Street Talk

Street Talk: Down the drain

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April 22, 2016
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Gov. Rick Snyder’s approval ratings plummeted in the wake of the Flint water crisis, and Michiganders now consider city infrastructure the state’s biggest problem, according to Michigan State University’s latest State of the State Survey.

Snyder received a “poor” job-performance rating from 44 percent of respondents in the winter survey, up sharply from 21 percent in the previous survey and the worst mark of the Republican governor’s five-year tenure.

It’s also the highest “poor” rating for a governor since Jennifer Granholm’s 46 percent in summer 2010.

Further, 57 percent of residents blamed the Flint water crisis on either Snyder, state government or Darnell Earley, Snyder’s appointee as emergency manager for Flint. It was under Earley’s watch in 2014 that Flint starting using water from the Flint River as a cost-saving move, leading to a public health emergency when high levels of lead leached from pipes into the water supply.

The survey was conducted from Jan. 25-March 26 while the Flint crisis was making major headlines. Only 25 percent of respondents gave Snyder a “good” or “excellent” job rating — down from 42 percent in the previous survey.

“Clearly, the Flint water crisis has done a lot of damage to Gov. Snyder’s approval ratings among Michigan residents,” said Charles Ballard, director of the State of the State Survey and professor of economics at MSU. “His ratings deteriorated across the board. His ratings of ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ fell by 14 percentage points among Republicans, 14 points among Democrats and 20 points among Independents.

“In addition, 17 percent said that ‘everyone’ is responsible for the Flint water crisis,” said Ballard. “If we add the 17 percent who said ‘everyone’ to the 57 percent who specifically mentioned Gov. Snyder, the state government or the emergency manager, we find that an overwhelming majority of Michiganders assign at least some of the responsibility to the state government. However, 13 percent placed the responsibility on elected officials in Flint, the Flint water department or the people of Flint.”

The quarterly survey also asked residents to pick the most important problem facing the governor and Michigan Legislature. “Jobs/economy” has dominated the answers for about 15 years. But in the winter survey, for the first time, “infrastructure of cities” (which includes drinking water quality) was identified as the state’s biggest issue.

Some 33 percent of respondents chose city infrastructure as the worst problem. That was followed by jobs/economy, at 24 percent, and education quality/finances, at 13 percent.

There was some good news for the Snyder administration, according to Ballard.

The survey asked how Detroit fared as a result its 2013 bankruptcy that occurred while the city was under emergency management by the state. Nearly 78 percent of respondents said Detroit is “somewhat” or “much” better off as a result of the bankruptcy.

And while Snyder’s ratings suffered a big fall, Ballard said, this did not correspond to a major loss in trust in state government. The survey measures trust in government once a year.

The fraction of respondents who said they could trust state government “seldom” or “almost never” increased from 31 percent in 2015 to 36 percent in 2016. But the fraction who said they could trust state government “nearly all or most of the time” also increased, albeit slightly, from 19.8 percent to 20.4 percent.

“In fact, after a long period of decline, trust in all levels of government — local, state and federal — has shown a modest increase since 2012,” Ballard said.

Trust in local government is far and away the highest, followed by state and then federal government.

The survey also measured President Barack Obama’s approval ratings, which improved slightly, and broke down results for some issues by region and political party.

The winter survey was based on 995 interviews and has a margin of error of +/- 3.11 percent.

The State of the State Survey is the only survey conducted in Michigan designed to systematically monitor the public mood on important issues statewide, according to Ballard. The survey has been conducted since 1994 by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, a unit of MSU’s College of Social Science.

Wonder women

Michigan Women’s Foundation celebrated its 30th anniversary on Thursday in Grand Rapids with two events.

In the morning, the organization hosted 3,000 female high school and college students at Calvin College for an Empowerment Forum with keynote speaker Shiza Shahid, co-founder of the Malala Fund (along with Malala Yousafzai) and an entrepreneur and advocate for eliminating poverty and empowering women.

Shahid delivered an inspirational message to the young women in the audience, sharing her story and that of Yousafzai, the young girl who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for speaking out and refusing to back down about the importance of girls receiving an education, and who later became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the afternoon, Michigan Women’s Foundation celebrated with a luncheon at the JW Marriott, where Shahid served as the keynote speaker. She again shared her and Yousafzai’s stories and how their worlds converged one summer at a secret summer camp for girls in Pakistan, of which Shahid — only 20 at the time and a student at Stanford University — was one of the young organizers.

Shahid also shared several poignant messages about the importance of ensuring young women receive an education and the need for equality for girls and women across the world, including in the United States.

“There is no country in the world that has achieved gender equality,” she said.

She also shared the vast impact an education can have on the lives of women and their communities.

“If we are able to keep a girl in school through secondary schooling, she gets married later, she is less likely to die in childbirth, her children are healthier, her children are more likely to go to school, she is more likely to earn an income, and 90 percent of every dollar a woman earns she invests back into her community. It’s typically 30 to 40 percent for men.

“So when you invest in a girl, she doesn’t just rise out of poverty herself, she brings her whole community with her.”

Over and out

An environmental education and advocacy nonprofit is on the hunt for a new executive director.

The West Michigan Environmental Action Council announced Executive Director Rachel Hood is moving on after a decade of service.

“Rachel's leadership over the past decade has grown tremendously this organization's impact in the community, and has positioned WMEAC to continue to stride forward under the guidance of a new executive director,” said Christine Helms-Maletic, WMEAC’s board president.

Finding someone to fill Hood’s shoes won’t be easy.

“We are looking for another executive director who understands how to work across sectors and with all of our neighbors and many partners throughout West Michigan, while growing our organization to meet the needs of a changing community and a changing climate,” Helms-Maletic said.

Hood’s leadership has been recognized repeatedly over the past 10 years.

She is a past recipient of the Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan and 40 Under Forty honors for her work at WMEAC and in the Grand Rapids community, and she has advocated for environmental sustainability throughout her career.

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