The Right Time for a Nerd

“Observe due measure, for right timing is in all things the most important factor.” – Hesiod, Greek poet, ~800 BC

“Timing is everything.” Have truer words ever been spoken?  That well-worn and universal phrase applies to so many circumstances in everyday life – business decisions, personal and professional matters, relationships, investments, career choices, etc.

It is no less so in the political arena, and is often the difference in whether a political leader’s legacy is considered good (or great), indifferent or largely forgettable. It certainly applies to the soon-to-be-ended tenure of Governor Rick Snyder. Looking back, there’s little question that the time was right in Michigan eight years ago for an apolitical businessman and self-described “nerd” to rise to the highest office in the Great Lakes State.

But being in the right place at the right time to win an election doesn’t guarantee political success, especially for a political outsider. The landscape of governance is littered with individuals who rose to fame and power as fresh faces and outside voices, only to be ground down by political forces they didn’t comprehend or weren’t prepared for. Being an “outsider” might be good for getting votes, but it can be a tremendous liability when dealing with seasoned politicos, entrenched bureaucracies and well-funded special interests.

Gov. Snyder achieved success by learning quickly on the job, staying focused on a specific set of achievable goals and never straying from his “relentless positive action” mantra that defined his administration. He disappointed some in his own party by not exerting the political muscle that’s inherent to the office. But that’s not who he is and – like him or not – eight years in the governor’s chair didn’t seem to change his approach and demeanor at all. That was obvious in his largely hands-off approach in the race to replace him, and his cooperation with his Democrat successor to ensure a smooth transition of power.

Closer to home, we appreciated Gov. Snyder’s commitment to serve and represent all parts of the state. Early in his tenure he came to Traverse City to speak with the Traverse City Area Chamber’s Young Professionals group (now FUSE), and was genuinely impressed and appreciative of the effort to engage young people and get them more involved in their community. He and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley seemed to agree with our “one size does not fit all” political philosophy and met regularly with members of the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance to discuss legislation and policy affecting northern Michigan, and how to “right-size” state programs and initiatives to make them effective in rural, less populated areas of the state.

The governor also became a champion of early childhood development, an issue that our chamber has engaged in for more than a decade. While not among his initial platforms, he listened, learned and grew into a strong advocate for our children, their families and their futures. He expanded his focus for education to include P(renatal)-20.

On the economic front, there’s little debate that his policies and approaches were good for Michigan’s economy. He inherited an economic mess at the national level that significantly impacted Michigan as the Great Recession wound down. And while Michigan’s economic rebound is the result of multiple factors – remember that timing is everything – he was adept at leveraging a Republican majority in all branches. The outcomes, such as overhauling Michigan’s business tax structure, have played a major role in the state’s revival.

Not every part of Gov. Snyder’s administration will be remembered positively. The Flint water crisis will always be a part of that administration’s history. Fairly or unfairly, the state’s emergency manager statute put responsibility for such municipalities at the behest of the Executive Branch, and Gov. Snyder’s legacy is tarnished by the mistakes made in running the city’s public water system. But to his credit, he and Lt. Gov. Calley responded by directing an extraordinary amount of state resources in an attempt to remedy the problems. It didn’t reverse the damage that was done, but he showed compassion and commitment in his response to one of the largest public health challenges in Michigan’s history.

Regardless of one’s political leanings, Gov. Snyder showed us that a non-politician can be an effective leader if he or she is smart, willing to listen and learn, and stays true to who they are. He was the right person at the right time, and leaves our state in a better place going forward. For that, we are grateful and, in that light, we keep our hopes and expectations high for his successor Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer and her administration, as well as for the legislature with which she will need to work, as they head toward more turbulent times in our national and global affairs.

Doug Luciani is CEO of TraverseCONNECT, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at doug@traverseconnect.org.

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