Politics & Policy

Flint Is Not a Republican Scandal

National Guard troops distribute bottled water in Flint, Mich., January 17, 2016. (Bill Pugliano/Getty)

What we learned from Hurricane Katrina: No matter what happens, it’s never the governor’s fault. What we’ve learned from the contaminated drinking water in Flint, Mich.: It’s always the governor’s fault.

A bit of background first.

Flint has relatively high levels of lead in its drinking water, a cause for legitimate concern. This is a result not so much of the source of its drinking water, the Flint River, as of the city’s failure to treat the water, which, without the proper additives, leaches lead and other contaminants from pipes.

Prior to and separate from the current water crisis, Flint was in a state of financial ruination. In one of the most liberal cities in the United States, Flint’s Democrat-dominated government did what Democrat-monopoly governments do in practically every city they control: It spent money as quickly as it could while at the same time carpet-bombing the tax base with inept municipal services, onerous regulations, high taxes, and the like. As a result of this, a bankrupt Flint entered into a state of receivership, meaning that an emergency manager — or emergency financial manager, depending upon Michigan’s fluctuating fiscal-emergency law — was appointed by state authorities and given power to supersede local elected officials in some matters, especially financial ones. The contamination happened while Flint was under the authority of an emergency manager who, though a Democrat, had been appointed to the post by Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder. He was, in fact, the most recent in a long line of emergency managers, Flint having failed for years to emerge from its state of fiscal emergency.

RELATED: Political Poison: How Many Flints Until We Learn Our Lesson?

Because the Democratic emergency manager was appointed by a Republican governor, the people from whom one expects cheap theatrics of this sort have declared the situation in Flint to be a Republican scandal.

Not so fast.

Before the appointment of the (Democratic) emergency manager, Flint’s elected mayor and city council (Democrats) had decided to sever the city’s relationship with its drinking-water supplier, which was at the time the Detroit water authority. Flint intended to join a regional water authority that would pipe water in from Lake Huron, a project that was scheduled to take three years to come online. In a fit of pique, Detroit (a city under unitary Democratic control) immediately moved to terminate Flint’s water supply, leaving the city high and literally dry.

Flint is a mess made by Democrats, made worse by the Democrats in Detroit, and ignored by the Democrats in the White House.

At this point, somebody — no one will quite admit to being the responsible party — decided to rely temporarily on the Flint River. The Democrats in the city government deny responsibility for this; so does Darnell Earley, the Democrat who served as emergency manager. Earley says that the decisions to terminate the Detroit deal and rely temporarily on the Flint River “were both a part of a long-term plan that was approved by Flint’s mayor, and confirmed by a City Council vote of 7–1 in March of 2013 — a full seven months before I began my term as emergency manager.”

Meanwhile, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality — no hotbed of covert Republican activity — seems at the very least to have suppressed worrisome findings about Flint’s water supply, and may have done worse than that. The federal Environmental Protection Agency — whose Democratic chief was appointed by our Democratic president — knew for months that there were concerns about Flint’s water, and did nothing.

In sum: The Democratic government of a Democratic city destroys that city’s finances so thoroughly that it must go into state receivership; a Democratic emergency manager signs off on a consensus plan to use a temporary water source; the municipal authorities in that Democratic city responsible for treating and monitoring drinking water fail to do their job; a state agency whose employees work under the tender attention of SEIU Local 517 fails to do its job overseeing the local authorities; Barack Obama’s EPA, having been informed about the issue, keeps mum.

Republican scandal.

#share#Governor Snyder, of course, does bear some responsibility here and, to his credit, has acknowledged as much. No, no reasonable person expects the governor to show up in Flint with a white glove and personally eyeball what the local water-treatment plant is up to, but the people he appointed did an insufficient job. It is ironic, given the tenor of the denunciations, that Governor Snyder is as guilty of excessive bipartisanship as of any other offense: In his desire to keep Flint under the watch of an emergency manager with whom the locals were comfortable — a Democrat — he may have overlooked better candidates with more thoroughgoing approaches to reform. If you’ve followed Flint’s history of nearly criminal misgovernance, you know that what was needed was more iron fist and less velvet glove.

RELATED: The Left’s Burning Cities

So while those who fault Governor Snyder are not entirely wrong, what is deeply dishonest is the story put forward by such people as the filmmaker Michael Moore, who enjoys pretending to be from gritty, blue-collar Flint (he actually hails from an affluent suburb nearby), that this is, somehow, the result of the Republican approach to government or conservative governing ideas. That is absurd. Flint is a mess made by Democrats, made worse by the Democrats in Detroit, and ignored by the Democrats in the White House. The worst that can be said of the Republican on the scene is that he failed to save the local Democrats from the worst effects of their own excesses.

But that is the Democrats’ approach to calculating the chain of responsibility: Go up the ladder or down, as needed, until a Republican is located, or a private firm, in which case capitalism can be blamed. The Democratic monopolies in Flint, Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Newark? Somehow, somewhere, there’s a Republican responsible for that, even if he has to be brought in on an overnight flight from Oklahoma.

Flint is nothing more than a miniature Detroit. And Detroit is what Democrats do.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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