Leadership systems are clogged by gods of party politic

January 22, 2016
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It is not possible to be in almost any part of this world without seeing the images and updated reporting on the Flint water crisis in one’s face.

The past week offered only new evidence of governmental CYA — from the very onset of the time it was recognized a life-threatening problem had or was developing. Discussion was first and foremost political and second, blame. Not helpful.

It is not just the governor and his cabinet staff who are accountable; responsibility also rests with the full-time legislature surely being informed by their colleagues. The ineffectuality of Michigan legislators, however, has been painfully clear, most recently in its inability (indeed, disregard) to deal with Michigan’s crumbling highways and bridges or to update energy legislation.

Over and over the legislative majority, especially, prayed and obeyed the gods of the party politic. Legislators no longer represent constituents who hold residence in a district, but those who fund the political races, assuring power without “risk” of accountability or residence.

The resulting blindness was well represented last week by former GOP legislator and former Michigan Politics commentator Bill Ballenger. Ballenger was fired by the publication’s publisher for the “indefensible comments” he made to CNN that the Flint crisis was “overblown” and the extent of the crisis was “vastly exaggerated.”

These are precisely the actions that fuel voter approval for presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

The “Flint issue” does indeed belong to every community. Grand Rapids Business Journal reported on studies that include research by Alan Steinman, director of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University, who told GRBJ that drinking water and wastewater infrastructure should be a major concern in the U.S., but it’s largely being ignored.

“We used to have a revolving fund that would deal with infrastructure problems,” Steinman said. “People don’t want to pay the taxes for this kind of stuff. As much as it’s a technical issue, it’s also a societal issue. What are we prioritizing?”

He noted the American Society for Civil Engineers releases a report on the infrastructure-funding gap related to drinking water and wastewater every four years, which underscores substantial underfunding.

According to the latest of those reports, released in 2013, drinking-water infrastructure in the U.S. has a grade of D, as does wastewater infrastructure. The report notes most of the country’s drinking-water infrastructure is nearing the end of its life, and it identifies an $84.4-billion gap in funding that would need to be made up by 2020.

This time, however, West Michigan — Michigan — residents are not unlike witnesses to a horrifying event, bystanders watching helplessly as the event unfolds but culpable for irresponsibility.

We must do better. We are all Flint.

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