GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has waved off another offer to debate Dem challenger Mark Schauer, saying he’s too busy to take time to get on the same stage with the man who wants his job.
After all, he’s got the state of Michigan to run.
Schauer’s challenge came May 28, a few hours after reading two polls commissioned by Detroit media that showed more than 42 percent of Michigan voters couldn’t put his name to his face, and he was trailing Snyder badly among voters who said they were familiar with him.
The Democrat has asked twice, and hopes he won’t have to ask again. But it doesn’t sound like Snyder is ready to accept the offer.
The Schauer campaign first mailed a letter to Snyder campaign manager Kyle Robertson May 19 inviting the governor’s team to discuss specific terms for debates.
Snyder did worse than turn down the debate challenge. He ignored it.
“Voters deserve an opportunity to hear from both candidates directly about our respective visions for Michigan,” said Schauer.
The former Battle Creek congressman called for the first debate to take place in August, the second in September, and the final two in October, with at least one debate televised statewide on Michigan’s PBS affiliates.
Schauer also proposed one debate between the candidates for lieutenant governor.
“I believe five debates, including at least one between our running mates, will help voters make informed choices this November. We look forward to working with Governor Snyder’s campaign to finalize a debate schedule in the coming weeks.”
The Detroit News reported Snyder was a little more than his usual noncommittal self when questioned by reporters about the idea of a series of debates.
Snyder explained he was “quite busy” and “fairly active being governor,” and said it was much too early in the primary season for a debate, even though neither he nor Schauer faces a primary opponent.
“So I’m going to stay focused on Detroit, transportation and important issues like that,” Snyder told reporters.
Darren Littell, the communications director of the Michigan Republican Party, said he didn’t know what Snyder and Schauer could “possibly debate because nobody has any clue of where he (Schauer) stands on the issues.”
“He has released no plan on education, no plan on jobs, no plan on the economy, no plan for the roads. Mark Schauer doesn’t have a plan to address any of the issues that Michigan voters care most about.”
Democrats strongly disagreed with that assertion during a press conference that was announced, again, only hours after the Detroit media polls were released showing their candidate had so much work to do in terms of voter recognition in less than five months.
“Mark Schauer’s plan is to focus on the middle class, education reform, repeal the tax imposed on pensions during the first year of the Snyder administration, and bring in companies that will create jobs,” said the chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, Lon Johnson.
Schauer did release a plan for educational reform in April that included reversing Gov. Snyder’s cuts to classroom funding, putting the state on a path to universal preschool, setting standards for maximum class sizes, investing in professional training and development for teachers, expanding career and technical training, and reversing cuts to Michigan’s colleges and universities.
“Investing in education is the key to building a strong economy, and helping our kids compete for high-wage, high-skill jobs,” said Schauer. “It’s time to get our priorities straight, and stop balancing the budget on the backs of our students and hardworking school employees.”
Schauer’s plan also includes proposals to restrict the use of the School Aid Fund to K-12 and preschool purposes only, make charter schools more transparent and accountable to taxpayers, and create a one-stop shop for parents to compare school performance measures.
Johnson also said he was sure Schauer would release more specifics about his policy proposals “this fall and summer.”
Littell said he agreed that would be a good idea, adding that Schauer should focus on coming up with “substantive plans to address the issues voters care about most” instead of calling for debates.
Johnson gave reporters a preview of Schauer’s attack plan during the May 29 press conference, saying that Michigan’s much-ballyhooed economic recovery has been little more than “smoke and mirrors” employed by the Snyder administration.
Michigan lawmakers were told in early May the state’s anticipated $1 billion budget surplus would actually be closer to $600 million to $700 million.
Johnson also pointed out Michigan’s unemployment rate for April was 44th in the nation and the state is 49th in the nation in job growth. U.S. job growth has been three times greater than Michigan’s.
“Rick Snyder’s policies are putting Michigan behind the rest of the country in jobs, incomes and opportunities,” said Johnson. “Families are working hard, yet wages for workers are stuck. The middle-class has always powered Michigan’s economy, and the middle-class is struggling and shrinking.”
He also said that if it wasn’t for the auto industry rebound — which Johnson said was fueled entirely by U.S. government assistance that Snyder had nothing to do with — there would not have been any job growth in Michigan during the Snyder years in office.
Democrats also took time to thank Snyder for moving closer to the Schauer position on gay rights.
The Detroit Regional Chamber and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce issued a joint statement May 29 supporting the addition of language about gender identity and sexual orientation to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act before the end of the year.
While Snyder told Crain’s Detroit Business that he hoped the legislature would take up that idea before the end of the year, he stopped short of promising to sign it into law.
A few months ago, Snyder said the gay civil rights issue “was not relevant” in Michigan. Johnson called him out on the apparent flip-flop.
“It’s great that Snyder followed Mark Schauer’s lead on the minimum wage and amending Elliott-Larsen, but he’s still wasting taxpayer dollars on a flailing campaign against marriage equality,” said Johnson
Schauer took credit the last week of May for the minimum wage increase bill that was approved by the Michigan legislature and signed into law by Snyder on May 27.
“That’s a hollow claim. He is trying to take credit for something Gov. Snyder and the Republican led-legislature did,” said Littell.
“I didn’t realize he had a vote.”