LANSING (AP) — Democrats launched a TV ad on Tuesday that accuses Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette of ignoring Flint residents’ complaints about their water long before he opened an investigation into the city’s lead contamination crisis.
The 30-second ad , authorized by Schuette’s opponent, Gretchen Whitmer, and funded by a Democratic Governors Association-backed group, also alleges that Michigan’s attorney general “OK’d the disastrous Flint water plan” in 2014. It is a reference to an environmental order, signed by an attorney in Schuette’s office, that Flint’s state-appointed emergency managers and other city officials allegedly used under false pretenses to facilitate a planned move to a new regional water pipeline.
Flint’s tap water became contaminated in 2014 and 2015 after officials switched from a Detroit system to the Flint River while waiting for the pipeline to be built — exposing many residents to lead, a potent neurotoxin, after anti-corrosion chemicals were not added to the supply.
Schuette’s campaign said the ad is “full of lies.” It said his office approved the administrative consent order as to form, but not the policy decisions pursued by the emergency managers and Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration. The campaign said the water complaints were shared with the state Department of Environmental Quality, the agency responsible for water quality.
“Gretchen Whitmer lied about her failure to act in the (Larry) Nassar case and is now lying about Flint, literally damaging children’s chance for justice,” said Schuette spokesman John Sellek. Whitmer has denied GOP allegations that she refused to prosecute the former sports doctor for sex assaults when she was Ingham County’s interim prosecutor in 2016.
The attorney general launched his Flint probe in January 2016. The DGA, in justifying its ad that will air on broadcast and cable stations, cited news reports about 15 complaints to his office over water concerns, including some that were sent about a year before the investigation was announced.
“Schuette only spoke after the story broke and threatened his political career,” the ad’s narrator says. Whitmer told The Associated Press earlier this month that Schuette was “asleep at the wheel for two-and-a-half years while complaints were being filed with the office of the attorney general and he didn’t do a darn thing.”
In September 2015, Democratic state Rep. Sheldon Neeley of Flint asked Schuette to investigate the water crisis. Schuette declined in December but reversed course a month later.
That came more than four months after a Virginia Tech researcher said the Flint River was leaching lead from pipes into people’s homes because the water was not treated for corrosion. At the time he announced the probe, which has led to charges against 15 current or former government officials, Schuette said he continually reviews information that comes his way and a mass of new data that came to light around New Year’s prompted him to open the investigation.
He would later charge four officials with claiming that debt-burdened Flint needed to sell bonds to clean up a lagoon when the money was instead used as the city’s share to the Karegnondi Water Authority to build the regional pipeline. The consent order from the state Department of Environmental Quality was seen as necessary to ease Flint’s ability to borrow despite being in receivership, facing a deficit and having no credit rating.
This is not the first time that Schuette’s handling of the Flint emergency has come up in the governor’s race. One of his Republican primary opponents, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, called the charges against top Snyder administration officials a “gross abuse of power.” Schuette countered that he was just doing his job and holding officials accountable after children were poisoned with lead and 12 people died in a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.
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