Shri Thanedar Talks State Government

‘I want to shut down for-profit charter schools’

The original interview was conducted in Ann Arbor on Feb. 27, 2018.

EVAN CARTER: Hi, my name is Evan Carter. I’m a reporter with Michigan Capitol Confidential. Today, I’m joined by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar. Thank you for being with us today.

SHRI THANEDAR: Evan, thank you. I appreciate it.

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CARTER: So, first, help us get to know you, Mr. Thanedar. What brought you to Michigan, and what do you love most about this state?

THANEDAR: Well, I came to Michigan, first time, in 1982. I got a job offer at the University of Michigan as a post-doctoral scholar. I had just gotten my Ph.D. in chemistry, and I got a job paying me $12,000 a year. And Michigan is important because Michigan is where I dreamed about my American dream, and when I came back to Michigan in 2010 to restart my business, after having lost it in the Great Recession, Michigan allowed me to do my comeback. And so I owe a lot to Michigan, and the reason I’m running for governor is to give back, help, for what Michigan has done for me.

CARTER: So, every year the state of Michigan gives about $1 billion in its general fund revenue to select businesses in specific tax credits, and last year they passed two additional tax credit packages. Do you believe this was a good idea, or do you think it was a bad idea?

THANEDAR: I think it’s not a good idea, because the last seven years what we have seen Rick Snyder, governor, has done, is give away these hundreds of millions of dollars of money to big corporations. Now the big corporations do not have their loyalty to Michigan. When these incentives are given, companies come to Michigan, the political leaders get a photo-op, and then, after a while, they close the shop, and those jobs are lost and nobody knows about it. I think we — I call these “Band-Aid solutions.” What I need, and what we need, is a fundamental change, and that can only happen if we invest in people, meaning we help people acquire career and technical skills and vocational skills. So once we have a skilled workforce, companies will come to Michigan and set up a shop. And they won’t move, because they have good workers.

CARTER: Another issue you would have to deal with, or any future governor would have to deal with, is criminal justice.

THANEDAR: Yes.

CARTER: What do you think is the biggest issue in criminal justice, and is there something specific that you would like to reform?

THANEDAR: There is a lot that can be done. Our prison systems are broken. We spend over $2 billion in prisons. I would start with decriminalizing marijuana. And I would expunge, and pardon, any nonoffenders that are in the prison for small-marijuana possession charge. We spend 40-some thousand dollars per prisoner, while we’re spending $9,000 per student in our education system. And that just don’t make sense. We need to work on eliminating privatization of our prison services. That has not paid well. It hasn’t saved any money for us, and it only ended up lowering the quality of service.

I would also focus on diversity training, because more than normal, disproportionately higher percentage of people of color get arrested, get charged, and a lot of that has to do with diversity training, sensitivity training, training to health care workers, training to law enforcement. So there’s a lot that can be done.

And finally, I want to eliminate gun access to domestic abusers. I would like to make a registry of all domestic abusers, and make sure that they never get access to guns.

CARTER: In 2008, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the renewable energy portfolio standard, which was expanded in 2016 by Gov. Snyder. And what this portfolio standard does is it says that Michigan’s electric companies must get 15 percent of their electricity from what the state deems as “renewable energy.” Was this a good idea to mandate this, or was this a bad idea?

THANEDAR: Oh, it’s a great idea. And I’m a scientist. I have a Ph.D. in chemistry. And my focus is on environment. I have made a pledge to not accept a single penny from the fossil fuel industry. We have a beautiful state, and we need to protect the natural resources that we have in Michigan. Renewable energy is future. And we must focus on renewable energy, we most focus on everything we can do to increase that, and we need to build more tax incentives for people to use solar energy, more renewable energy, and that will keep our environment clean, and in the long term, that will lower our energy cost.

CARTER: Another thing that the governor would have to deal with is the consumer electricity prices. Now according to the government agency that tracks American energy use, Michiganders pay the highest consumer energy prices in the Midwest. What would you do to address that?

