Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 25, 2013

George Weeks: Sporty Snyder dives historic shipwreck


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — What politician doesn’t relish making a splash before cameras?

Gov. Rick Snyder did just that, literally, last week in a wetsuit as he plunged into Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron off Alpena to promote viewing of Michigan’s historic shipwrecks.

With white hair flapping outside his mask as the certified scuba diver examined the 1907 wreck of the Monohansett as part of his Pure Michigan campaign, Snyder waved as underwater photographers captured what might be the most unique tourism pitch by a governor.

As cameras of Detroit’s WDIV-TV rolled before Snyder made his plunge from the Pride of Michigan training vessel for the U.S. Navel Sea Cadets Corps, he said:

“Many people didn’t even know we had a resource like this in Thunder Bay. There are so many ways to enjoy this great area. It’s a beautiful wreck in terms of the keel, the workmanship, the boilers, the propeller, the crankshaft. More than that, you can see the wood structures with the beams, it’s really cool.”

Snyder, the self-described One Tough Nerd, is also a sporting one. He kayaks and water skis off his property on Gun Lake downstate, and once skied on Grand Traverse Bay. Also on his outdoor agenda: Salmon fishing in Lake Michigan and pan fishing on many an inland lake.

He is a snowmobiler, including in the Upper Peninsula; has hiked the Porcupine Mountains; and has done bike riding in places ranging from Mackinac Island (where Michigan governors have a summer residence) to Detroit.

Over the decades of viewing Michigan governors in various venues, I have many memorable images. Three examples:

n 1949-1960 Democratic Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, when he later was President John F. Kennedy’s assistant secretary of state for African affairs, calling square dances at a State Department reception for robed African ambassadors (as he did during the many years on the campaign trail when he was governor.)

n 1963-1969 Republican Gov. George Romney jumping a fence to crash a Labor Day event to which only Democratic candidates were invited.

n 1969-1982 Republican Gov. William G. Milliken, while leading a delegation of governors to China, sat next to Premier Deng Xiaoping at a summit of sorts where Deng periodically spit into a spittoon that was placed between them.

But interesting and varied as the examples were to me in tracking governors, the Snyder plunge was notable not only because it was a unique thing for a governor to do but also because the way political and other activities are covered these days on the Internet.

I “covered” Snyder’s dive sitting at my computer Up North watching the live streaming of the Detroit TV station’s coverage and getting e-mails from state Rep. Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, who helped orchestrate the event and was described by Snyder as an “expert diver.”

Romney was a particularly intense gubernatorial athlete. His intensity in sports carried late into life. Once, in his 70s, he injured his ribs when he tumbled into some sideline chairs while lunging after a ball in a tennis game on Mackinac Island.

Even as Romney approached his 80th birthday in 1987, he still would get up every morning at 5, and walk for eight or 10 miles or jog, or, weather permitting, play a fast-paced round of golf with only a 2-iron. On occasion, he would keep as many as four balls in play between holes.

Michigan has some had some notable outdoorsmen among its governors, especially 1911-1912 Republican Gov. Chase S. Osborn, a staunch conservationist and 1895-1899 Michigan fish and game warden.

Dems rap Snyder (bf)

Democratic State Chairman Lon Johnson last week attacked Snyder on economic and other issues and made a pitch for Democratic gubernatorial contender Mark Schauer, former congressman.

Johnson said: “Rick Snyder’s agenda has favored wealthy special interests and corporate CEOs over hardworking Michigan families. The wealthy and well-connected are doing just fine in Rick Snyder’s Michigan - but the rest of us are struggling. The unemployment rate increased for the second straight month, and Republican politicians have been on vacation for weeks, instead of working to create jobs and invest in education.”

(Both parties in the Legislature are in recess.)

Johnson said that “there is good news: just this week, a Lansing pollster told MIRS News that Snyder’s low approval shows that he’s vulnerable against Mark Schauer in next year’s election.”

Benishek’s blitz(bf)

In Traverse City’s American Legion Hall Friday,1st District U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, concluded a series of 10 two-peninsula town-hall meetings where main questions focused on health care, jobs and the economy.

Also on Friday, the Wall Street Journal said congressional town-hall meetings “are increasingly turning into a form of orchestrated theater—a platform for national forces to advance their point of view.”

But Benishek spokesmen Kyle Bonini said that was not a problem during those 10 meetings, where attendees “voiced their own opinions.”

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.