In late March, seven-term incumbent Mike Rogers decided at the last minute not to run for reelection in Michigan’s 8th District with runs from Ingham County east through Livingston County all the way to Oakland County. It was a jerk move because, when he announced his decision to cash in and become a conservative radio host on Cumulus Radio, there were only 3 weeks left before the filing deadline.
Rogers ended up endorsing Mike Rogers with an epic endorsement that still leaves me with tears of mirth in my eyes:
I’m here supporting Mike Bishop because I think he will not embarrass this district.
Sigh. That’s just poetry, isn’t it?
Bishop, the former Senate Republican Leader who shut down Michigan’s government twice when Jennifer Granholm was governor, eventually won his primary.
On the Democratic side, Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing won the Democratic primary against three opponents, beating the nearest contender by a 5 points.
Schertzing has been the Ingham County Treasurer for 14 years and has a well-earned reputation as thoughtful, practical, and compassionate public servant. He’s so well liked there that he won his last election with 67% of the vote, a clear vote of confidence by his base in Ingham County.
Although the seat has been held for nearly a decade and a half by a Republican, few people realize how competitive this district actually is. In fact, the last time it was an open seat, it was won by a mere 111 votes. Schertzing’s recent internal poll shows him very much in contention. The District is equally divided, 43-43, in the Generic Congressional poll and Schertzing is just 5 points behind Bishop. When the polling firm read respondents a balanced series of positive messages about both candidates, Schertzing and Bishop are tied at 43 points each. Because the poll was of “likely voters”, the massive statewide effort by the Michigan Democratic Party’s Coordinated Campaign to turn out so-called “sporadic voters” who often do not vote in non-presidential election years may play a crucial role in bringing home a Democratic victory in the 8th Congressional District.
I sat down with Schertzing this past weekend to talk about the race and his campaign.
Let’s start out with your story. What’s your history in Michigan and how did you get to the place where you are today, running for Congress?
I grew up on a family farm in the Stockbridge area, in Bunker Hill Township. We had cash crops in peppermint and spearmint and had a still for the mint oil. We had about 3,000 chickens when I was a real small child. My dad was allergic to the chicken dust. He wanted to expand but Mom said, “No”, so we got rid of the chickens!
The thing about those early days, and it comes into the campaign when we talk about health care, is that I had sick parents. Dad had a cancerous kidney removed when I was five. Mom got sick when I was eight, and then Dad died when I was ten. So that forms you in a different way than it might otherwise. As a child I was taking care of a disabled mom.
We were able to get by because I worked the farm until one of my brothers took that over and my mom and I got survivors benefits from Social Security. That’s really what allowed us to get by. So I’m a strong supporter of Social Security so that families have that when they need it.
I graduated from high school in Stockbridge then went to Michigan State University. In my sophomore year I got connect with a Congressional campaign with a member of Congress, Bob Carr, who had lost in the “80s Revolution” and, in ’82, we got him back in. I worked for Bob for a decade in Michigan and on Capitol Hill for awhile.
Is Bob Carr still around?
You know, he was actually in town last weekend for four days doing a couple of fundraisers for us and he’s excited about all of this. He’s been a good ally. He’s teaching almost a full load at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and keeping himself very busy.
I then did a stint as Chief Deputy Drain Commissioner in Ingham County under Pat Lindemann, one of the great environmentalists in Michigan. That was a great learning experience and gave me some great exposure. Then there was an opening in 2000 to run for County Treasurer and I did that. My predecessor was the last countywide elected Republican in Ingham County from the transition from the Milliken moderate years into when Democrats took over.
During that time, I set up the second County Land Bank Authority in the state. Dan Kildee in Genessee County did the first. It’s been very fortunate that we had that in place, actually. We set that up in 2005 when everything seemed bright and then the housing debacle hit and we were prepared.
Talk about the Land Bank a little bit. How does that help people?
It’s a job creation and community improvement organization. We’ve done a lot with housing; that was the focus because that was the challenge that people wanted addressed. We had this housing crisis so how can we make a bad situation better? The Land Bank took on a lot of properties with resources that came from the local and state government, both during the Bush and the Obama administrations. We renovated a lot of homes to sell to families and took out some of the blighted ones. Some of these houses are not saveable and you have to make a judgment about that. You just really work with the community to make sure that we’re addressing what they see as their community needs. Housing was obviously the huge one that we’ve had for the last six years.
What prompted you to run for the 8th District seat? It seems like a lot of the so-called “big name” Democrats decided to sit this one out, as well as the big name Republicans.
It was a quick and late start. But, for me, public service is an opportunity to improve folks’ lives. Congress is not getting the job done. They’re not dealing with the minimum wage increase. They’re not dealing with the affordability of college. They’re not dealing with infrastructure needs. We’re relying on infrastructure that was often built before or just after World War II and it’s begun to fall apart. It’s not just our roads, it’s our water and sewer and a lot of other things. Those are passions of mine from the Bob Carr days and just from a personal interest in public service. Being a member of Congress is an opportunity to do more for people on those areas.
