INTERVIEW: Mark Schauer, candidate for Michigan governor – “I will be a real partner to local communities”


A hearty welcome to all of you joining us from! I want to clear up a little misinformation you received from your Republican friends regarding rate increases in Michigan. Despite what they told you, the actual average increase in rates being asked for by health insurance companies is a scant 2.2%. Yes, some were higher but there were also six that are going DOWN. The biggest insurer in our state, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, is asking for a 9.7% increase. That’s actually below the average annual increase in health insurance premiums before Obamacare was passed. Heck, in 2009, BCBSM took a 22% increase!

I just wanted to be sure you had ALL of the facts.

“When people hear about me, my background, my values, my vision for Michigan, they’re immediately on board and ready to go to work.”

When Anne and I moved to Dexter in late 2006, we were shocked to find that this community, just 10 minutes from downtown Ann Arbor, was represented in Congress by a far-right conservative ideologue, Tim Walberg. So, in 2008, we worked very hard for his Democratic opponent Mark Schauer and were elated when he rode the Obama Democratic tide into office. Two short years later the tide rolled back out and Mark Schauer lost his seat when he was defeated by Walberg who enjoyed immense financial support from conservative groups like the Club for Growth.

During his time in office, Mark Schauer proved to be a solid representative of Democratic Party values and, more importantly, what he calls “Michigan mainstream values”; the values of everyday Michiganders who just want a fair deal and a helping hand up when they need it most.

Schauer was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1996 and served there until 2002. During his time in the House, he was Assistant Democratic Leader between 1999 to 2000. He then served in the Senate from 2002 to 2010 where he was the Senate Minority Whip from 2003 to 2006 and the Senate Minority Leader from 2006 to 2010. After he left Congress in 2010, he worked for the BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership between labor and environmental groups promoting job growth through investments in environmental projects like sustainable energy.

On December 11th, 2012, Schauer made national news when, as a peaceful participant in a rally at the state Capitol to protest passage of right to work legislation, he was sprayed in the face with pepper spray by state police.

I sat down with Schauer on Monday at a fundraiser for the Western Washtenaw Dems at the Chelsea Alehouse in Chelsea, Michigan to talk about his candidacy, his vision for Michigan, and how he is introducing himself to the rest of the state.

All photos by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog.

One of the things that I’m hearing from folks on my blog and elsewhere online is that they just don’t know who you are because they’re not from our area. Anne and I know you because you were our Congressman but that’s not the case outside of the districts that you’ve served in and you need support statewide. What’s your game plan as far as educating voters as to “Who is Mark Schauer”?

Well, we’ve already campaigned in 44 of Michigan’s 83 counties so we’re doing it the old-fashioned way of just getting out and meeting voters in restaurants, in people’s living rooms, anywhere that we can. And we’re making great progress. Where we meet people, they’re very excited. They’re angry at the direction Rick Snyder has taken our state and when they hear about me, my background, my values, my vision for Michigan, they’re immediately on board and ready to go to work.

So, we’re going to continue doing that all over the state at a breakneck pace until the final vote is cast on November 4th, 2014!

But we’re also doing it in new ways with social media. That’s very important and it’s been a fantastic tool, one where we’re tweeting about things we see and hear on the campaign, for example. Or telling our story through pictures and visuals out on the campaign trail. It’s just a fantastic way to build momentum. It’s an amazing multiplier.

Still, keep this in perspective: when Rick Snyder launched his famous Super Bowl ad in February of 2010, as a result of that ad his name ID was only 10% and he didn’t even crack 50% name ID until after the primary.

So you’re not particularly concerned about the level of your name recognition at this point?

Not at all. We feel great about where we are and we certainly feel great about the enthusiasm and that’s just going to build. I say to folks when I leave each meeting and each opportunity that I’m even more confident and even more energized then when I got there. I think people feel the same way. They’re feeling more energized and more confident, too.

It seems like you got a great turnout in Howell which is not exactly a Democratic stronghold.

