Michigan Governor’s Water-Drinking Gesture Too Little Too Late

Michigan Governor’s Water-Drinking Gesture Too Little Too Late

[Opinion] Gov. Rick Snyder says he'll drink from the Flint water supply to point out its improvement, but it's a pointless stunt that fails to speak to the causes of the crisis

Michigan Governor’s Water-Drinking Gesture Too Little Too Late

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, right, drinks filtered Flint tap water with Flint resident Cheryl Hill. Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP

Just hours before the first criminal charges would be announced in connection with the Flint water crisis, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced that he would drink the city’s water for 30 days to “alleviate some of the skepticism and mistrust.”

Snyder has fallen under wide criticism for his handling of the circumstances surrounding the 2014 switch in Flint’s drinking water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River — resulting in widespread water contamination — and the state’s response once the contamination was revealed.



Dr. Mona Hanna-Atisha, a lead pediatrician at the city’s Hurley Medical Center told state officials that some 8,000 to 9,000 children younger than six should be treated for lead exposure amid further questions over the ability to adequately determine just how many citizens have elevated lead levels.  It has even been speculated that the increase in cases of Legionnaires disease in Flint, including 10 fatalities, could be connected to the issues with the city’s water.

While it is too soon to know what the long-term impact of the contamination will be, the question of how it all happened in the first place is one of great urgency. Snyder has declined to reveal just when he was made aware of the water problem, which is a problem all it’s own, especially considering questions over how his budget cuts and reorganization of state government may have contributed to the circumstances leading to the tainting of Flint's water. 

As The New York Times reminds us, the governor is not the first to resort to such means. Former Chicago Mayor Jayne Byrne moved to the infamous Cabrini Green housing projects for a whopping three weeks in 1981; Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper claims to have ingested fracking fluid and a number of politicians have done food stamp challenges in an attempt to prove varying points.

Snyder, and the stunt kings and queens who came before him, should understand that the lives of constituents are not a “Tyra Banks Show” social experiment. There is nothing to gain from performing the act of drinking water that is undergoing a filtration process that wouldn’t be necessary if the people of Flint had been treated with the care and decency that any citizen should expect from their government—unless some grand act of karmic retribution occurs and he somehow falls ill.

A more appropriate showing of contrition and respect for the gravity of this situation would be Snyder’s resignation. The citizens of Flint deserve accountability, transparency and every possible resource to help prevent and address health issues related to the contamination—not a performance or a science project from a governor who cannot look his state in the eye and reveal just how long he has known that people were in danger.

Meanwhile, the bureaucratic fallout continues. On Wednesday The Detroit Free Press reported that Flint’s laboratory and water quality supervisor, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality official and the district coordinator for the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance would face multiple charges in connection with the scandal—misconduct and conspiracy among them.

If there was some sort of heroic action that Snyder could take to quickly get Flint back on track, something to bolster the confidence of those who have been so recklessly disregarded by elected officials and their staffs, a water challenge certainly isn’t it. Instead of playing for the camera, the governor should prepare to face the consequences of his actions—and allow someone else to lead. 





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