Four years ago, a pair of candidates who were largely unknown to most of Michigan ran for governor. The Democratic candidate, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, was trounced by Republican Rick Snyder, a venture capitalist and former Gateway Computer CEO.
Snyder won a lot of support from Independents and Democrats by running as a moderate political outsider, calling himself “one tough nerd.” He trounced Bernero 58-39 percent.
Fast forward four years, and the political landscape has changed. Five weeks before the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election, Snyder has established a public policy record of being even more to the right of former Gov. John Engler. Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, endorsed by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, has made some remarkable advances in the polls, with the last few earlier this month showing him tied or ahead of Snyder. With Snyder’s signature under a 2012 right-to-work law, organized labor in Michigan has been buoyed by the recent positive polling for Schauer a card-carrying Laborers Union member – and is focused on getting out the vote of Michigan’s union members, in order to make Snyder a one-term nerd.
“Why is incumbent millionaire Rick Snyder slipping in public opinion polls?” asked AFL-CIO President Karla Swift. “One likely reason is that his first major act as governor was to push a lopsided overhaul of Michigan’s tax law. Retirees got hit with a new pension tax; working families lost major tax credits, and we’re all paying a higher state income tax.
“Snyder used these tax hikes on the middle class — plus $1 billion in cuts from state education funding — to pay for a $1.8-billion tax cut for corporations.”
Implementing that tit-for-tat $1.8 billion increase on pensioners and $1.8 billion tax cut for businesses was one of Snyder’s first acts after taking office. It infuriated pensioners – but nothing stirred up the hornet’s nest like Snyder’s December 2012 signature on a right-to-work law for Michigan. More than 10,000 labor union members and supporters descended on the state Capitol Building in Lansing to protest the vote, and the complete lack of public comment when it was passed.
Snyder later said signing the right-to-work law was “absolutely” the right thing to do, even though no one in his administration has even tried to argue that the law has created a single job in Michigan. And earlier this month, Snyder argued that his tax cut was aimed at small and medium sized businesses. “That helps generate more jobs, and that’s the fairer answer,” said Snyder. “That’s the tax reform that really happened. It wasn’t about big business. I wiped out their tax credits. They have a higher rate than individuals.”
Lonnie Scott, executive director of the Progress Michigan a liberal advocacy group, said the governor was trying to “whitewash” his history of consistently putting “the well-being of corporations and his CEO cohorts above the interests of Michigan families. “Whether he’ll admit it or not,” he told MLive, “Gov. Snyder cut education funding and increased taxes on families and seniors so he could pay for a massive corporate tax giveaway.”
Schauer said if elected, he will support an attempt to repeal right-to-work, reverse the tax hike on pensioners and tax cut on businesses, and restore unemployment compensation to 26 weeks of benefits, after Snyder and the Republican Legislature permanently reduced benefits to 20 weeks. “As governor I will value the labor movement and all that it’s done to lift the middle class,” Schauer told’s Detroit Labor Day audience.
A Battle Creek native, Schauer has served in the Michigan House and Senate, and a single term in Congress. A bit of an unknown outside of Calhoun County, Schauer wasn’t given much of a chance to defeat Snyder. But Snyder, with right-to-work, the tax cut for business and the extensive use of the dictatorial Emergency Financial Law on his resume, has proven to be one of the most polarizing political figures in recent history in Michigan. That has cost Snyder, at least so far, in the public opinion polling.
“Democrats have made a good case out of the fact, or disputed fact, that a lot of what Snyder and the Republican majority in the Legislature have done has helped upper-income people the most,” said Bill Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics to MLive. “And the tax on pensions is a factor. It’s definitely an issue.” Ballenger added: “If (Snyder) continues to just tread water or act like all he has to do is be governor, I think he’s going to have real problems on Nov. 4.”
Said Republican pollster Mark Shields to MLive: “Schauer has been able to bring Democrats together, and given the fact this is a Democratic state, it’s not surprising that this race is a dead heat. I always thought the race would close as Schauer became better known amongst the Democrats.”
Nolan Finley, of the conservative Detroit News’ editorial page, wrote a July 31 column that the “gov’s race shouldn’t be this close.” Noting Schauer’s “thin” resume and lack of name recognition, Finley complained that “allowing Schauer to hang so close is risky for Snyder — and potentially expensive. That narrow lead will catch the attention of national Democratic donors, particularly labor unions who would love to topple a governor who signed right to work.”
Which brought the following from pundit Jack Lessenberry of the Metro Times:
“Last week, the fact that Michigan voters aren’t so wild about Ricky aggravated Nolan Finley, editor of the slavishly pro-Snyder Detroit News editorial page. “Nothing explains the polls, except for a Michigan culture that still resists and resents change, even when it works,” he huffed.
“Well, gee. I wonder if Finley might have forgotten a few things. Like the fact that this governor taxed pensions and cut aid to education to give businesses a huge tax break that has, as of yet, failed to create jobs. Did he overlook that this governor participated in the ramming through of right-to-work legislation in less than a day, after saying that was “not on my agenda?”