Snyder sees 2.5 million of his fellow citizens lost in a multicolored maze.
“Just think how crazy the system is,” the twice-elected Republican governor told me in a recent interview. “We’re treating it like there’s 10 million clients in the system rather than 2.5 million customers.”
This anecdote illustrates how Snyder tries to approach governing differently. He didn’t start the meeting with Lyon by demanding to know where cuts could be made, as would a Reagan Republican. Nor did he start with the assumption that more money will solve the chart’s riddle, as would a Roosevelt Democrat.
A nerdy, data-driven former businessman, Snyder refuses to engage in the retro argument over whether government should be bigger or smaller. He says he wants it to be better.
After winning reelection in 2014, Snyder promised in his January State of the State address to make government a stronger advocate for Michigan residents struggling to reenter what he calls the “river of opportunity.”
“What we’ve done is we’ve sliced and diced people into programs, we’ve moved away from treating them as real people and, in some cases, we’ve taken some of their dignity,” Snyder said in the January speech.
“Quite often, we’re addressing symptoms. We’re not addressing root cause,” he continued. “In some cases, we’re actually facilitating dependence on state government. That’s not right. We’ve also built a lot of bureaucracy and inefficiency in the system, and that’s not right.”
A month later, Snyder signed an executive order to merge two health-services departments, promising “a fundamentally better way of service. Of efficient, effective, and accountable government. Let’s treat people as people, not programs.”
The cynic inside me is wary of a politician who promises to reform government. I’ve seen Democrats like Bill Clinton and Republicans like George W. Bush wrap themselves in the mantle of change while they pursued conventional courses. If Snyder is a faux reformer, he disguises it well behind gobs of data and the passion of an evangelist.
Talking to me about judicial reform, Snyder mentioned that the state corrections system traditionally waited until prisoners were three months from being released to begin reentry programs. “To be honest with you, I think that’s kind of dumb,” he said. Snyder recently hired a new prisons chief and ordered her to begin reentry programs from the start of each inmate’s sentence.
Recognizing the national disgrace of over-sentenced drug convicts, Snyder supports using probation options and diversionary court programs to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison. After the state Supreme Court struck down mandatory-sentencing laws, Snyder hinted that he may ask the state legislature to retroactively reduce the sentences of people in prison under the old guidelines.