By George Weeks
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — As Gov. Rick Snyder gears for a second term bid a year from now, there are many substantive issues to be examined — Right to Work, Detroit’s bankruptcy, funding for schools and roads, lack of transparency of his NERD office fund and other issues raised by Democratic State Chairman Lon Johnson and Mark Schauer, Snyder’s challenger-in-waiting.
Focus here today is on a non-substantive issue that has sparked renewed recent interest: why is Snyder about the only Michigan governor (other than Jennifer Granholm) to make periodic official public appearances without wearing a tie?
Turns out, Snyder has just publicly addressed the issue in a Kalamazoo speech.
I was prompted to examine the issue after seeing a two-page Oct. 19-20 Wall Street Journal spread headlined: “The Tie is Dead. …No longer a strict requirement for the power elite, the necktie has been fading from the corporate dress code. Can the new generation of menswear aficionados keep it safe from extinction.”
Under a “TO KNOT, OR NOT” headline, the paper ran a picture of President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and three other tie-less world leaders at June’s G-8 Summit in Northern Ireland, tie-less at the behest of Cameron. All had dark suits or sport coats, as does Snyder when tieless at public events.
Early in Obama’s presidency, Esquire magazine asked: “Obama Wears His Suit Without a Tie. Can You?”
In response to my subsequent inquiry last week, Dave Murray, Snyder’s deputy press secretary, said, “your timing is perfect. The governor told a Kalamazoo audience on Wednesday evening about his decision to not wear ties.
“Celebrating the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center’s 10th anniversary, the governor recalled a gathering of innovators and entrepreneurs years ago. He said he looked out into the crowd and saw a room full of men and just three women. All the men were dressed exactly the same, wearing suits and ties.
“The governor said innovators need to be different and think differently. They need to be bold and they need to challenge the way things normally work to find new and better ways. He said the idea came to him to take off the tie, breaking from accepted practice at the time.”
Murray, once with the Grand Rapids Press and as a Lansing Bureau MLive reporter at the end of Snyder’s first year in office, recalled asking him then about the tie issue:
“He told me — with a smile — there are some exceptions to going tieless-weddings, funerals and after 6 p.m. at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. He quickly added that he often wears one in the state Capitol because the House of Representatives has a dress code. I’ve noticed he wears one when representing Michigan in other countries and other times when it would be appropriate.”
Murray said of the tie policy: “It’s a philosophy that’s carried over into his role as governor. Gov. Snyder looks at things we’ve always done and tries to think differently to make them better. He’s an innovative problem-solver and the state has made tremendous strides under his leadership.”
That touting comment underscores that Murray clearly has made the transition from covering politicians to being a spokesman for one.
I understand the revolving door between journalism and politics. After years of covering politicians for a wire service, I became a spokesman for one (Gov. William G. Milliken), and then had a couple decades covering them for a Detroit daily newspaper.
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.