Right! That was my hometown. I was born and raised there. I spent the first 18 years of my life there so it was a homecoming for me. But, we’ve experience crowds like that in other communities, as well. I was just in Onaway in Cheboygan County at a gathering of multiple county activists and there were 150-200 people there.

Over a year out, that’s not bad!

We’ve had some small gatherings where it’s been a couple of dozen but I’d say, on the average, we’re meeting with 50-60 people. We just covered eight counties in northern Michigan in two days last Friday and Saturday and it was amazing.

Part of that process is not only meeting with activists but also meeting with the press when we’re there. Almost everywhere we go, we’re getting earned media, photos in the paper, things like that. It’s a big deal when a gubernatorial candidate is visiting your area more than a year before the election.

What’s part of the fun is that, when we’re in restaurants — we do a lot of events at restaurants — so it’s not just folks that are there to meet me and talk to me, and I introduce myself to others and I’m finding that they are excited, too. For example I was in Benzie County, our last stop on Saturday before we came back home, and there were people at the other end of the restaurant listening in and they gave me a big “thumbs up”. It turns out they were retired teachers who were very upset about Snyder’s education cuts. They heard that my dad and my grandmother were retired teachers, too, so they were very enthusiastic.

I met a couple of guys when we were in Atlanta in Montmorency County earlier in the day on Saturday and they were in camo, out deer hunting. They were from Westland hunting there. I introduced myself and when they learned who I was, what I was running for, and who I was running against, they were very enthusiastic. We even took a picture together.

So, you’re getting broad support. That’s good. How is fundraising going? Are you getting support in that way?

It’s going very well. It’s a hard part of the campaign and it’s not at all glamorous. I spent the day before I hit the road to come here to Chelsea in my call room. All day long. It’s a chance to reconnect with past friends and old supporters and to make new friends.

Here’s the thing: I’m not a millionaire! I sometimes announce that, a bit tongue-in-cheek, as I’m campaigning: “I’M NOT A MILLIONAIRE!” You know, Rick Snyder had $6 million of his own money that he put into his primary campaign. We know the DeVoses and Donald Trump and the Koch brothers and others are his supporters so he probably doesn’t have to spend a lot of time making fundraising calls. But I’m very proud of the $5, $10, $100 donors.

I’m confident that we will have the resources that it will take. We’re not going to need as much as they have and, candidly, I don’t think Rick Snyder has enough money to overcome the bad things that he’s done to our state.

I would suggest that he doesn’t have the grassroots support that he’s going to need to get the vote out, either. I think you can only go so far with ads.

That’s right. That’s exactly right. But, we spend the time that it takes to do fundraising and I want everyone to know that we DO need help and they can help us out financially online or in traditional ways. Every one of those contributions means a ton and we really appreciate that and I want to ensure everyone that we’re going to have the resources we need to run an effective campaign.

One of the reasons I’ve had broad support for my candidacy was that my two Congressional elections in ’08 and ’10, both of them were the most expensive Congressional races in the country. So I’m no stranger to having to raise a lot of money and do what it takes to do it.

You’ve talked a lot about Rick Snyder’s lack of transparency particularly with regard to the NERD Fund and the way that it’s being used to support an unelected official who literally sits in the governor’s office, as well as Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s Emergency Manager. Why is that a big deal? Why do you consider that something that should be highlighted?

Look, I don’t think it’s unusual for elected officials to have different funds that they run. But it’s kind of interesting that the governor recently announced some of the donors to the charity that spend $700,000 on renovations to the governor’s residence on Mackinac Island. Well, if it’s appropriate to disclose donors to the renovating of the governor’s residence, it’s certainly appropriate to disclose donors that are paying for government functions. That’s what’s different and that’s what’s unique about what Governor Snyder is doing.