THANEDAR: Well again, in general, corporations get away with a lot in Michigan. We have seen the influence of corporate special interest. We have seen the influence of consumer energy companies onto our politicians. If you look at the money that has been donated to the lawmakers, or the attorney general, or governor candidates, we see a lot of money coming from consumer energy. And we need to break this vicious cycle. Our politicians, and our government, needs to be freed of corporate corruption. And again, I have taken a pledge not to accept a single penny from corporate special interest. And we need to hold our corporations accountable. We need to hold them accountable so that they don’t take advantage of people, especially poor people, and we need to hold them accountable for following the regulations, and can only do that if our politicians are not beholden to big corporations.

CARTER: If you were governor, and a income tax cut was placed on your desk to lower the income tax rate back to 3.9 percent, would you sign it?

THANEDAR: I would not sign it, but I would reform our tax structure. What I believe what we need is a graduated tax structure. The working poor, the lower middle class, the middle class cannot pay any more taxes. They have been overburdened. So I want to reorganize our tax to a progressive, graduated tax structure, and I want to make sure that the corporations pay their fair share. I want to make sure the rich and the ultra-rich pay their fair share, and for us to do that, we are going to need a constitutional amendment, and I will work tirelessly to bring tax fairness in Michigan.

CARTER: What would you say are some government policies right now that make life more difficult for low-income residents?

THANEDAR: Well, you know, taxing, like taxing pension, like retiree pension was taxed by Rick Snyder. Our auto insurance rates are highest in the nation. We are probably the third-highest auto insurance rate. So our no-fault auto insurance needs to be fixed. Last week, I had two flat tires as I was on my way to a debate, and I just barely made it because I left the car there to be towed away, got a Uber, and got to my debate just in time. But you know, people are — our road conditions — roads are terrible in Michigan. Our bridges need repair.

We have, you know, lead lines in Saginaw, in Detroit, not just Flint. And there is, northern Michigan, many people don’t have broadband insurance – uh, broadband internet. So there is just so much that we need to invest in our state, and in state’s infrastructure, and that’s going to take a lot of money, and we’re gonna need to do that.

CARTER: So what do you believe is the biggest issue facing Michigan right now?

THANEDAR: Many issues. Many problems. I’m a problem-solver, and Michigan needs a problem-solver like me at this stage, but I want to be known as the education governor. Our education has slipped from top ten in the nation to in the thirties. We need to put more money into our education. We need to respect our teachers as the professionals that they are. We need to pay them well. We need to have more support staff in our schools. I want to shut down for-profit charter schools because I believe no one should be profiting from our public schools. So once we make our schools stronger, our communities will be stronger. I want to make career and technical education, I want to make vocational skillset learning free of cost, so people can acquire those skills, and then they can get good-paying jobs. So again, we need to put people over corporate profits. We need to invest in acquiring skills for people, and that’s the only way we can take our state to the next level.

CARTER: Well Mr. Thanedar, thank you so much for being with us today.

If you would like to see more interviews like this, we’ll be doing a number of interviews with candidates for governor in the next couple of months. For more news on policy and politics in Michigan, we invite you to visit micapcon.com, or look us up on Facebook.

This is the third interview in a series of five interviews with Michigan gubernatorial candidates we will be releasing throughout May and June. In addition to this interview with Shri Thanedar, we also interviewed Republican State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, Dr. Jim Hines, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette, all Republicans. Michigan Capitol Confidential reached out to Democrats Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, businessman Bill Cobbs and former State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer but was unable to secure interviews with them.


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Whitmer Education Plan Trips Over Charter Schools

Bill Schuette Talks State Government

Brian Calley Talks State Government

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Detroit Prep is a top-rated and economically and racially diverse charter school in the city. It's growth means it needs to move out from a church basement and into a new location. Nearby is a former Detroit Public Schools building, sitting empty for years. But, worried about competition, the public school district refused to sell. For years, district and local government officials in Detroit had worked to block public charter schools. They pushed legislation at the Michigan Capitol to hinder them, refused to sell to them, transferred surplus buildings from the district to the city government and imposed deed restrictions on property sales to private developers. All of it was aimed to hinder or even prevent charter school choice outside the confines of the Detroit school district.

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