Interview, Michigan Democrats — October 29, 2014 at 6:47 am

INTERVIEW: Democratic candidate for state Senate Shari Pollesch – “I believe we can win this thing”


I have liked Shari Pollesch from the first moment I met her. She is engaging, funny, and whip smart. When I learned that she was running for Senate against the ultra-conservative Joe Hune, however, I was dubious that she would stand a chance. However, Pollesch insisted that she did have a chance and was unshakeable in that belief.

One of the reasons for this is that the 22nd state Senate district had its borders radically changed during the most recent redistricting. Instead of stopping at the historically conservative Livingston County’s southern border with Washtenaw County, the 22nd District now includes a wide swath of Western Washtenaw County:

That fact, combined with the more Democratic leaning character of Western Washtenaw might be enough to give Pollesch and edge.

I once asked the question, “Is Joe Hune actually not smart enough to be a Michigan state senator???” over Hune’s remarkably stupid comments and position on Medicaid expansion. Hune, who has been chosen as Michigan’s most conservative senator several times, also is basically the poster child for lawmakers beholden to special interests. He receives massive amounts of money from insurance PACs in his position as the chair of the House Insurance Committee and recently added language to a bill regarding auto dealerships that basically make it illegal for Tesla Motors to sell their incredible electric vehicles in Michigan. Oh, and there’s the inconvenient truth that his wife just happens to lobby for the auto dealerships of Michigan.

Like I said, poster child for lawmakers beholden to special interests.

I met up with Shari Pollesch last week after she had spent the day knocking doors in Pinckney. Our interview is below. For more information on her campaign, visit or her Facebook page HERE.

This is a very challenging race you’re running in here. A lot of people are asking, “Why would any Democrat want to run in this district. Why would you do that?!

You know, I’m a hopeless optimist and I’ve never been a fence-sitter. I actually wanted to run for this seat four years ago but my husband was ill so I couldn’t take that on. But I am particularly disgusted with my opponent, Joe Hune. He doesn’t represent people. He represents special interests. But, like I said, I’m a hopeless optimist.

Do you really think you can win this race?

I do. I think we have a shot that nobody else has had as a Democrat. It helps tremendously that we’ve taken on Western Washtenaw since the redistricting. You know, we ran the statistics on registered Dems and leaning Dems and registered Republicans and leaning Republicans and, actually, in this district, there are more registered Democrats.

Is that right? So that could potentially overcome what’s going on in Livingston County, then?

Yes. And I think that Livingston County is changing. It really is. When I’m knocking doors in Hamburg, I’m convinced I’m going to win. We knocked four or five doors today and they were all people who had already voted for me or were going to vote for me. This week I’ve had three people total say, “Eh, no thanks, I’m a Republican.” Or, like one woman, her issue was right to life. So she wasn’t interested. But I’ve probably knocked 110 doors this week and the overwhelming number of people who are home and answering the doors are supporters. I knocked five doors in a row on Monday and they had already voted for me.

So, are you, generally speaking, writing off Howell and places like that that are more conservative?

Oh, no, no, no, no. We’ve been knocking doors in Howell. We’ve knocked probably about 14,000 doors between Western Washtenaw and Livingston County. We’ve got surrogates out that I don’t even know about. The whole village of Dexter has been knocked. The city of Brighton’s been knocked twice. The city of Howell, we’re on our last precinct and we’re going to knock that Saturday and Sunday. There’s one precinct in Handy Township which is Fowlerville which is Joe’s backyard, the MEA knocked that for us on Sunday and Mary Aldecoa, who is one of their organizers, posted on her Facebook page that, of all the doors she knocked that day, she only had one door that wasn’t willing to take my lit and consider me.

What’s the universe that they’re knocking? Is it a persuasion universe?

Oh, yeah. We started knocking 20-70 on the Grebner score but now we’re knocking doors of people who are 30 to 70. So we don’t knock the strong Dems. That’ll all be GOTV stuff. But, yeah, we’re knocking Republican doors.

And you’re getting a good response?

Yeah, we sure are.

When you’re in Western Washtenaw, are people generally aware that there now in a new district?

I think putting the signs up with my picture on it has helped tremendously because I think people have asked, “Well, who’s this woman?” So people are figuring it out. We just did an ad in the Sun Times with a letter from the current Senator, Rebekah Warren, and I’ve gotten a really good response from that. I’ve been going to a lot of events, too. I was at the Huron Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club in Washtenaw County. I’ve been to the ET Rover pipeline meetings. These things help to get my name out, these sorts of events I canvassed almost the entire city of Chelsea this summer myself, as well.

I was a little more panicked about that issue four weeks ago. But we did the Sun Times ad and we’ve got a video up on Facebook. So now I’m less worried about that because they are at least hearing my name. The reality is that Western Washtenaw is trending Democratic. So they’re not going to go from Rebekah Warren to Joe Hune. It’s just too big of leap.

It’s whiplash!

Exactly. That’s a good way to describe it!

