM SKUBICK: Snyder, Engler — Not apples to apples

Many moons ago to tap into the institutional memory of the Michigan Legislature, you wandered around on the House or Senate floor. The folks you talked to are long forgotten: Bill Ryan, Mo Hood, Mickey Griffin, Jimmy O’Neill, Bob Vanderlaan, Charlie Zollar and Billy Huffman.

Now in this term limit milieu, if you seek “wisdom” and “history” you work the ring around the capitol rotunda on the second floor; the home away from home for the lobby corps. Filled with folks with more than a half hour in this town, you run into a recurring theme: Call it the Engler curse or blessing, depending on your view of the former GOP governor. They ask, “What would Engler do?”

The question usually comes up as the lobbyist stare at an impasse in the legislative process as they long for the Engler days when he knew how to get things done.

In many respects, comparing Richard Dale Snyder with John Mathias Engler is not apples to apples. Yes they are Republicans, but even there the comparison does not completely stack up. Heck, Mr. Snyder flirted for a nanosecond about running as an independent for governor.

Mr. Engler was at times a bully. Mr. Snyder himself was bullied and it’s just not in him to push anybody around.

Mr. Engler knew the legislative process being a product of the beast he often tamed. Mr. Snyder came in from the outside and suffice it to say hawking computers did not exactly prepare him for this, although he is learning.

Their styles are completely different. Mr. Engler had his wood shed. Mr. Snyder has his dashboards. Mr. Engler would cuss with the best of them. Mr. Snyder says, “I don’t swear. I find no value in that.” Mr. Engler gave limited access to the media. Mr. Snyder scrums with reporters at almost every public event and actually seems to like it.

Around the rotunda ring you also hear, Engler was two steps ahead of everyone. While the common schlub in the legislature was focused on the here and now, on Engler’s chess board, he loved moving the pieces around long before anyone could figure out what he was up to. Mr. Snyder confesses he finds no pleasure in all that.

Mr. Engler had a killer’s instinct. Let’s just say that’s not a dominant gene if you are a self-described nerd, even a tough one at that.

Mr. Snyder may not have the same legislative depth and range, but he has pulled off some cute moves of his own. He did an end-run around the legislature when his own party balked at building a bridge to Canada.

He showed some independence while bucking the national GOP trend to avoid anything related to Obamacare. The governor, after some pratfalls of his own, eventually got enough D’s and R’s to expand the Medicaid expansion bill that now provides health care to more than 300,000 previously insurance-less souls.

He also dared to go where previous governors dared not. He tossed Detroit into bankruptcy. Depending how that works out, he’s either a champ or loser.

Therefore, when you compare one chief executive to another it’s clear that each brings his or her own set of skills to the game. All governors are not created equal, and for those who wish the current governor was a little more rough and tumble, it’s just not him.

In fact, if he wanted to emulate any former governor it would likely be Bill Milliken not John Engler.

 

Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.