Gov. Rick Snyder may get the last laugh, regardless of who wins the general election next month to replace him after two terms and eight years in the governor’s mansion.
That is because the GOP governor is moving to fill about 300 seats on hundreds of state boards and commissions. Some seats are vacant now. Others have incumbents with terms expiring at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve — 12 hours before the end of Snyder’s term. Some of these appointments are sinecures. Others come with significant duties and responsibilities. The latter includes openings on most of the unelected state university boards as well as key state boards or commissions that make policy for the Agriculture, Civil Rights, and Transportation departments.
Ironically, patronage has never been a strong suit for Snyder. In fact, I have long observed that so many of the administration’s political problems have been caused by his proclivity to make apolitical appointments. Had the governor given some of Republican county and local apparatchiks skin in the game they may have professed loyalty to the titular head of their party. This alone could have made the difference for Lieutenant Gov. Brian Calley in his unsuccessful campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
If Attorney General Bill Schuette wins there will be immense pressure from Republicans, including in the state Senate, which has advice and consent authority, for Snyder to defer to the governor-elect.
On the other hand, Republicans will be united to rush through as many partisan Snyder appointees as possible if Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer wins. This would become even more critical if Democrats win majority in the upper house of the Legislature, which the GOP has maintained uninterrupted control over since 1984. These appointees could then thwart or at least slow-walk attempts by Whitmer to undo Snyder’s reforms to administrative rules and regulations.
The situation facing Snyder is vastly different from 2010, when then-outgoing Gov. Jennifer Granholm was blocked by majority Republicans in the Senate from making any appointments in the final eight months of her governorship.
Snyder’s legacy for years, if not decades, to come will be his appointments, regardless of whether he fills all or just some of the vacancies before leaving office. This includes the scores of judges he has appointed from the Supreme Court down through the appellate, circuit, district and probate courts.
Just look at the high court. Four of the five sitting Republicans justices — Brian Zahra, David Viviano, Kurtis Wilder and Elizabeth Clement — were given their black robes and six-figure salaries by the governor. A fifth Snyder appointee, Joan Larsen, was elevated by President Donald J. Trump to the federal bench.
The shear number of appointees will make Snyder far more consequential than even fellow Republican John Engler, the only other governor since the 1940s whose party controlled the Senate for the duration of their time in office. That is particularly astonishing when you consider that King John, as he was sometimes called, served 12 years or three terms.
Dennis Lennox is a political commentator and public affairs consultant.