That’s not because I have anything against Mrs. Snyder.
From what I’ve read, she is a pleasant woman who has had three children with Michigan’s soon-to-be chief executive, and who was the first to suggest that her husband ought to run for governor.
I wish her the best. But her husband is the politician, not her. She didn’t run for office. The voters did not elect Sue Snyder to anything. She has a right to privacy.
But by the same token, I don‘t think the deficit-ridden citizens of Michigan ought to pay for her to have a staff of assistants. Now, I can see having someone to help Sue Snyder answer her mail. And I can see her having an assistant, maybe a driver, if she represents her husband at some state function.
However, our governors aren’t royalty.
We treat the spouse of the President of the United States as something more than a normal civilian, because in our system the President is both head of government, like the prime minister in Great Britain, and head of state, like a Queen or King.
But our nation has no hereditary aristocracy, and the wife or husband of a state governor isn’t nobility.
This was brought to my attention, by the way, three years ago by Leon Drolet. He‘s the man who drives around pulling a pink fiberglass pig, to symbolize the high cost of government. Three years ago, he reported on his blog that the governor’s spouse, who we call the First Gentleman, had a state-paid staff of three assistants, one of whom he said got a six-figure salary.
However, Drolet was unable to find out exactly what the total cost to the taxpayers was. That’s because, he was told, the Governor’s office is exempt from having to tell us.
Under our Freedom of Information Act, citizens have the right to request any government documents and report on them, and on what any level of government is doing, which only a few small exceptions. But in Michigan, the governor’s office, the legislature and the Supreme Court are exempt from FOIA.
Mr. Drolet wrote to the governor, asking that she disclose the cost of the First Gentleman’s staff. He seems never to have gotten an answer. Now, Drolet is a Republican. I am sure he didn‘t mind trying to embarrass a governor who is a Democrat. But that doesn’t mean his broader point is wrong. Two or three years ago, the First Gentleman came to have lunch with me in Ann Arbor.
Dan Mulhern had a driver who was being paid by the state. Now -- isn’t this a bit silly? The governor perhaps needs a driver, so she can transact state business while she drives.
But the governor’s husband? There’s an absurdity factor here. Frankly, I hope Sue Snyder forgoes the trappings of mock nobility, and does not keep a taxpayer-funded office in the capital.
If she does that, we might not think of her as Michigan’s designated “first lady.“ But she will have set an example as a classy grownup with a sense of proportion. Which we may need, even more.