LANSING (WWJ) – A longtime voice on the Michigan political scene has been fired from his job after making comments about the Flint water crisis.
Bill Ballenger was fired Wednesday morning from his position as contributor of Inside Michigan Politics, a newsletter that covers politics across the state, over comments he made on a public TV show following Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address, which focused primarily on the water crisis in Flint.
Ballenger, who previously served as a Republican member of both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan State Senate, appeared on “Off the Record” with WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick Tuesday night, as a representative from Inside Michigan Politics. As the discussion turned to Flint, Ballenger questioned whether the crisis was a hoax, saying he lives in city, he drinks the water and he is perfectly fine.
“On the broadcast last night, the public TV coverage of the State of the State and the analysis portion, he did in fact say that he thought the news media is overblowing this story,” said Skubick, who was hosting the show. “He is a part-time resident of Flint and his contention was that he’s been drinking the water, he’s been bathing in it and there’s nothing wrong with him.”
The comments didn’t sit well with Ballenger’s boss, Susan Demas — Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, who called his remarks “indefensible.”
“[Bill] is entitled to his opinion, but not his own facts,” Demas said in a statement. “Flint is a public health catastrophe, as the meticulous research of Virginia Tech and Hurley Medical Center Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha clearly shows. I cannot have anyone associated with Inside Michigan Politics who minimizes the impact of this terrible public health disaster that will impact people’s lives for decades to come. I am truly sorry to everyone hurt by Bill’s comments at a time of already considerable anxiety and pain.”
Demas went on to say, “with a heavy heart,” that as of Wednesday morning, Ballenger is not associated with Inside Michigan Politics in any way, shape or form.
Ballenger, who was born and raised in Flint, used to own Inside Michigan Politics but sold the company to Demas in 2013.
After losing his job, Ballenger called in to WWJ Newsradio 950 to share his reaction.
“I think Donald Trump has inspired people to use the phrase ‘you’re fired’ with reckless abandon,” he said. “You can’t fire somebody who sold his publication. I founded it in 1987, I sold it to Susan Demas, we have a business relationship which will continue. But firing is just not part of even the vocabulary that you use. I may not and will not, apparently, contribute articles or commentary — if that’s your definition of being fired — despite the fact I’d be paid anyway, so be it.”
Semantics aside, Ballenger said he’s not upset but he’s “surprised and puzzled” by Demas’ reaction to his remarks, which he categorized as “very mild and sensible.”
“I got a lot of commentary from people all over the state saying ‘At last a voice of sanity, somebody who’s telling it like it is,'” said Ballenger. “If you are embroiled in this Flint water crisis issue, you don’t want to hear that. You’ve got an agenda, you want to blame people and anybody who says anything different is going to be castigated. … There are a lot of politicians in the Flint area who either supported the switch to the Flint River or acquiesced in what happened. I mean, they were all on board with the decision and now that all hell has broken loose, they’re running for cover and they’re pointing fingers at anybody and everybody else that they can get the public to blame for it. I think that’s what’s shameful.”
Ballenger didn’t deny that dozens of Flint children have been contaminated with lead, but he questioned the widespread severity of the issue.
“It’s like two to three percent of the population, it is very unclear in many instances whether it came from the Flint River or if it came from other sources … and a lot more study needs to be done,” he said. “I live [in Flint] half the week. I’ve been drinking the water consistently without a filter all during this past two years when all this controversy has risen and I have no effect from drinking the water — myself, my neighborhood doesn’t, nobody in the neighborhood does.”
The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when a state-appointed emergency manager switched Flint from Detroit water to Flint River water to save money. The corrosive water caused lead to leach from old pipes. Flint returned to the Detroit system in October after elevated lead levels were discovered in children.