One of the things that Congressman John Dingell talks about in terms of his retirement is that he’s just done with the acrimony and the inability to get anything done in Congress because of the intransigence of Republicans, in general. What are your thoughts about jumping into what some would call that “cesspool” of people refusing to get anything done and stopping the President from making any changes?
Well, you know, we’ve simply got to come up with ways to reach across the aisle and work together. Government shut downs, which my opponent did not once but twice in Michigan as Senate Majority Leader, that’s just not an answer. That was not only a personal failure by Mike Bishop but it was an embarrassment at the national level for the state of Michigan for people to see us that dysfunctional.
You know, growing up on the farm I learned that you roll up your sleeves, you work hard, and you deal with people. Setting up the Land Bank and the things that I’ve done as the County Treasurer have had me working with ALL parties to get things done. That’s my track record.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m going to snap my fingers in D.C. and instantly make it all better. But the only way the world changes is for people, sometimes just one person, to take on that change, working together with others.
The Republicans have their own internal battles going on right now. There’s got to be ways to reach through and communicate through that and find commonality. With so many of the issues that I’ve talked about – and I’d throw in equal pay for equal work, the minimum wage so people can support themselves through their work, health care, and college affordability – when did those become partisan issues? I just think that, once you get beyond the partisanship and have a conversation with folks, that you can break down some of those barriers and figure out some common goals that we can come together on to make this country even better than it is.
The 8th District is an interesting district. I was looking at some of the history of it. 8th District voters voted for Clinton twice. Then it went to Bush. Then it went to Obama pretty heavily – 5 points, I think. And then it got redistricted and went for Mitt Romney in 2012. How do you see the lay of the land in terms of your chances of having a Democratic victory in the 8th District?
I think they’re fantastic. You’ve got the baseline poll [the “Generic Congressional” poll showing it to be 43-43] that begins that conversation, for starters. You know, there’s this idea that, because of who and what Mike Rogers was and the resources that he had, that it was just a Republican district. So, people need to see that baseline poll and see that that’s not the reality of the district. One of the interesting that Bob Carr talked about this past weekend was that, in 1982, that was an R+3 district according to the Cook Political Report. Now it’s R+2. So we actually have a better base than when Bob Carr took it back in ’82.
And we’ve got a fantastic Coordinated Campaign going on that’s actually funded!
We always have a Coordinated Campaign but usually we’re fighting over where the resources are going to come from and who is going to get them but that’s not the case this year. We’re invested in that and it’s going to be the ticket for driving turnout.
I’m blessed to have Ingham County as one of the main counties in this district because that’s a priority for the Coordinated Campaign. It’s a priority for the wonderful effort that Gary Peters is doing, as well. Gary and I have been friends for 25 years and so we’re working closely together. The whole delegation is involved. I was walking in the Michigan State homecoming parade with Senator Stabenow on Friday night, for example. Everybody is being very helpful.
Mark Schauer is obviously in a place not a lot of people thought he would be and he’s still got name recognition to go. I think he’s got better than a 50-50 shot at being governor because of the Coordinated Campaign’s efforts. So, in this environment, it’s a good year to be a Democrat. Democrats are on the offensive in Michigan, not like what’s going in some of the other areas. And you feel that; there’s organization and activity. So, that’s Ingham which is key to our pathway to victory.
Then you’ve got organization and activity going on throughout Livingston County…
God bless [Livingston County Democratic Party Chair] Judy Daubenmier!
Absolutely and in Oakland County Phillip Reid is the golden name. So, there are good candidates filed for office, running, knocking on doors, meeting with people, spreading the message. I haven’t seen anything like it. I know Livingston pretty well because of my years with Bob Carr and I’ve tried to keep in touch with those folks because of the Congressional district. So, there’s all of those wonderful things going on.
Then there’s the fact that Mike Bishop has some extreme positions. In fact, he’s got a whole bunch of them. I mean, he has been a sellout to the pharmaceutical industry, to the insurance industry. He’s extreme on abortion with his Right to Life backing. Right to Life says the only exception is to save the life of the woman so if a woman is raped, that rapist has determined who the mother their child is going to be. And, according to Right to Life, there’s nothing that woman can do about it. That’s personal for me, I’ve got teenaged daughters. One of them just went off to college. Unfortunately that makes it so you have to think about that type of thing a little bit differently and the other side just isn’t doing that.
Go ahead and talk a little bit more about Mike Bishop. Contrast your positions and your philosophy of governance.
