Guyette, 59, is an investigative reporter for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan who focuses on emergency management and open government. The Michigan Press Association recently named him the Michigan Journalist of the Year because of his substantive coverage on the Flint water crisis and lead contamination.
What's on your nightstand?
Teardown by Gordon Young. It chronicles his experience returning to Flint, where he grew up, and buying a house. It was published in 2013. It concerned Flint's economic crisis, due to losing so many residents. What was reinforced through the book was how similar Flint and Detroit are in terms of the dire situation created for cities who experience massive population loss. Flint has lost about half of its population that it had at its peak. It went from 200,000 to fewer than 100,000. Detroit, a much bigger city, has seen its population go from 2 million to 680,000. Cities are just put in impossible situations in terms of meeting financial obligations, with the loss of industrial base and the residential base and therefore the taxes that come with that.
Was there any optimism coming out of the memoir?
The optimism was based on the tenacity of the Flint residents, something that I've been struck by as well. They are a very tough, determined people.
Any other books on your nightstand?
Just last night I read a New Yorker article in the December issue by Elizabeth Kolbert on climate change and the effects it's having on Florida. It talked about rising sea levels and what it is going to do to both water quality and where people live. Flooding and high tide is going to become more and more of an issue.
What book do you recommend to people to keep them sensitive to situations like the one in Flint?
Actually, several years ago I read a book that could be more and more pertinent, A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr. The issue deals with contamination of water. I liked the movie (with John Travolta) so I read the book. It stuck with me, but it came to the forefront of my thoughts recently.
Any comment on the Michigan primary?
It really calls into question polling right now. Bernie Sanders was given no chance just before the election. Hillary had a 17 percent lead, and she ended up losing, so, along with other crazy things going on with this election season, to see polls that far off really raises questions.
What do you hope comes out of the situation in Flint?
Two things. I'd like residents to once again get clean, safe water. They are still not getting it. Bottled water is still necessary. Beyond that, I'd like to see that there is adequate funding to ensure that the children who have been harmed by the exposure to lead in their water are going to be guaranteed access to all educational services and other wrap-around services needed to mitigate to the greatest extent possible the harm that has been caused to them. Childhood exposure to lead results in lower IQs and behavior problems and learning disabilities. These kids need to be cared for and helped to every extent possible.
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