That’s the way that we feel. But having Gretchen Driskell do as well in this district as she did in 2012, a district that was considered majority Republican, bodes well, I think.

I think that Pam Byrnes running for that office bodes well, too, because the Western Washtenaw part of this district love Pam Byrnes. She’s been representing folks here and serving folks here for a long time and she’s got a lot of loyalty. That’s going to help, I think, get Democrats out to vote. And that’s going to help me. And Gretchen’s going to help me. Gretchen’s done a great job representing people and I think that’s going to motivate people to vote.

So let’s talk about your background. What prompted you to run for office? I know that you’re an attorney. What got you into politics?

Well, I’m an advocate at heart. I always have been. I’m not a fence sitter and people need a voice.

I’m a litigator but less than 1% of all civil litigation cases go to trial. That means that we have to sit across from our opponents and come up with a compromise that everyone can live with. I believe that that’s a skill that I have honed over 25 years. I realize that you aren’t going to persuade the tea party. But, if you can’t get the moderate Republicans to stand up for something…

Somebody who doesn’t feel like compromise is a dirty word…

Yeah. Then you can get some stuff done.

That’s the big challenge in the state Senate, right? Where Republicans have a super majority.

Sure. Anyway, I was born and raised in Michigan. I was born in Dearborn at Oakwood Hospital. When I was two we moved to Commerce Township. I grew up on a tributary of the Huron River which is why I’ve always been an environmentalist. I spent all my summer days swimming and bike riding.

My mom still lives in the house that I grew up in. I went to Walled Lake schools and then went to Olivet College in Eaton County. I taught preschool, taught Headstart for three years in inner-city Lansing and I think that’s where my social justice bent developed. And then I decided that … well they were paying us poverty level. They were paying us so poorly that they were forgiving our student loans for every year that we taught. But it was poverty level.

During that time I met a friend that told me I should go to law school. I went and checked it out and then went to law school. When I got out of law school I went into practice with the two gentlemen that I’m now partners with and I’ve been there for 25 years.

So, what possessed you to run? You said you wanted to run four years ago?

It’s just that I’m not a fence-sitter. I feel like you have to be involved and you have to give back to your community. Because I am an advocate, I feel like I could get in there and make some change. It might be naive as hell, but I feel like I needed to do something.

What particular issues are you focused on?

What I have been telling people on the campaign trail is that climate change is critical. The environment is critical. If we don’t protect the environment nothing else matters because we won’t be here. But public education is dire straits. If we don’t elect a new Governor and take control of one of the chambers of the state legislature, we won’t recognize public education in four years. Gov. Snyder is walking in lockstep with the DeVos family to privatize education. End of sentence. There’s no disputing it. You can’t have a democracy if you don’t have a good public education system. So public education is a big one.

I like to say that the straw that broke the camel’s back – you know my opponent raises camels…

Wait. No. I didn’t know that.

It’s true. If you go to his Facebook page, all he posts is “Woot woot it’s Hump Day.”

Anyway, the straw that broke the camel’s back was last fall when the state legislature was debating whether or not they were going to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the headline of our local paper read, “Senator Hune finds Medicaid expansion nauseating”. I was furious. I was FURIOUS. How can you find it nauseating for Americans to have access to health care? That just infuriates me. Anyone who thinks like that infuriates me.

Two days later I just happened to get a call from somebody in the County Party who asked me if I would run and I said, “You caught me on the right day because I am so upset about this thing.” You know, I know people who can’t afford to get healthcare. In the richest country in the world? Really? Access to affordable healthcare is not a constitutional guarantee?

I think the other thing that helps me, Chris, is that he has seriously underestimated the seriousness of my campaign. Until the candidate forum in September, he didn’t take me seriously. He only just started canvassing in Washtenaw County. He had a team down in Chelsea last week and that’s the first I’ve heard of him being here. And keep in mind, people in Chelsea are very much against the new mine that’s being proposed. So I am happy to let them know that Joe Hune voted against local control in the legislature, not just once, but TWICE.

Joe Hune was also the Senator that introduced an amendment to a recent bill that effectively made it illegal for Tesla Motors to sell their cars in Michigan, right? That was clearly an effort to protect the dealerships.

He’s not protecting the dealers because he cares about the dealers or the auto industry. He’s protecting dealers because his wife lobbies for them and they contribute to his campaign. He’s not protecting union workers here. He couldn’t care less about union workers. I’m open to an honest debate about how we can bring in competition and still protect labor and union jobs. But, at the end of the day, we have to have competition. That is what capitalism is. But let’s not pretend that Senator Hune is protecting union jobs because he couldn’t care less about union jobs.

It’s the dealers and the only reason he cares about the dealers is because they’ll right him a check.

He’s gotten something like $14,000 from them over the past few years. What’s amazing to me is how cheap these guys are bought off. When I say “$14,000”, I mean ONLY $14,000! It doesn’t take much to buy their vote.

