Sunday, April 5, 2015

Freaky Friday: #PardonGate Could Cause Irreparable Harm To Governor Snyder's "Nerd Brand"

 By Brandon Hall
(Email him at

Talk about a "Freaky Friday." Had my Gov. switched places with someone else?!

It was Governor Snyder's horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day-arguably the worst day of his time as GoverNERD: Friday, March 27th, 2015.

Passions raged across the political spectrum when it broke the previous night the Gov. wouldn't lower flags to half staff for three Marines killed in a recent training accident. Thankfully, Snyder took charge, reversed his decision, and announced he hopes to see changes to the process in the future with the department that deals with Veterans issues here in Michigan.

Then, two polls showed Snyder's political baby-the May 5th road tax package-going down in epic defeat. Not much Snyder could do about that one, but definitely a huge blow as absentee ballots go out...

The last story from that Friday, however-an extremely controversial pardon-could very well cause irreparable harm to the "Nerd" brand Snyder has worked so hard to create.

Let's rewind a moment.

Governor Snyder came to power as "One Tough Nerd," a pragmatic anti-politician with a ten year plan to turn Michigan around after a decade of decline-two years for the campaign, eight in office. Wanna run for Governor? 2034 will be the year you can have some real fun, Snyder always says. How many politicians are thinking 20 years out?

Despite starting at 1% in the polls, being mocked for only a couple dozen people coming to his announcement rally, and signs that seemingly said "Rick Michigan," Snyder prevailed in the hotly contested 2010 GOP Gubernatorial Primary. He subsequently trounced Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, winning by almost 20% statewide and winning almost every single one of Michigan's 83 counties in November 2010.

Vital to that victory was the messaging employed in ads from Fred Davis, top dog at Strategic Perception in LA. "One Tough Nerd" came straight from the hills of Hollywood, first appearing in a Super Bowl ad I still watch almost weekly.

Career politicians? Michigan ain't got time for that! Fer realz. It's time for a dorky nerd with a plan!

Snyder's first term showed he was as advertised: a pragmatic, moderate nerd with a plan to turn Michigan around. He managed to piss people across the political spectrum off multiple times-often in the same week!

This was perhaps best illustrated in 2012, when one week Conservatives who hailed him as a hero for "Right To Work," abandoned him the next when he vetoed a controversial, complicated gun bill shortly after the deadly massacre at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT.

Snyder went from righteous to "RINO" in a matter of days, and the same people who called him a myriad of horrible names during RTW came to his defense after the gun bill veto.

But those people who shout "RINO!" must have never listened to Snyder on the campaign trail-he never, EVER promised to be a conservative Republican. Sadly, any one issue where Snyder didn't pass one's conservative litmus test would lead to name calling, personal attacks, and more. While Snyder's support for Medicaid Expansion and Common Core are not positive to some, we should remember one can disagree without being hateful.

And don't get me started on some of the far more disgusting, hateful attacks from the far-left... (Here's a taste: Jesse Jackson compared him to George WALLACE)

Even those who disagreed with Snyder throughout his first term couldn't say that Snyder was a bad guy, a power-hungry prick corrupted by the culture of Lansing. That didn't stop Snyder's extreme detractors from doing just that. Though not convincingly, and lacking proof... #ShootingBlanks

Thankfully, Michiganders saw through that and re-elected Snyder to a second term.

Fast forward to that "Freaky Friday," where it was revealed Snyder had pardoned Alan Gocha, a lawyer for the parent company of "5 Hour Energy" with ties to huge benefactors in the Republican Party.

According to a fantastic article from David Eggert and Ed White of the AP:

"Gov. Rick Snyder used his pardon powers to erase the drunken driving conviction of a politically connected lawyer who was appointed to a state economic board in 2011.

Snyder followed the recommendation of the Michigan parole board and pardoned Alan Gocha Jr. in December — one of only 11 pardons out of roughly 750 applications since the governor took office.
Each year, thousands of people in Michigan are convicted of drunken driving and can suffer long-term consequences, such as lost work and higher insurance costs. Gocha, a $250,000-a-year lawyer for the maker of 5-hour Energy drinks, now is in the clear."

The article also chronicles Gocha's big money connections:

"Gocha gave $26,500 to the chamber’s political action committee from 2011 through 2013. He was general counsel for 5-hour Energy’s parent company, Innovation Ventures, until 2010 when the legal department became a stand-alone firm.

