Those who have relentlessly criticized Gov. Rick Snyder’s handling of the Flint water crisis wildly applauded the approval on Monday of a recall petition against the governor, but now it’s slowly sinking in that this recall drive is not at all what was expected.
The recall petition approved by the Board of State Canvassers was authored by Ben Lazarus, an anti-Detroit, tea party gadfly from Warren, not by a Flint resident. What’s more, the petition calls for Snyder’s ouster because of his 2015 decision to move the state School Reform Office to a department under his control.
The canvassing board rejected nine other petitions, including three others written by Lazarus, and six that cited the contaminated drinking water in Flint.
So, who is Ben Lazarus? He is a 25-year-old member of the Warren Consolidated school board, a persistent critic of Snyder, the Warren Con school administration, and particularly Superintendent Bob Livernois.
Lazarus, elected as a maverick candidate in 2012, was criticized by some as bigot when he staked his claim as an outspoken opponent of schools-of-choice policies that allowed “outsiders” from Detroit to attend the Warren Consolidated Schools.
At the same time, The Macomb Daily reported that Lazarus was an outsider in a more extreme manner: He was running for office while living 1,100 miles away in Florida attending a college in Orlando.
As I reported in 2014, Lazarus was the campaign manager for a tea party congressional candidate, Alan Arcand, in the U.P./northern Michigan 1st District who lost by landslide proportions.
In his 2012 school board campaign, he barely skirted the racial implications of his message with this narrated campaign robo-call: “When I found out that outsiders attend our schools for free, I was afraid for my kids … When it comes to my children, Ben Lazarus is the only candidate I trust.”
In another automated call, a woman said: “Detroit is a mess but some candidates want our schools to be more like Detroit. Our homes are being vandalized, broken into and destroyed by outside students. And they want our schools to be more like Detroit?”
Two years later, Lazarus, an ally of Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, emerged as a high-profile supporter of four Warren Consolidated school board candidates who also embraced the anti-outsiders message as a campaign tactic.
On Monday, following the canvassers’ recall decision, Lazarus told The Detroit News that Snyder “has a toxic disdain for the rights of local government.”
The governor issued an executive order last spring that put the School Reform Office under the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, a move the state Board of Education denounced as “unconstitutional.”
“As a community of leaders in education, it is our duty to stand up to injustice, especially when the well-being of children is placed in harm’s way,” Lazarus told the News. “With courage and confidence, we can restore trust in the power of ordinary people, parents and teachers, to take a stand and do the right thing.”