His big shill is the insurance industry in terms of the contributions. If you look at the contributions from insurance companies, probably 70% of his contributions come from insurance PACs. He’s a huge shill for the insurance industry. Keep in mind, he’s the head of the House Insurance Committee. So, he votes with them. Like with the “rape insurance” law. That was nothing more than a giveaway to the insurance companies that can now sell a separate policy for something they were already providing. It’s like the motorcycle helmet law. That’s just a giveaway to insurance companies, too. They have to buy extra insurance for the same coverage that they probably already had for a lower price. Neither of these things protects lives. Neither of these things creates jobs. It’s just an insurance company giveaway.

Joe Hune is big on insurance and, well, we’re hoping that they’ll employ him next year. [laughs]

How is the final week of GOTV (get out the vote) looking?

We have got something like 39 canvassing volunteers just in Livingston County which is huge. They’ll all be converted to GOTV in the final weekend.

Any other issues that you’re focused on?

Fixing the roads. You know, Livingston County is 83rd of 83 counties in terms of getting money back from our gas tax. I mean it’s like Third World there. My comment to voters when I talk to them on the doors is, “So how long have you been represented in Livingston County by Republican politicians?” Decades. We’ve been kicking the can down the road on road repairs for decades, we’ve been 83rd out of 83 counties since the system was set up in the 1950s. We’ve been the fastest growing county in the country for decades. We have been growing by leaps and bounds. We’re not the sleepy little agricultural community that we were in the 1950s. Why haven’t your representative had a clue about trying to change the funding priority?

So what would you do? What are thoughts on how that gets fixed?

Well, I would start lobbying my peers to say Livingston County can’t continue to be 83rd out of 83 counties. I understand that someone gotta be. But, if you’re going to allocate resources to where the population is, we aren’t in it? There are counties in the U.P. that get more road funding returned to from their gas tax than we do.

In terms of the bigger picture of road funding, in general, what do we have to do?

We have to raise revenue. And I say that when I’m talking to people at the doors. I say the dirty little secret is that we have to raise revenue. Republicans are going to tell you that on November 5th [the day after the election].

The most frightening policy that my opponent has announced during this campaign is that he thanks we can cut community mental health to fund the roads. That is dangerous policy.

And it will be tie-barred to a bill that loosens gun regulations…

Exactly. It’s nonsense. We have to raise revenue. We have to be honest about it and then we have to get everyone at the table and decide what’s the fairest way to do it.

Now, my opposition to just raising the gas tax is two or threefold. Number one, we already have the third or fourth highest gas tax in the country. So, that’s not very inviting.

Number two, the working poor drive the most miles to work and they tend to drive older, less fuel efficient cars on the road because they can’t afford to buy a Prius or some other high mileage car. So, it disproportionally affects the poor.

Number three, seniors tend to drive bigger cars that are less fuel efficient, as well. So it disproportionally affects them.

I’m not opposed to raising registration fees. I’m not opposed to toll roads but what are we going to do while we’re getting those built. Then we’d have to go and condemn all these properties… I mean this is process. You can’t just go and throw up a toll road. So what are you going to do in the meantime?

I think we need to have an honest conversation about expanding the sales tax to luxury services. You know, I’m a skier. I got up north and pay $70 for a lift ticket and if I can pay $70 for a lift ticket, I can pay $4.20 in sales tax. It’s not going to deter me from skiing. Bowling. When I get my hair colored. When I get a pedicure. We pay no sales tax on any of that. Those are all things that we choose because our lifestyle and our bank account allows us to choose those things.

We have to at least have a conversation about that. But the last time they tried to expand the sales tax was under Governor Granholm and they started recalling people because of it. But it made the most sense. It was the fairest way to raise revenue because you have some choice in whether you get your hair colored or whether you go skiing of golfing, bowling. Your movie tickets. There’s no sales tax on your movie tickets.

Anything other issues you’re focused on?

Well, education, of course.

With regard to education, what specifically do you think we need to do that we’re not doing now or that we need to change from what we’re doing now?

We need to stop funding for-profit charter schools. That’s just insane. Our tax dollars, millions and millions of dollars going into private corporations. We can’t elect the board. We don’t get to see their financial statements. And, oh, by the way, they’re failing. We’ve got to stop it.

I was at a forum with state Reps. Adam Zemke and Jeff Irwin and Gretchen Driskell and Jeff Irwin was pointing out that these cyber charters, the actuarial calculations for what they actually spend on education is something like $1,300 a kid. They’re getting the same per-pupil funding as the brick and mortar schools. So what’s happening with the other $6,000? It’s going right into a shareholder’s pocket. That’s just not right.

Finally, we have to get rid of Proposal A. That’s just been a failure. They predicted it was going be a failure. The economists that looked at the proposal before it was passed predicted it would be a failure…

In terms of how we fund the schools?

Yeah. It’s not a stable funding calculation.

Well, good luck with your race.

I know I’m the long-shot candidate and I know nobody thinks we can win but I think we have a shot at it.

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