Well, he’s just got a history of doing the bidding of the corporate interests that have supported his campaign. He’s got the Koch of Michigan in Matty Moroun, somebody he has long carried water for. Take the International Trade Crossing. To me, this is an issue that almost disqualifies somebody from public service. Mike Bishop has taken a whole bunch of money from special interests, including Matty Moroun. [ed. note: Moroun is the 321st richest person in America and owns the Ambassador Bridge. He is fighting the new crossing that would offer competition.] When he was Senate Majority leader, he had promised to bring a vote up on the International Trade Crossing and then changed his mind and did not. And Bishop opposes it now.
The thing about this bridge crossing is that, in Michigan, Canada is our largest trading partner. Our number one trading partner. The bridge in Detroit is 75 years old. It’s got all sorts of maintenance issues, it’s privately owned, and there’s no back up. The domestic manufacturers, all of them need it to get their products across. Agriculture needs it. It’s good for tourism. Our Republican governor is on board as is any thinking person. The editorial boards across the state denounced that opposition. So there’s a strong contrast in our positions on that.
I work for middle class folks. I’ve done a lot of work for low and middle income households as Board Chair for the Capital Area Community Services which runs Headstart and runs a lot of programs to help people get a leg up on things. And those are the folks who we need to revive this economy and middle class. Money going to the top does not get spent. They don’t go to the grocery store when they get more money, they don’t go to the clothing store. Unless somebody is going into our small businesses and buying things off of the shelves then they’re not reordering so that the manufacturing process has to start up. It’s been a long-term shift in terms of who gets the money. The people who do the work are not getting their share, it’s the people at the top who are profiting and they’re not consuming.
Another situation is the affordability of higher education. We have, not all, but way more than we’ve ever had, students leaving debt college with loads that look like a mortgage. When they’re carrying debt loads like that, they’re not buying cars, they’re not buying houses, they’re not feeling comfortable settling down and starting a family. So the whole mechanism of our wonderful capitalistic society comes to a screeching halt for a lot of those people.
What are some of the other things that you’ve done that have prepared you to serve in Congress?
Well, the Land Bank that I established has been something that we’ve used to reach out into the community for housing and for public/private partnerships. We had a couple ribbon cuttings here this month for major projects that we’ve been working on for a number of years. Early on in the process I saw that the mortgage foreclosure issue was bad and getting worse. In 2006 and 2007 we were able to organize efforts in the tri-county area that I helped organize and fund. We did a website that was award-winning for its branding and helping people find solutions that they could work with.
So, we’ve helped a lot of people stay in their homes and avoid tax and mortgage foreclosure. Those are the types of proactive things that people respect and want and appreciate when government gives good results. You’ve got to figure out how to do that and sometimes you’ve got to come up with new ways or you have to be more mindful.
Also, I was able to upgrade the County’s credit rating, something I’m particularly proud of. I worked with the credit rating agencies in my position as County Treasurer. The strength of Ingham County and how well we run ourselves was crucial and, in the depths of the downturn, we were able to improve the County’s credit rating. We keep good fund balances, we have good management, we take care of our properties, and these are the things that the credit rating agencies care about. I’ve been there 14 years and, during that time, I’ve made a point of reaching out to the credit agencies because we did not want to get caught up in the typical Michigan story. It’s about communicating. I didn’t have to do that, but I wanted to be reaching out to the folks who have an interest in our future. That’s how we build our future prosperity, by how easy it is to borrow, how cheaply we can borrow.
[At this point Eric’s campaign manager chimed in with a laugh to say, “He also licenses all the dogs.”]
It’s true but, there again, we’ve done it in different ways. We have veterinarians who sell the licenses. We do more stuff online. You have to stay up with the times. We’ve done this at the local level with balanced budgets and when we’ve had to trim back staff, we’ve done that. We’ve used technology to try to be more efficient.
The first thing I did when I came into office – it’s a small thing but I’m proud of it – we had an automated voice telephone service where people would get stuck in some loop. I turned that thing off. I mean, when people call, they deserve to get ahold of a person who can really help them get the solution to their problems.
Polling seems to show that, once people know your story and they can contrast you a bit with Mike Bishop, you do VERY well. What are doing to get that out? That’s the tough part, I suppose, getting your name out, especially in Oakland County and Livingston County where they aren’t necessarily familiar with you.
Well, we’re doing the traditional campaigning and the Coordinated Campaign is very helpful. There’s a door-to-door effort, coordinated with all of the other campaigns that are across the district. We’ve got an absentee voter mailing that’s going to go out here in a couple of days. We’re working on the Lansing television market. Every day we’re building and getting stronger and having more resources to get the word out.
We also worked with the Oakland County Coordinated Campaign folks to do a Rochester/Rochester Hills “Invasion Weekend” last weekend where we pulled volunteers from that part of Oakland County to knock every targeted door in Rochester/Rochester Hills in one weekend with everyone on the ticket together. That’s Gary Peters’ home turf but it’s also Mike Bishop’s home turf.
You can just feel an energy that Democrats have right now. And you can sense that Republicans are wondering what’s going on. It’s a good year to be a Democrat!
[All photos by Anne C. Savage]