The primary client is Innovation Ventures, based in Farmington Hills. Records show Gocha’s firm also is the agent for ETC Capital, a private equity firm backed by 5-hour Energy’s billionaire founder, Manoj Bhargava.
ETC Capital last August gave $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association, joining conservative billionaires Sheldon Adelson and David Koch on the list of top five donors to the group that worked to elect Snyder and other Republican governors, according to an analysis by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity. That same day, the RGA paid $3.2 million to a media company to place ads backing Snyder’s re-election.

Eight weeks after ETC Capital gave $275,000 to the RGA in October 2013, the group gave $276,000 to the Michigan Republican Party."

Unbelievably, the parole board spokesman said “I had no idea that (Bhargava) was politically active. I had no idea that Gocha was politically active,” said Marlan. Gocha was “just another person” and received no special treatment."

That is pretty hard to imagine, unless the stringent parole process failed miserably.

Snyder, for his part, "defended the pardon, saying he acted only after a “very rigorous process” by the parole board and his staff. He knows the Oakland County man and even corrected a reporter’s pronunciation of Gocha’s name.“I’ve met him on several occasions at different events,” Snyder told the AP. “He never contributed to my campaign, not had any financial connection at all. I didn’t meet with him about this issue.”"

Usually, Friday afternoon is a notorious "newsdump" time. Have a bad announcement to make? Do it Friday-people care more about the weekend than your random drama. Usually.

This case, however, is no normal circumstance. On EVERY single other issue, from Medicaid Expansion to Common Core, DRIC to budget decisions and Right to Work-one can point to legitimate policy differences.

However, helping a privileged buddy of yours get special treatment that thousands of Michiganders would love to have is not easy to explain. Snyder has granted only 1.4% of parole requests, why was Mr. Gocha one of the "1%?"

Will this issue hurt Snyder's "Nerd Brand?"

Time will tell. It may not destroy it, but it arguably puts a major crack in it. Such is life-nobody is perfect. One can only hope Snyder uses this as an opportunity to address major changes in Michigan's criminal justice system. He has put his toes in the water a bit, working with former State Rep. Joe Haveman during "lame-duck" last year, as well as with changes to Granholm era "driver responsibility fees."

If people like Gocha are good enough to get help from the Governor, why not regular Michiganders who arguably need it far more? It may not currently be "on his agenda," but we know that could always change soon...

The 2016 marijuana legalization ballot drive and Rick Jones' MIP reform bill (first two minor in possession of alcohol charges would be civil infractions) are good starting points to help Michiganders from an intrusive government-it's time Gov. Snyder step up to the plate in a big way, too. He has never been afraid to tackle the tough issues, so why not this one? After all, teens and Michiganders who drank or smoked pot at home put no one in danger, Mr. Gocha risked the life of anyone in his path the night he drove drunk.

#PardonGate can be a simple mistake and become a footnote, a positive for Snyder instead of a negative-or it can become a brand alternating problem with long term consequences. We shall see.

Of note: Gov. Chris Christie recently shows how a pardon should be done: in the light of day, with a picture, press release, and explanation. Christie may have tons of his own issues, but in his pardon of a Pennsylvania woman who didn't know her CPL wasn't valid in New Jersey-Christie gets it right...

Governor Christie Pardons Shaneen Allen

From National Review: "At first it looked as if her mistake — she did not realize that her Pennsylvania concealed carry license wasn’t valid in every other state — was going to land her in prison for more than a decade, cost her her job as a medical practitioner, and take her away from her children. But then something remarkable happened: After the story hit the news, the widespread public outcry slowly but surely convinced the prosecutor to relent.
Eventually, Allen was spared a jail sentence and the destruction of her life, and put instead into a diversionary program designed for first-time offenders. (That this program had previously been deemed good enough for the NFL’s Ray Rice, who had committed a violent crime, only added to the pressure.) Christie’s pardon represents the end of the saga. It is, Christie wrote, “a full and free pardon for all criminal charges and indictments arising from the arrest occurring October 1, 2013.” Thus has the slate been wiped clean. Hurrah. Now to change those laws..."
Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.

Email him at
Photo By Darlene Dowling Thompson

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