This week, Stateside has been talking to the Democrats running for their party’s nomination for governor.
Shri Thanedar is an Ann Arbor businessman who is primarily self-funding his campaign, and he joined Stateside’s Lester Graham to discuss his stance on the issues, as well as the latest political controversies.
Listen to the full interview above, or read selected highlights below.
Let’s look at health care. You are in favor of a single-payer system. As governor, how would you accomplish your goal?
“Well, the best thing to do is to have it at a national level. And as governor, I’ll use my position to work with the Congressional delegation to make that happen at the national level. If that cannot be done, we should expand Medicare. Maybe we could start out with children that are 18 years old or younger.”
It’s still a federal program, though. I mean, you’re not going to be able to do that at the state level.
“It is, it is. But eventually, we need to work on this. Because you know, countries that are less fortunate than us are able to take care of health care of their citizens. And United States should be able to do that. People shouldn’t have to be worried about their health care. People shouldn’t have to worry that there is a catastrophic illness, they’re gonna go bankrupt.”
I want to talk to you about some of the unflattering coverage you’ve been getting from the national media. Several outlets were aghast at a photo you posted of yourself eating Popeyes chicken just before a debate of the black caucus. Why did you think that was a good idea?
“Well, look… Recent polls have shown that this has become a two-person race and now I am neck-in-neck with… ”
That doesn’t answer my question, though.
“I know, I will. So basically, what I’ve seen is since I was three points ahead in the polls, I started getting these attacks.
Look, I eat at Popeyes chicken many times and I love spicy chicken, I ate there. I don’t see a problem with that.”
You can see the optics, though. It’s a stereotypical, racist-type thing, that black people like chicken more than other people.
“Well, look, I am not a career politician. And typically career politicians spend all their lives looking good and being politically right. I live my life, I am what I am. You know, as opposed to… you know, you see all these scripted politicians that look good, and act good, and all that fakeness, and… We’re tired of it. Michiganders are tired of the career politicians. We need people that can act and make things happen.”
Do you regret posting that picture?
“No. Absolutely not.”
You describe yourself as the “most progressive” of the Democratic candidates. What have you done politically to justify that claim?
“You know, I have lived the most progressive life. I grew up in poverty. I’m the only gubernatorial candidate that knows what it feels like going to bed hungry. I did not come from privilege like my opponents have, and I have lived a progressive life and I have never paid anyone less than $15 an hour when I ran small businesses. And you know, I have been fair to my employees. I have given them health care… So, my talk is not just talking points. This is how I have lived. So, I understand how Michiganders live. Twenty-two percent of Michiganders live below [the] poverty line. Forty percent of African-American children live in poverty. And I have lived that life.”
The Detroit News ran a story about you late last month. It reported one of your former employees quit a company you own because you refused to alert federal regulators to a customer suspected of illegally spiking a male “herbal supplement” with prescription Viagra. That’s a pretty serious accusation. What’s your response to that?
“Well you know, I have a private company. I’m just like a psychiatrist or a doctor. So, if a patient goes to a psychiatrist or a doctor and talks about something, the psychiatrist don’t [sic] go and call police on the patient.”
This is a different situation than that, thought. This is something that you were analyzing, you were asked to analyze it, and you found that it was spiked with Viagra…
“Yeah, let me explain that. When the customer came to me, he had a herbal supplement. That he either was manufacturing or he was distributing. I don’t know all the details. Has he sold it? I don’t know. So he brings it to me and says, ‘Shri, analyze this. And see if you find anything bad in it.’ My lab did the analysis and it is my lab that found Viagra in that product. And then we basically told the customer, ‘Hey, if you intend to sell this, you cannot. Because there are laws about it, there are patent laws.’”
But somebody was making that and didn’t you have an obligation to tell the FDA, "This is being manufactured?"
“No! I don’t know who’s manufacturing that and basically, I’m a fee-for-service. A customer comes to me…. So next time a psychiatrist starts turning his patients in…”
You mention psychiatrists, but there are guidelines that say that. Is there a guideline that you can’t…?
“Yeah. Nobody in my industry does that. So this accusation was totally wrong, and someone was trying to again smear me because I’m up in the polls. But our industry, testing industry, this is a fee-for-service. A client comes to you, gets things analyzed, you report that to the client, and you do an analysis that’s accurate and you’re totally transparent with the customer, and we told the customer that this would be illegal if he chose to sell this. But I do not know if he’s selling it, I do not know if he’s manufacturing it. All the customer asked me to do was find out what’s in it, and I found that out, I told it, and then I expect the man to do the right thing, I expect this customer to do the right thing. But I did tell them that it’s illegal for them to sell it.”
You’ve mentioned several times now that you feel you’re being smeared because you’re up in the polls. Who do you think is smearing you?
“I don’t know. Well, some cases I have seen other candidates have published or put together flyers with their 'paid for by.' Some cases, there are text messages that have been sent out smearing me, and…”
Isn’t that part of the rough and tumble of political life?
“It is part of that, and I’m tough. And so when I entered this race, I told my family, ‘This is going to get rough. Fasten your seatbelts.’ I have a thick skin that I don’t need to wake up at 3 a.m. and tweet.
But I understand that, I expect that. But you know, I am trying to run an issue-based campaign. I just announced and put on television seven new commercials.”
Right, you’re spending $1 million in the next 60 days.
“Exactly. But every commercial, if you look at it, is issue-based. I could have used the same money to attack my opponents, but I chose not to. Because I run a clean campaign, and I am in politics not because this is what I need to make my resume look good, I’m very proud of my resume, I’m doing this because I want to change Michigan. I want to, you know, take Michigan to the next level. And so, I won’t be worried about my reelection, I won’t be worried about anything. Only thing I’ll be worried about is doing the right thing, and for that, I have taken a place not to take a single penny from corporate or special interests. And so, I’ll go there beholden to no one except the people of Michigan.”