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Government Run Like A Business Led To Lead In Flint's Water

By       Message Dave Johnson       (Page 1 of 7 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future

From flickr.com/photos/26476817@N04/5378403428/: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
(Image by Michigan Municipal League (MML))
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"If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water, we would have done something about it."
-- Hillary Clinton

"There are no excuses. The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint's water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Gov. Snyder should resign."
-- Bernie Sanders

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You might have heard that there is lead in Flint's water. You're not going to believe how much. And you're not going to believe how bad lead exposure is for people. But you'll probably believe it happened because government-hating Republicans set aside democracy so Flint's residents couldn't stop them from running government "like a business" and cutting government spending.

Trade Policies Sent The Jobs Away

Michigan is one state that has been hard hit by our country's trade policies. Once considered the center of the automobile industry, factories and jobs were sent out of the country to places where people are exploited and barely paid, and the environment is not protected. (Yes, we let them do that.)

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The result has been absolutely devastating (see "ruin porn") to Michigan cities like Detroit and Flint as jobs disappeared and people who could afford to move to try to find jobs did just that. The rest of the city's residents are left in poverty amidst miles of boarded-up, abandoned and falling-down buildings and homes, empty storefronts, and absolutely overwhelmed and underfunded public services. Help from the state and federal governments is not forthcoming.

Run Government Like A Business

Rick Snyder is a businessman (CEO, venture capitalist) who in 2010 campaigned for governor on running government like a business, promising to be the CEO governor who would create jobs. Michigan was starved for jobs, first from Wall-Street-sponsored deindustrialization, then from the Wall-Street-caused crash and recession/depression. So any promise of jobs went a long way. Maybe it was time to try turning government over to someone wealthy from outside government who said he knew better than government how to run government. Daily Beast noted at the time, "there is a more than a hint of plutocrats-know-best in Rick Snyder's campaign pitch."

But government in a democracy is nothing like a business. It is supposed to organize itself to deliver services and make people's lives better, not profit off the people. Managing government and business requires entirely different skill sets and mindsets. (Also, that thing about businesses "creating jobs?" That's not what businesses strive to do; they strive to cut costs and eliminate jobs. According to the Daily Beast, "While Snyder was on the board of Gateway [a U.S.-based computer company that had its heyday in the 1990s but ceased independent operations in 2007], the company's workforce contracted from 21,000 American workers in 2000 to 7,400 workers in 2003.")

Emergency Manager Law, Setting Aside Democracy

In 2011, Republicans passed a controversial law allowing the governor to run government like a business and appoint a CEO-style "emergency manager" when a city is considered to be financially irresponsible (i.e., too black). Under the law, it does not matter that the people of the city already elected a mayor, council and other leaders. The governor sets the election aside, brings in an emergency manager to take control of the local government, reduce its size and cost, and privatize public property, no matter the effect on the people there.

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Like a turnaround CEO brought in from another company, the emergency manager has few connections to the community. Cut services, cut costs, strip, streamline, just like a business would do. (Such cities are typically surrounded by well-off "white-flight" suburban areas that are not required to financially or otherwise participate in solving the problems.)

The affected communities didn't like that, and, unlike a business, could still do something about it. Michigan's emergency manager law was repealed by referendum in 2012. So Republicans re-passed it in a lame duck legislative session. But this time they included a small appropriation, which under Michigan law meant it cannot be subject to a voter referendum. That's that; the board has spoken, everybody get in line, all row in the same direction, play on the same team, run the ball down the field, just like in a business, or get out. Except unlike in a business there is no "get out" -- you still live there.

Public Health Emergency

Flint's public health emergency started when the city's emergency manager "saved money" ($8.5 million over five years) by switching the city's water source from Detroit via a pipeline to drawing water from the polluted Flint River. People involved in water systems will tell you that river water is acidic, which leaches lead and other metals from pipes, but they were not asked. The emergency managers could have added corrosion control chemicals to the water, but that would be more "government spending," and they didn't.

This happened in April 2014. Immediately people started complaining about the taste and smell of the now-brown water that was coming into their homes. For 18 months people complained. They started getting rashes. People's hair was falling out. The government, run like a business, did what businesses do: they entered "damage-control mode," denied there was a problem, blamed the messengers and tried to spin things their way. City and state officials said the water was OK. But there were growing concerns that there was a problem.

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Government Run Like A Business Led To Lead In Flint's Water