Last night’s one and only gubernatorial debate between Republican Rick Snyder and his Democratic challenger Mark Schauer showed our state two very different men. While Schauer gave answers that were succinct and generally on point, Snyder came across as frantic and defensive for most of the evening.
The debate opened with a question about education funding and Schauer didn’t back down from his position that funding cuts have hurt our schools. Multiple sources have looked at the claim that Snyder took a billion dollars out of school funding and the case can be made for both sides. At the end of the day, however, all you need to do is ask a teacher or a school board member or a school principal about this to know that classrooms have taken a hit and we are NOT spending as much money in the classroom as we did prior to Gov. Snyder taking office. On the topic of for-profit charter schools, Snyder lamely said we need to raise standards on ALL schools while Schauer said, “Let me be clear: Public education should not be a profit-making venture. … It is hurting our kids.”
Schauer remained poised and calm throughout the debate while Snyder got deep into the weeds on many topics, sounding like a CPA rather than a leader. He was reduced to calling Schauer a liar at one point and used phrases like, “Let me make this simple for you,” as if the listeners were too dumb to grasp big concepts.
Given that he has had a successful career as a CEO, I was surprised that Gov. Snyder misread his audience so profoundly and didn’t manage the format better. Schauer, a veteran to debates after his time as a public servant in the state House, state Senate, and in Congress, showed himself to be a good communicator. Despite the insulting rhetoric coming from Snyder’s campaign where they claimed that “Mark Schauer lacks the intelligence to keep up with him in a format like a town hall,” he proved that he is someone who can hold his own in a town hall-style debate setting.
The fact is, Rick Snyder’s approach to things has NOT worked. The economic gains we’ve seen in Michigan are largely the result of the manufacturing sector rebounding nationally. At one point, Gov. Snyder pointed to the fact that Michigan has a better economy than Deep South states. When you are reduced to making that argument, you’ve already conceded the point.
Schauer nailed him on the senior pension tax, saying that repealing it “will be the easiest thing I do” as Governor given that it is reviled by so many on both sides of the aisle. Snyder’s response was to double down on his argument that it is a “fair tax”, an argument that won’t win him any votes among senior citizens. At one point, Schauer quipped, “The Governor is missing some columns on his spreadsheet and it’s called people.” Snyder also staunchly defended the massive pay increases he gave to some government staffers, some of whom make more money than the Governor and Lt. Governor combined.
While Schauer is taking a bit of heat from some for not having more specifics about how to deal with cities in financial crises, his first remark about it, to my mind, was the best response: “Well, first, I believe in democracy.” It should concern everyone that, in the minds of Gov. Snyder and his Republican colleagues, democracy in Michigan is expendable when it’s inconvenient. The very fact that Republicans passed a new Emergency Manager law and Gov. Snyder signed it into law just a few weeks after voters repealed the existing undemocratic law only served to emphasize their warped view about democracy in our state.
When the topic of increasing the minimum wage came up, Schauer deftly reminded the audience that Gov. Snyder had essentially co-opted his idea from months before while Snyder acted as if he had planned to raise the minimum wage all along rather than doing it to stave off an even larger increase that was slated to go on the ballot next month.
Finally, on the issue of same-sex marriage and civil rights for members of the LGBT community, Gov. Snyder once again punted, calling marriage equality “a hypothetical” and essentially saying he wanted let the courts tell him what to think. Mark Schauer was unequivocal, saying, “You are a party to opposing marriage equality in Michigan. I think that’s wrong.” He also pointed out the negative impact that Michigan’s odious ban on same-sex marriage is having on our economy.
Overall, I think Schauer won the debate hands down. He was calm, cool, and collected, made his points clearly, and attacked the Governor’s failed policies in a firm way. He understood his audience and spoke to them directly. In contrast, Gov. Snyder was frantic, sometimes shrill, and on the defensive for almost the entire hour. I and others expected him to do very well at the debate and he came up short on nearly every topic.
If you missed it, you can watch the debate here:
[Eclectameme by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]