The Flint water crisis should embarrass both political parties. Michigan governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, appointed the "emergency managers" who approved and implemented the city's decision to use the Flint River as a water source. (The river's corrosive properties caused dangerous amounts of lead from plumbing materials to leach into drinking water.) The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality—run by a Snyder appointee—failed badly in many ways as well in its obligations to protect the state's residents. But the city of Flint, long run by Democrats, also deserves blame; it was Flint's municipal government that failed to properly treat the new water and to properly conduct the tests that would have immediately found problems with it. The EPA, which is ultimately under President Obama's supervision, has been rightfully criticized for its reaction to the crisis as well.
But reports about the high-profile investigations into the crisis that have been announced in recent days—an independent investigation created by Republican Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette and Congressional hearings set for Feb. 3—do not inspire confidence that the public will get an honest official accounting of both parties' responsibility for what went wrong:
- The "independent" Michigan investigation is being conducted by a Detroit-area prosecutor who donated $13,000 to Schuette and Snyder's campaigns, $13,000 to a Republican-affiliated Michigan political action committee, and $8,000 to a previous Republican attorney general. (The prosecutor did also give about $1,000 to previous governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.)
- The Feb. 3 Congressional hearing somehow won't involve Snyder's testimony despite his presence having been requested "at the top of a list of witnesses" by the representative who requested the hearing. The representative who asked for Snyder to be called (Brenda Lawrence) is a Democrat. But the committee, of course, is ultimately controlled by Republicans.
These investigations are not just perfunctory; there are a number of questions about the water crisis that have yet to be answered. (For one: Who in the state's chain of command was the final decision-maker on the call to switch to Flint River water?) They could have real value if they're actually run with integrity. But at the moment the odds of that happening don't look great.
If the state and Congressional inquiries conclude that Democrats were to blame for what happened in Flint, they won't necessarily be wrong. But they won't be telling the whole story.