His right hand policy guy, his go-to guy on special projects, Richard Baird, is seated in his executive offices there in the Romney Building in Lansing, Michigan, in the Governor’s office. And he’s the architect of Skunk Works which worked on educational policy. It’s BAD educational policy but it’s part of the governor’s think tank on education policy. We know he was key in identifying Kevyn Orr, the Detroit Emergency Manager. So he is performing governmental services and an executive function to the governor and the public ought to know who’s paying for it. I don’t know what the conflicts of interest are or might be but they might be there. So, it’s very interesting for Governor Snyder in his deposition last week to say he doesn’t know who contributes to the NERD Fund.

Do you believe that?

It’s hard to believe. There’s a lot we don’t know but I believe he’s had involvement in fundraising for the so-called NERD Fund. I mean, he named it after his brand so I’m certain he’s had involvement in raising those funds.

Doesn’t it suggest that if he doesn’t know that he did that intentionally with the intent distance himself from it and from things that they might be doing?

Let me be clear, I think the governor knows. Certainly people in his administration know. People that are in the inner circle of his team know. The group that’s missing, and that is pretty darned important, is the public doesn’t know.

Not only is he paying for his right hand confidant who works in the governor’s office in Lansing, he’s also paying part of the compensation of the Detroit Emergency Manager. For his $4,200 luxury hotel suite, for his trips back and forth to be with his family. Those things are part of his compensation package which was negotiated by Governor Snyder.

Again, what are the potential conflicts of interest? People give for a reason. They want support. They want access. And, in some form or fashion they’re probably getting some sort of access. So I think it’s a no-brainer. As governor, I’ll be very clear, any of these kinds of funds or whatever tools I use to administer the office of governor, everyone will know where those dollars come from and who has a connection.

The original Emergency Financial Manager law was passed over a decade ago under the Blanchard administration…

Right, and there was another version passed when I was in the legislature.

I think that was done in response to or perhaps an acknowledgement of the fact that we DO have struggling cities, we do have municipalities and schools that are struggling. When you assume office, that law will be on the books. How you see yourself managing that? What would be different under a Mark Schauer administration vs. the Rick Snyder administration?

You’re exactly right. There were versions of the law were on the books previously to provide an option and a tool to help local communities in financial distress. But I think there are a couple of things that are important here. Both Public Act 4, which this Republican legislature passed and this Republican governor signed into law and was overturned by the voters last November, and Public Act 436 which is nearly identical and was passed and signed by this governor AFTER the public overturned PA 4, both are much broader and provide almost carte blanche authority to Emergency Managers that are appointed by governors. There is no accountability to the local community. There is the sale of public assets. There is the setting aside of local collective bargaining agreements. Just incredible, sweeping powers with no say of local officials and no accountability to local government or to the people, the voters of those communities. So, I think it’s important to note this is overreach goes well beyond what was done before and undoes the will of the voters from last November.

The second point is that the reason we’re having this conversation is because this governor has systematically cut revenue sharing to local governments. I have a perspective that’s very different from this governor. I started my political career as a Battle Creek City Commissioner. I know how important a functional relationship and partnership is from the state and the governor. When I was in the state legislature, I consistently supported revenue sharing as a way to support communities. So the reason we’re having this conversation is that they’re in financial distress that the state has helped to create.

And it’s not just Detroit. When I was in northern Michigan last weekend, I saw communities placing millages on the ballot for police services, public safety services, to make up for cuts that have come from the state. So communities have, just like schools have fewer teachers in the classroom, local communities have fewer police officers on the street, fewer firefighters on the street, and crumbling infrastructure as a result of revenue sharing cuts from the state.

So, we need to change that. I will be a real partner to local communities, make sure we restore that money. To me, having quality, healthy, safe local communities is an economic driver. We’re seeing that sacrificed by this governor and the appointment of an Emergency Manager is just another result of these cuts to communities.

It seems like Republicans say, “We’re gong to shrink government at the state level” but there’s this need at the local level that doesn’t go away when you do that so there’s sort of a trickle down where it forces the local communities to have to raise funds. So, the people at the state level can say, “Hey! We cut taxes!” but at the local, not so much.

