The Democrats seem to be demanding more answers in the Flint water crisis than Republicans. The two Democratic presidential contenders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have literary taken ownership of the issue and are pushing hard for answers in ways that none of the Republican candidates have done as of yet. Those running on the GOP ticket only commented on the issue during the latest debate or when outwardly asked by voters.
On the other hand, Clinton and Sanders have both issued statements and voluntarily bring the issue up during various moments of their campaigns, especially when answering questions around urban issues. Their doggedness and an overall importance to voters has resulted in a March 6 Democratic debate in Flint airing on CNN. This will cast a deeper national spotlight on the American city, where the lead poisoning of an estimated 9,000 children (some as young as 2-years old) has become a global scandal.
Since this story began to unravel, thrusting Flint into the national spotlight, the Democratic candidates have wasted no time turning the crisis into a bigger discussion about environmental regulation and disaster response.
For example, in the wake of the disaster, Clinton sent two aides — Amanda Renteria, her national political director, and Mike Schmidt, her policy advisor — to meet with Flint’s newly elected mayor Karen Weaver last month. The goal was to get firsthand information about the situation on the ground.
“We've had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor in many ways, and majority African-American, has been drinking and bathing in lead contaminated water and the governor of that state acted as though he didn't really care,” said Clinton bluntly about her thoughts on Flint. “He had requests for help that he basically stonewalled. I'll tell you what, if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and [were] being bathed in it, there would've been action."
Sanders took things even further calling on Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to resign immediately.
“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. Because of the conduct by Gov. Snyder’s administration and his refusal to take responsibility, families will suffer from lead poisoning for the rest of their lives. Children in Flint will be plagued with brain damage and other health problems. The people of Flint deserve more than an apology,” said Sanders in a prepared statement.
Republican candidate Marco Rubio was asked about his take on Flint and told TIME magazine it wasn’t particularly pertinent to him at this time.
“That’s not an issue that right now we’ve been focused on and for me to give you a deeply detailed answer on what the right approach should be on it, other than to tell you in general I believe that the federal government’s role in some of these things is largely limited unless it involves a federal jurisdictional issue,” explained Rubio.
GOP frontrunner and mogul Donald Trump told the media in Iowa that, “Well, it’s a shame what’s happening in Flint, Michigan. A thing like that shouldn’t be allowed to happen, but again, I don’t want to comment on it.”
And Mother Jones also reported Trump going even further to castigate the Environmental Protection Agency saying that the EPA is “really guilty” of the “horror show” in Flint while vowing to cut EPA funding if he is elected president.
While Senator Ted Cruz expressed outrage during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, he wrongly blamed the incident on the Democrats and compared the saga to Hurricane Katrina.
“You know, you look at what’s happening in Flint. Flint is an absolute outrage. You’ve got your own government poisoning the citizens. You look at the basic responsibilities of government, making sure our water’s clean is really near the top. I mean, we’re not talking rocket science here. This isn’t even broadband Internet. This is, ‘don’t have the water coming out of my sink poison me,” said Cruz. “You know, there’s an interesting parallel between Flint and New Orleans. Both cities have been governed with one-party government control of far-left Democrats for decades.”
During the Republican debate in Iowa, Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich is the only GOP candidate to put the blame squarely at the feet of his fellow Republican Gov. Snyder.
“You have to be on top of it right away. I know people are being held accountable, but the fact is every single engine of government has to move when you see a crisis like that. When you see a problem, you must act quickly to get on top of it,” said Kasich.
Perhaps rather coincidentally, we will see one of the next Republican debates at the Fox Theater in Detroit on March 3. It will be three days prior to the much talked about Democratic showdown in Flint and five days before the March 8 primary in Michigan. As the state continues to feel the heat over what happened in Flint, the candidates will be using it as a point to bring their platforms to center stage in the run for the White House. The difference is the Democratic contenders will use this bully pulpit in Flint as an opportunity to demand real answers and enact effective change so that something like this never happens to American citizens again.
Bankole Thompson is a columnist for The Detroit News. Follow him on Twitter @bankieT.