I first learned of Shri Thanedar when he hired my good friend Tony Trupiano (R.I.P.) to introduce him around to the various progressive circles in Michigan in the spring of 2017. This was necessary because almost nobody in Michigan progressive politics had ever heard of Shri Thanedar prior to then.
Within in a very short time, it was clear to me that this was a man intent on buying himself the job of governor of Michigan. He spent vast amounts of money everywhere he could to ingratiate himself. He made a donation to this site at our 2017 fundraiser party and insisted on self-promoting himself right as we were very obviously sitting down to record our podcast, thrusting his business card into my hand as I explained that this was clearly not the time for that conversation.
Thanedar reached out to me multiple times after that asking to be on our podcast but I had developed an uneasy feeling about him that kept me from inviting him. I had seen a skabillionaire with no experience in public service (Rick Snyder) purchase the governorship and was completely disinterested in eight more years of that, even if it was from someone calling themselves a Democrat. One of Thanedar’s podcast requests came about three minutes after he had made a second large donation to the website. Feeling squicked out by this, I declined his offer and refunded his donation.
When Thanedar was given time to speak at a General Membership meeting of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party (of which I am the Chair), I walked in to find a life-sized cardboard Shri Thanedar positioned right near the door. He handed out free copies of his self-published autobiography and was giving away free Detroit Tiger baseball caps. One of my fellow Executive Board members commented that he felt like he had been hit over the head with Shri Thanedar’s bank account as soon as he walked through the door.
Then other things began to crop up.
I learned that he had lived in a 13,000 square foot mansion in St. Louis and drove around in a Ferrari before he landed in Michigan. Outside of giving his employees $1.5 million in holiday bonuses one year, nothing about his history suggested that he is a progressive.
Several friends who worked for his campaign abruptly quit and, though they wouldn’t (couldn’t?) talk about their time there, their eyerolls whenever his name came up told me a story without words.
Reports surfaced that he was being sued by a group that had bought his chemical testing company, accusing him of “fraudulent and misleading” claims about its worth.
A former employee reported one of Thanedar’s clients to the FDA after testing showed their herbal supplement contained Viagra. The employee filed the complaint with the FDA because Thanedar refused to.
Several political consultants came forward to reveal Thanedar wasn’t sure whether to run as a Democrat or a Republican.
Former staffers have accused him of not paying them for the work Thanedar hired them to do for his campaign.
In a Trumpian act of tone deafness, Thanedar tweeted a photo of himself eating fried chicken immediately prior to his appearance at a Black Caucus forum.
He has spent over a million dollars on television advertising including one commercial that, like Rick Snyder’s first TV ad, ran during the Superbowl. It was an ad that made a joke about people mispronouncing his name, a direct rip off of an ad already being run by 11th Congressional District Democratic candidate Fayrouz Saad.
This week we learned that, in 2010, Thanedar abandoned a testing lab that was home to nearly 200 beagles and monkeys used for laboratory testing, leaving the tortured animals to die of thirst and starvation before they were rescued by rescue groups tipped off by former employees:
Local animal rights activists learned in June of that year that 118 beagles were still stuck inside the facility. The lab’s workers had been jumping the lab’s fences to provide food and water for the dogs, according to a USA Today report.
Two animal welfare groups teamed up to find homes for the beagles and were finally able to take them from the shuttered lab on July 4 to shelters, where they would be matched with adoptive families. A video report conducted by the Times Herald-Record, based in Middletown, New York, showed the dogs arriving in a van from the lab to a staging area where volunteers groomed and attended to the forlorn animals.
Even before the beagles were abandoned, they led lonely lives in small plexiglass crates where they were subject to toxicology tests.
“We believe that they have never been outside, ever,” said an unnamed woman in the Times Herald-Record video. “I don’t think they’ve actually had their paws on the grass. When I walked in here it looked like they were walking on eggshells. They were kind of afraid to walk on the grass.”
A few days later, the California-based group In Defense of Animals rescued 55 long-tailed macaque monkeys that had been left in the shuttered AniClin testing facility.
UPDATE: It turns out Thanedar’s claims it was all the bank’s fault is a lie.
These stories, taken individually, might be easy to dismiss. Taken together, they paint a picture of someone who, despite his claims to be “the most progressive” Democrat in the 2018 gubernatorial race, has values that are anything but progressive.
Whenever he speaks, Thanedar sounds like nearly every Republican politician I’ve ever heard, going on and on about “career politicians” as if a career in public service is something other than noble.
He says his business acumen uniquely qualifies him for the job, something Michiganders have learned the hard way is simply not the case.
He utters progressive platitudes that are strong on pointing out the obvious problems we face as a state and absent any real solutions. In a lengthy interview with Steve Nelson on the terrific DIY Democracy podcast this week, Thanedar couldn’t manage to explain even in shallow terms how he would fix the myriad problems he is so adept at regurgitating at every public appearance.
Thanedar brags about taking “a pledge” not to take any money from corporations or Super PACs. In fact, Thanedar isn’t taking money from just about anybody whose name isn’t Shri Thanedar. His most recent campaign finance reports show he raised $5,995,100.53 last year. Of this, a grand total of $1,115 was raised from a handful of donors.
This is not a progressive Democrat who is working to build our party. This is a super wealthy individual who appears bored and looking for something new to try, like becoming the governor of the state of Michigan. Rather than using his vast wealth to create durable infrastructure to help resolve Michigan’s many problems, Thanedar wants to run the state, claiming alternately that his skills as a small business entrepreneur and his childhood poverty make up for his complete lack of experience in running a government at any level. He hasn’t so much as been on a city council or county commission. Judging by the DIY Democracy interview, Thanedar thinks he’ll be able to convince a Republican-dominated legislature to enact his so-far unexplained policies through the sheer force of his personality.
I’ll give Thanedar credit for one thing: He is very knowledgeable about the many problems the state of Michigan faces.
But being able to barf out a long list of complaints that we’re all already acutely aware of doesn’t make him a good leader. It simply makes him a good actor. He has no history of progressive leadership of any sort and he’s doing nothing to build Democratic Party infrastructure because he has no real donor base and very few, if any, actual volunteers. Instead, he uses his money to buy what he wants, including name recognition.
I’m not accusing Shri Thanedar of being fake Democrat. I’m accusing him of having nothing to show us that he’s ANY sort of Democrat other than his uttering of well-memorized progressive platitudes that sound more like a parody of a Democrat than of someone who is committed to our values.
We’ve spent the past eight years with an inexperienced multi-millionaire running our state and what do we have to show for it? Wealthy Michiganders and corporations are enriched, education spending has been decimated, our manufacturing hubs are on the brink, and an entire city has been poisoned, all because a rich guy decided he had all the answers and spent millions of dollars convincing unwary voters of it.
We’ve seen this movie before and it’s decidedly NOT a happy ending.
This post has been updated HERE.
[Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog.]