That’s exactly what’s happening and I’ve said all along that this is “reverse trickle down”. Snyder’s tax policy is the same old tried-and-failed trickle down where you cut corporate taxes and the economy will grow. But what he’s done is raise taxes on retirees and families and individuals. That doesn’t work. We know Rick Snyder’s tax policies and economic policies are NOT working and they’re hurting families and seniors. But, you know, his cuts to schools, his cuts to local communities is exactly this reverse trickle down where local schools and local municipalities having to raise taxes to make up for it.

I mean, people in the local community, they understand how important strong public schools are and how critical they are to the health of the local community. They also understand how important quality of life is in their community. It puts local residents and local elected officials in an untenable position. They’re really balancing these cuts, they’re balancing these business tax cuts and tax increases on individuals and on the backs of local people.

So, talk a bit about education. Right now about 10% of the schools in Michigan are at risk of not having enough money to keep their doors open. How do we turn that around? Obviously I’d assume that taking $1 billion out of the budget not be a component of your agenda! But, how do we fund our schools so that we create a robust, sustainable school districts?

My highest priority and the single most important investment we can make in strengthening our state, strengthening our economy, and creating a stronger middle class is investing in public education. I learned at home. My dad was a high school science teacher. My grandmother was an elementary school teacher. I used to run Headstart. I have always viewed education as the foundation of a sensible economic development strategy. Governor Snyder was wrong to come into office and take a billion dollars away from our public schools, to take a half a billion dollars away from our universities. It hurts kids and families now but it also mortgages our future.

To me it starts with priorities. This governor’s priority clearly was a business tax cut so he’s based everything on business tax cuts. And they are NOT creating jobs. I mean, we’ve got the fourth worst unemployment rate in the country. States that have more robust economies, that are growing and have higher wages, are the states that invest in education. So, we start with priorities and, to me, that’s our number one priority. We’ve got to restore Governor Snyder’s cuts.

It’s about putting money back that’s been cut but it’s also looking at the revenue drain. I look at it like a leaky bucket in terms of funding streams for communities. One thing that Snyder and the Republicans in Lansing have done is to systematically privatize education, corporatize and profitize education in Michigan. What we see is dollars that should be going to school districts and our neighborhood schools going to these for-profit cyber schools like K12, Inc. or to for-profit charter schools. It’s a formula that works for the for-profit education providers — I don’t want to call them “schools” — but not for kids.

My wife and I got a slick mailing from K12, Inc. We don’t have kids at home. Our kids are grown. We have grandkids so maybe they’re trying to get me to get our grandkids to go their cyber school or enroll in their cyber school, I don’t know… But our tax dollars are going to pay for slick advertisements, TV ads, billboards, and so forth but, again, our kids are suffering because they’re sitting in front of a computer terminal instead being in a classroom with highly-trained teachers.

It’s changing the priority that we have a constitutional guarantee that we have a quality education for every child no matter where they live and no matter what their socio-economic status is. They’re setting policy in line with that new priority.

Another problem to address is removing the profit motive in education in Michigan.

Let’s change tack a little bit here. So, we’re the birthplace of organized labor and now we’re a right to work state thanks to Rick Snyder and the Republicans. Assuming you come into office with a Republican Senate and possibly a Democratic House, is there anything that can be done to reverse that?

Well, I’m first going to reject the premise that the composition of the legislature is going to be what it is today. I think 2014 is going to be a change election in Michigan. I think that voters, independent and a lot of Republican voters, ought to be sick and tired with what they’re seeing Washington as well as what they’re seeing coming out of the state Capitol. Actions of Republicans in Lansing and Washington don’t represent Michigan values. They don’t represent Michigan mainstream values. I would assert that the Democratic Party represents Michigan values.

So, I think what occurred in the Chelsea/Dexter area in electing Gretchen Driskell is a sign of things to come. There were some outstanding new legislators elected in 2012 and I am very active in making sure they are reelected. But there are some other outstanding candidates for the House and Senate, as well, that I’m going to be supporting. We’re going to run a coordinated campaign like we’ve never seen before and it’s about Michigan mainstream values and a strong middle class versus what we’ve been seeing from the other side.

