Let’s be honest here. Nearly all of Gov. Rick Snyder’s cabinet-level appointments to date have been about as benign as saline solution.
It truly makes the announcement of Grover Norquist disciple Brian Rooney as the deputy director of the Department of Human Services last week all the more baffling.
Before we get into the über-conservative credentials of Rooney, the 7th Congressional Republican candidate many in the Republican establishment wanted to win, let’s recap Snyder’s picks to date.
A Utah import for budget director.
Former bureaucrat at Agriculture. Another one at the DNR. A Granholm Guy at the Department of Transportation. We all know about former Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andy Dillon at Treasury. Olga Who at the Department of Community Health? Former Engler Ag Director Dan Wyant is giving some enviros heartburn, but how long did Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm keep Wyant before he found something else?
If Snyder didn’t have the word "Republican" by his name on the November ballot, it’d be hard for any fair observer of this process to decipher whether Snyder is a moderate Republican or a moderate Democrat.
Consider this: After the 2009-2010 session, there were 16 term-limited Republican senators who didn’t have another public office lined up after Dec. 31. There were five House Republicans in the same boat. Only one of them, former Sen. Patty Birkholz, has lined up anything under the new Snyder administration — the Office of the Great Lakes. And that is not a cabinet-level position.
Meanwhile, two former Democratic lawmakers have jobs — Dillon and former Rep. Dudley Spade, who will be Rooney’s equal at DHS.
Is Snyder trying to strike a balance by pairing a moderate Democrat with Rooney, an ideologue who extolled the Tea Party movement during the campaign and labeled the Obama administration a "regime" that practices "one-party rule"?
Both Rooney and Spade will be taking orders from state Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan, a champion in foster care issues who is stepping down from her current post soon to take over DHS.
But still. Rooney? The guy who signed Norquist’s "no-tax pledge"? Who ran step for step on about every meaningful issue with Super Duper Conservative U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg during last summer’s campaign? The former Marine captain who told the City Pulse radio show, "I didn’t fight (in Iraq) to have nationalized health care or any of these other big government programs"?
Rooney later qualified that he wasn’t talking about Medicare and Medicaid. But what is DHS if it’s not managing "big government programs" like welfare and food stamps and child day care and adult care services, all of which are run hand in glove with the federal government?
I understand he’s not going to lead DHS and he’ll be following orders, but what if Corrigan decides she’s tired of the gig or backs out at the last minute? What if Rooney is put in the position to lead this conglomeration of "big government programs"?
It’s got some liberals wondering, "Would he turn it into the Department of Inhumane Services?"
We’d have expected this type of appointment out of a Pete Hoekstra or Mike Cox, but the lovable moderate nerd? It seems out of character. It’s as if the Republican Party cashed in a chit with Snyder in recognition of Rooney uprooting his family from San Diego to come to Michigan to run in the GOP primary last year in the first place.
Snyder communications director Geralyn Lasher assured me that Rooney was an extremely qualified candidate for the post and all the rest.
But with Snyder keeping "everything on the table" when it comes to resolving a $1.85 billion budget hole for next year and a $1.5 billion tax cut plan to boot, how can those who defend the poor not be nervous?
Spade dived into the privatization discussion headfirst when he led the House DHS budget committee the last four years.
And keep in mind Rooney’s professional background outside of the armed services is at the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian-based legal service in Ann Arbor created to go to bat for "time-honored family values and the sanctity of human life."
(He’s also on the board of the family business, the Pittsburgh Steelers.)
Combined, it’s not a stretch to say they are the right people for the job if the goal is to farm out government programs like foster care and juvenile justice.
Gilda Jacobs, the new head of the Michigan League of Human Services, told me they’re not pushing the panic button over Rooney, but they are aware of his past stances and will be watching closely what goes on at DHS.
I have a feeling they won’t be the only ones.
(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at melinn@ lansingcitypulse.com.)