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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Faces Calls For Resignation Amid Flint Water Crisis


As we just heard, Flint's health crisis has now led to a political crisis. Protestors are calling for Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, to resign over the lead in the city's water. Our next guest, Rochelle Riley, wrote in the Detroit Free Press that Snyder will now be known, quote, "as the governor whose team poisoned potentially thousands of children with lead." Riley says the state ignored warnings about Flint's water from a researcher at Virginia Tech and a local doctor. And now she says people are asking how long the governor knew there was a problem before he acted.

ROCHELLE RILEY: There are a lot of people that are trying to get to the ultimate smoking gun, but there have been smoking guns already. Dennis Muchmore, Governor Snyder's chief of staff, wrote a July 22 Department of Health and Human Services email expressing concern about how they were handling the water crisis. And he said these folks are scared and worried about the health impacts, and they are basically getting blown off by us. That was on July 22, and the governor did not act to apologize or to declare a state of emergency or to call out the National Guard until December and then on Monday.

SHAPIRO: And he has said that he learned about this in October, which would've been several months after that email was sent.

RILEY: That is his contention.

SHAPIRO: You're obviously very critical of what the governor's office did before this controversy broke, accusing him of negligence. It sounds like you are no more satisfied with his behavior since the scandal became public.

RILEY: Well, this is the thing that has been galling for those parents who are worried about their children and for that doctor, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who was so ridiculed by the state and later publicly apologized to. Nobody is paying attention to the children. The governor is doing things like cleaning up political mess and providing filters and water to people's homes. But the bill for this particular debacle has not come due because what's going to be needed is development and learning and social services for these children.

And the governor - it took two months for him to apologize, for him to declare a state of emergency, for him to offer bottled water. That was two more months where people like the mom I talked to in the story I wrote today - they're buying bottled water just to be able to cook and to brush their teeth. They don't do anything with water coming to their home except bathe in it, and they're paying $200 a month for that water they can't use and then hundreds of dollars more for the water that they need.

SHAPIRO: Flint is a majority African-American city where, according to the census, 40 percent of people live below the poverty line. Do you think that played a role in the state's response?

RILEY: Flint is like, you know, the can that gets kicked down the road. When the car company left and all the jobs left and then, you know - it's almost - they keep getting hard hit. And these are strong, resilient people who are trying their best to turn the city around. I did write in the column that I don't think this problem would have been handled this way had it been Grand Rapids in Western Michigan or any of the other small towns that are predominantly white where their representatives hear them when they cry. You've got residents who have been complaining about this water after it started to flow out of their taps slightly brown and tasting funny, and nobody cared.

SHAPIRO: Rochelle Riley, I'm not in Michigan, so I don't have a sense. As you write these columns, does it feel to you like you're a lone voice in the wilderness or like you are one voice in a resounding chorus of people screaming about this?

RILEY: I can't tell you how many people out of the hundreds and hundreds of emails and messages I got said, why did you stop short of asking the governor to resign? And my answer was simple. Other people can do that. I need for him to get to work. And he's not doing that, so I think he's getting to the point where I won't have to say anything. There is allowed chorus from around the world. I mean, this is the state where in Detroit, there are people who don't have water. This is a state where you've got people who are getting water that's poisoned. And all of those people are minorities. And the governor needs to understand that this problem is much more urgent than he has yet to treat it.

SHAPIRO: That's Rochelle Riley. She's a columnist with the Detroit Free Press, and she joined us from Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor. Thanks for being with us.

RILEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.