But! I came in as a Democrat when John Engler was governor and I’ve worked with Jennifer Granholm when she was governor. I’ve worked with just about every scenario you could imagine in the legislature and, most of my time, in the minority. So, I know what it takes to get things done working with the other side. One of my favorite sayings is, “It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t worry about who gets credit”. It’s about getting things done.

But, right to work needs to be changed, it needs to be undone. To me, this is an example of Rick Snyder making a direct political power grab. It was an assault on organized labor, and it was clearly not about economics. Because if he had looked at the economic analysis of what we’ve learned from other states, you realize that “right to work” really DOES mean “right to work for less”. States that have adopted and enacted right to work laws have seen wages go down. Not just for union workers but for ALL workers.

What was striking to me was that Mike Finney, the head of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, was asked at the Detroit Economic Club just days after Governor Snyder signed right to work into law, he was asked what the analysis was and he said, “We didn’t do one” because Rick Snyder said he wasn’t going to support right to work. So, they didn’t even know. In fact, Snyder said we need to be more like Indiana. Well, we’ve been losing manufacturers to Indiana since we passed right to work. Exo-s, Braun, for example, two manufacturers that were here previously.

The point is that it’s bad economic policy. My vision for Michigan is that we become a high-wage, high-skill state and right to work is completely contrary to that. So, it will be my priority, regardless of who is in the legislature, to move that agenda forward so that we value workers, that we value the labor-management relationship in Michigan that is, in part, a key part of the revitalization of the auto industry here in Michigan. I look forward to changing that.

Look, I’m a card-carrying union member myself. I’ve worked within the labor movement. I’ve seen the value of apprenticeship and training programs and safety and all that the labor movement has done for good wages and good benefits and I was on the front lines of the right to work protest. I got the pepper spray to prove it! I was proud to be there.

Would you say that the crop of Republicans that we’re looking at now in the legislature is different than the ones you worked with, say, ten years ago?

The legislature has changed, the dynamic has changed. It certainly changed when I started. I was elected in 1996 and began in January ’97 so I began before term limits hit the House. It was years later that term limits hit the Senate. Once term limits began to be implemented, a couple of years later, you started to see more polarization within the legislature. I was there at a time when people could work together regardless of whether they always agreed on issues. It wasn’t personal and they always found ways to get to solutions that represented the best interests of the state.

But, especially over the past few years and I saw this myself when I was in Congress in 2009 and 2010, there was a significant radical element of the Republican Party that has really become kind of become the core of their Party. We see it in the legislature in how they tried to stop Medicaid expansion, how they blocked immediate effect of Medicaid expansion, costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars and making people wait an additional three months to get quality health care. These are the same folks who have been holding the nation hostage, trying to block health care, shutting down government. I believe that they will be held accountable in the 2014 election here in Michigan.

One of the things that I most admired about you when you were my Representative in Congress was how much of an educator you were about the Affordable Care Act. How are you feeling about it today? We’re rolling out now. I know there’s been a few hiccups but, generally, are you feeling good about your vote for it?

Oh, absolutely! I have NEVER regretted voting for the Affordable Care Act. I said then, if I lose my job over this vote, I’ll sleep like a baby every night for the rest of my life. While there have been some hiccups in implementation, I am confident that the exchanges will work and thousands of people in Michigan will get help. Thousands of people in Michigan will be helped through Medicaid expansion. Thousands of senior citizens will get help through prescription drug savings.

Healthcare really is a basic right for people so it’s morally the right thing to do. The reason that businesses were supporting it is because it’s good for business and will help control healthcare costs and bring down premiums for everyone. So, I’m thrilled to see the law implemented and to see it fully implemented in January.

You can learn more about Mark Schauer’s campaign, sign up to volunteer, and make a financial contribution at his website Stay up-to-date by following him on Twitter and putting a “Like” on his Facebook page.