The lack of clean water in Flint, a financially struggling, predominantly black city, touches on many of the issues Democrats are campaigning on this year: Income inequality. Race relations. Infrastructure investment. Environmental regulation.
Clinton and Sanders have each visited the city already, solicited donations to help residents and urged Congress to send financial aid. They have opened campaign offices there and aired TV ads about the problems. Sanders has called for Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, to resign over the water crisis. The city’s Democratic mayor is a Clinton supporter.
“Every single American should be outraged,” Clinton said in a recent debate. “We’ve had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor in many ways and majority African-American, has been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water. . . . If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would’ve been action.”
The debate at the University of Michigan-Flint will air on CNN at 8 p.m. EST Sunday.
“In so many ways, Flint is the perfect example of the need for the Democratic platform,” said John Hudak, who studies campaigns at the Brooking Institution, a center-left policy research center. “They can point to this and say here’s everything we have been talking about.”
It also could be used to try to put Republicans on the defensive.
First, Snyder, a Republican, is taking the brunt of the criticism for the crisis, though the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency gets some blame, as well.
Second, the solution proposed by the state’s Democratic U.S. senators would cost U.S. taxpayers $600 billion. That’s prompted Republicans to slow the process as some question whether the problem is a federal or a state and local issue.
In one potential twist, though, Republican Donald Trump speaks often about rebuilding American infrastructure, and he laments that so much taxpayer money instead has been spent in the Middle East, much on a war that Clinton supported.
“We’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people,” Trump said in a debate Thursday. “If we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems, our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off.”
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The problem started in April 2014, when government officials appointed by Snyder decided to switch the city’s water source to the Flint River to save money. Corrosive water ate away at the pipes, causing lead to contaminate the water supply. The city switched back to its original water supply, Lake Huron, a year and a half later. But it was too late.
Some blame the water for causing learning disabilities, problems with attention and fine motor coordination in children and even violent behavior. Others say it has led to miscarriages.
Some local, state and federal officials knew there were serious problems with Flint’s water long before they switched the water source back, according to recent reports. Snyder, who had appointed an emergency manager who approved of changing the water supply, has apologized.
Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, faulted Democratic candidates for failing to reach out to officials at every level, including Snyder’s office, to fully understand the issue and brainstorm about solutions.
This has been become a campaign photo op for Clinton and Sanders.
Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party
At the Republican debate Thursday, which took place 65 miles away in Detroit, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida praised Snyder for taking responsibility and blasted Democrats for making it a campaign issue.
“This should not be a partisan issue,” Rubio said. “The way the Democrats have tried to turn this into a partisan issue, that somehow Republicans woke up in the morning and decided, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea to poison some kids with lead.’ It’s absurd. It’s outrageous. It isn’t true.”
On Friday, Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, visited Flint to hear from families affected by the crisis.
State officials . . . have made decisions that have caused irreparable harm to citizens, and particularly to over 9,000 children, for the rest of their lives.
Rep. G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina, who serves as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus
UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization, took out full-page ads in a trio of Michigan newspapers this week giving residents and businesses cut-out signs to put up in their homes and storefronts declaring, “Governor Snyder Not Welcome.”
“I want Hillary,” said Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who has endorsed Clinton. “She has actually been the only, the only candidate, whether we’re talking Democratic or Republican, to reach out and talk with us about, ‘What can I do? What kind of help do you need?’ ”
It was Sanders who first publicly called for Snyder to resign, and he restated that call at a debate in January. “A man who acts that irresponsibly should not be in power,” he said.