2011-05-21 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

First Lady Sue Snyder Picks a Good Cause
By George Weeks

Rick Snyder is unique among recent Michigan’s governors, the first in 40 years not to have run for public office before running for governor.

In about the same span, First Lady Sue Snyder is unique among gubernatorial spouses, most of whom had high-profile roles on nationally prominent issues, and were far more active politically.

Her immediate predecessor as gubernatorial spouse, First Gentleman Dan Mulhern, after backing off the idea of running for office himself, was a driving force behind the campaigns of 2003-2010 Governor Jennifer Granholm, had an office and influential role in the Executive Office, and was a national figure in promoting mentoring.

Granholm’s predecessor, 1991- 2002 Governor John Engler, announced in his first State of the State Address that Michelle Engler, his wife of less than a month, would head a statewide initiative called “Helping Hands” to identify cultural and other programs needing assistance. She became a national figure promoting volunteerism.

Rick Snyder had no such announcement regarding Sue Snyder. In fact, when I inquired after the inaugural about her causes, the Snyder camp said that was yet to be determined and her immediate priority was to tend to family matters in the Ann Arbor area, where daughter Kelsey is a high school freshman and the family resides, rather than in the stateprovided Governor’s Residence in Lansing. (The family includes Jeff, a recent grad of Albion College, and Melissa, a sophomore at the University of Michigan.)

Snyder Communications Director Geralyn Lasher said then: “Mrs. Snyder is focused now on her family and helping them adjust to the transition of their new role as a First Family.”

But last week, Sue Snyder joined Ele’s Place, a healing center established in 1991 for grieving children and their families in Ann Arbor and Lansing, in announcing her new role to help raise awareness of the needs of grieving children. She previously was active with the center as a community volunteer.

She said: “The Michigan Network for Grieving Children will help us reach grieving children wherever they live in the state. I look forward to being part of the effort to educate people about the need to support grieving children and direct families and others to resources through a new Web site, www.KidsGrief.org.”

Many of her predecessors touted issues that had more media pizzazz: e.g., Paula Blanchard hyping tourism (she said she at the time was “the only governor’s spouse in the nation who had an office in a state department and who worked directly on departmental goals and initiatives”), and Helen Milliken promoting the arts, environmentalism and, nationally, the Equal Rights Amendment.

(Paula Blanchard was first wife of 1983-90 Governor James J. Blanchard; Helen Milliken wife of 1969-82 Governor William G. Milliken.)

A memorable gubernatorial spouse on the campaign trail was Nancy Williams, wife of 1949-60 Governor G. Mennen Williams.

In 1948, she drove their battered gray DeSoto convertible— a task for which she was well qualified, having been a driver for the Red Cross Motor Corps while he was in the Navy and winning 10 battle stars. She was at his side as an advisor for many of his political powwows, and she had a TV show called “Nancy’s Scrapbook” that highlighted his political career.

Sue Snyder is more low-profile than the likes of Nancy Williams, Helen Milliken, Paula Blanchard, Michelle Engler, or Dan Mulhern. Nor is her husband much like their spouses.

Michigan has a different kind of governor, a political newcomer who is true to his business roots, and a unique first lady who is true to her community roots.

A self-proclaimed “one tough nerd.” A low-key Special Mom.

Pure (Northern) Michigan

Northern Michigan tourism has on occasion benefited from Michigan’s national and regional TV ads, going back to the “Say Yes to Michigan” promotion of the 1970s.

Disclosure Saturday by the Traverse City-Record Eagle that visitors bureaus in Traverse City and Mackinac Island will put up matching money to double down on the state’s nifty cable TV pitch is good economic news for the northland.

If the Grand Traverse Region and Mackinac Island get the boost that the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn is getting from its matching program featuring voice-overs by actor and Michigan native Tim Allen for highlyeffective TV spots, their $500,000 matching funds will be very well spent.

The Decades of Doud

Michigan has had long-serving high profile politicians at state and federal levels.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell (DDearborn), first elected in 1955 and now in his 28th full term, is dean of the House. Democratic Senator Carl Levin, elected in 1978, is Michigan’s longest-serving senator.

Republican Governor Bill Milliken is Michigan’s longest-serving governor and will remain so unless the constitutional limit on two four-terms is revised.

Now comes Mackinac Island Margaret Doud, who begins her astounding 36th year in office after a 241-143 victory May 3 over Gabe Cowell, her first challenger since 1992.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing Bureau Chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2011-05-21 digital edition