PUBLIC OFFICIALS of the YEAR

Rick Snyder 2014 HONOREE

Governor, Michigan


David Kidd

When Rick Snyder came to the Michigan governor’s office from the private sector in 2011, he brought with him an entrepreneur’s tolerance for risk. “Most elected officials abhor risk. They run from it,” Snyder says. “But if everything we did worked, that means we’re not taking risks.” Good leaders, he says, must assume some risk and accept that not everything they try will be successful.

In four years as governor, Snyder has repeatedly stuck his neck out. A Republican, he pushed for the expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. That led to 385,000 new enrollees in its first year. In December 2012 he signed divisive “right to work” legislation prohibiting companies from requiring their employees to pay union fees. Snyder had said the policy wasn’t on his agenda, but after Republican state lawmakers passed the bill, Snyder decided to back it, arguing it would help Michigan attract jobs and would make unions more responsive to workers’ needs.

His highest-stakes bet came with the state takeover of Detroit and the July 2013 decision to seek bankruptcy protection for the financially beleaguered city. As the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, it’s a complex process. But it’s moved quickly. The state will pitch in $195 million in aid for the city, and private foundations have pledged their support as well. Many of the city’s biggest creditors, including unions representing its workers, have struck deals with the city to help it shed debt.

Those types of decisions carry political risks, too, but that hasn't slowed down the governor. Snyder spent most of this year neck-and-neck with Democrat Mark Schauer in a re-election bid, which Snyder won with 51 percent of the vote. The day after the election, Snyder got up early and laid out his plans for his second term with reporters. Two days after that, Detroit exited bankruptcy.

Snyder likes to refer to himself as “one tough nerd” -- he earned an MBA and a law degree from the University of Michigan when he was 23 years old, and he relishes the fact that he is the first certified public accountant to be elected governor in Michigan.

The governor’s penchant for numbers drives much of his decision-making, says Doug Rothwell, the president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. Snyder makes heavy use of performance scorecards and dashboards, which the state as a whole and most individual agencies now use. That focus also is evident in Snyder’s handling of state finances. The governor doesn’t just focus on the state’s year-end balance, he works to ensure the budgets are sustainable, Rothwell says. “People are clamoring for less partisanship and less negativity in politics,” he says. “Rick Snyder’s style is certainly a way to bridge that divide.” -- By Daniel C. Vock

Read about the rest of the Public Officials of the Year here.