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Gov. Snyder Losing Michigan Residents' Trust

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder testifies today before Congress to explain how the water in Flint became undrinkable. That city's water crisis has become a political crisis for Snyder. He was once seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, but now his support in Michigan is tumbling, as Steve Carmody of Michigan Radio reports.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Just give me a great introduction.

STEVE CARMODY, BYLINE: On Monday afternoon, Gov. Rick Snyder was talking to business owners in west Michigan. He was doing something all governors do - highlight job growth at a successful business.

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RICK SNYDER: You just heard the numbers. They've added 359 jobs in the last few years here in Michigan, here in Grand Rapids. And that's a tremendous success.

CARMODY: But as Snyder spoke inside, about a dozen men stood across the street with a line of coffins representing those residents who died from Legionnaire's disease in the past few years. The outbreak may be linked to Flint's water. In 2014, the city of Flint's water source was switched to the Flint River to save money, but the river water was not probably treated. It damaged the city's pipes, which leached lead into the drinking water. Flint's crisis has become a national issue. During a nationally televised Democratic presidential debate in Flint this month, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders found little to agree on except Gov. Snyder.

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BERNIE SANDERS: His dereliction of duty was irresponsible. He should resign.

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HILLARY CLINTON: I agree. The governor should resign or be recalled.

CARMODY: In the past six months, Snyder's approval rating has fallen about 30 percent percentage points, quite a reversal for a soft-spoken businessman turned politician once thought to have national appeal. Gov. Snyder's falling poll numbers correspond to his fading influence at the state capitol. Susan Demas is editor of Inside Michigan Politics and says the Republican governor has always had an uneasy relationship with more conservative GOP legislative leaders.

SUSAN DEMAS: Those kinds of differences start to become more prominent when you have a governor who is politically damaged, and that is the case for Gov. Snyder right now.

CARMODY: Dozens of state lawmakers were milling around on the floor of the Michigan state house on Tuesday waiting to vote on relatively minor bills. But there are big issues to be addressed, including a bailout for Detroit's public school system. However, House Democratic leader Tim Greimel says the governor is struggling to get his agenda through the legislature.

TIM GREIMEL: There's no question that the Flint water disaster has hurt the governor's ability to get things done in Lansing.

CARMODY: Republican lawmakers like Rep. Ed Canfield say the governor is working with them - sort of.

ED CANFIELD: He has presented his ideas. We're going to come back with our ideas. I don't think any of that has changed.

CARMODY: Gov. Snyder insists he's committed to solving Flint's water crisis and other thorny state issues.

SNYDER: I believe I've got a mandate from the people of Michigan to work hard on making this a better state. I've been focused in on reinventing Michigan for several years. I'm going to keep it up.

CARMODY: But he may soon face another challenge. On Easter Sunday, volunteers will start collecting signatures on a recall petition. Reverend David Bullock is leading the effort to recall Rick Snyder.

DAVID BULLOCK: This is about regular folks in Flint, in Detroit Highland Park, Benton Harbor, who have been affected by the Snyder administration's policies that are simply saying enough is enough.

CARMODY: The recall campaign will have to collect nearly 800,000 signatures in just 60 days. A tall order, but against a governor whom polls show a majority of Michigan residents have now lost faith in. For NPR News, I'm Steve Carmody in Ann Arbor, Mich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.