Snyder brings accountant's skills to governor bid


LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Rick Snyder is a man with a knack for not only crunching numbers but figuring out what's the next big thing.

Those talents have made him wealthy, both as a venture capitalist and as an instrumental force in the growth of Gateway Inc., the computer maker he guided to great success between 1991 and 1997. He remained on the board for another decade, until the then-fading company was sold to Taiwan-based Acer Inc.

Now, Snyder wants to become the state of Michigan's chief executive officer. His run for governor has reflected his character -- upbeat, carefully plotted, with a laser-like focus on Michigan's biggest problem: the lack of jobs.

The Republican has marketed himself as "one tough nerd," making a strength out of his distinctively CPA-like personality with its attention to detail and focus on the bottom line. In typical fashion, he once created an elaborate spreadsheet for neighbors to use to judge the entries in a friendly meat loaf cook-off contest.

Chris Rizik, who co-founded the Ardesta venture capital fund with Snyder in 2000 and worked with him in the 1980s at Coopers and Lybrand -- now PricewaterhouseCoopers -- was at that meat loaf-judging contest several years ago at Snyder's Gun Lake vacation home just west of Hastings. He warns that anyone who underestimates the 52-year-old is making a mistake.

In a meeting, "Rick will sit back, he'll listen to what everybody has to say, and by the time it gets to him, he'll have synthesized all this (information) ... and come up with a recommendation," says Rizik, 49. "He's usually a couple steps ahead of you."

After years of state budget crises, lost jobs and partisan wrangling, Rizik thinks Michigan would benefit from having Snyder at the helm.
"The worst thing you can be is an emotional venture capitalist. Rick is particularly good at keeping a cool head," he says. "The ability to stay cool and the ability to think about the long term are exactly what we need in this state."

Snyder has gotten over the shyness that plagued him at some of his early campaign appearances, although he usually sticks closely to the script during the more than 60 town hall meetings he has held so far.
He talks about unifying the state so there's less competition between the eastern and western sides, the Upper and Lower peninsulas or the rural and urban areas. That appeals to Patty Jaimon of Zeeland, who attended a recent Snyder town hall meeting at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids and plans to vote for him.

"Rick Snyder has the passion to lead Michigan ... and a vision for Michigan," she says.

Much of Snyder's 10-point plan for "reinventing" Michigan consists of many ideas Republicans typically espouse -- less government spending, more government efficiency, less regulation, lower taxes. He wants to eliminate the Michigan Business Tax and replace it with a corporate income tax, a move that would cut business taxes $1.5 billion. He also wants to do away with the personal property tax and says he opposes a graduated income tax.

He tends to brush aside social issues, a move that sometimes angers social conservatives. While he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life, he supports embryonic stem cell research and says he'll follow the public's will in allowing marijuana to be legal for medicinal use.

He's widely endorsed by the business community but has made few inroads with unions, although he met with at least one influential union leader after winning the Aug. 3 GOP primary. He also has reached out to black leaders in Detroit and is wooing independents and Democrats.

Since returning to Michigan, where he and his family live in a spacious home in Washtenaw County's Superior Township, Snyder has helped create Washtenaw County's economic development agency, Ann Arbor SPARK. He also was the first board chairman of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Even with those government agency experiences, he can sound naive about exactly what state government does. Asked during a public radio call-in program if he'd ensure that concentrated animal feeding operations -- also known as factory farms or CAFOs -- don't pollute groundwater, Snyder rhapsodized about family farms and said environmental regulations were sometimes applied too harshly to agriculture.

"If you look at it from a farmer's interest, they're the best stewards of the land. What interest do they have in doing harm to the environment?" he said. "We shouldn't have a default setting to say, `They're bad people.' We need a default setting, `These people are actually trying to help."'

Most of Michigan's roughly 200 CAFOs aren't family farms, and regulating them has been a challenge for state environmental quality experts. They typically house thousands of animals, ranging from pigs to poultry, and a farm with 5,000 cows produces as much waste in a day as a city the size of Lansing.

Some of the biggest operations are run by Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development LLC, an Ohio-based company that helps farmers from the Netherlands set up dairy farms in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. The company has paid hefty penalties for manure spills and failing to set up new sewage treatment systems at its two farms near Hudson.

Snyder agrees there are areas where he's going to have to rely on others' expertise if elected governor. But he also is a quick study and a hard worker, as the Battle Creek native proved when he managed, by the age of 23, to earn his bachelor's degree, master's degree in business administration and law degree, all from the University of Michigan.

"I've been a person that's ... gotten stuff done" he says. Now, he wants to apply that ability to bring Michigan citizens together and rebuild the state.

"Let's not get into the old mantra of saying, `We're here to fight,"' he says. "This is about reinventing Michigan, because that's what matters."

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