The four Democrats vying to be Michigan’s next governor each in some way supported increasing state investment in infrastructure and job training programs, and generally embraced policy positions friendly to the crowd of labor union officials and rank-and-file members at a town hall Wednesday afternoon in Warren.
Former state lawmaker and Democratic candidate Gretchen Whitmer said in order to convince people who voted for Donald Trump to elect a Democrat governor in November, she’ll support programs to address the issues Michiganders deal with everyday.
“Frustration led to the outcome of two years ago,” Whitmer said. “It’s the dinner table issues that so many Michiganders are struggling with. It is making sure our schools are preparing our children."
Similar support came from the other candidates. Businessman and scientist Shri Thanedar of Ann Arbor said that as a former small business owner, and someone who grew up in poverty, he’s sympathetic to the struggles facing Michigan families, and business owners. He said he won’t take any campaign donations from “big corporations.”
Abdul El-Sayed, candidate for governor and former director of the Detroit Health Department, said he’s got leadership experience from his time in Detroit. And he pitched his identity as a young Muslim man as a symbol of resistance to the Trump administration.
“If I’m the nominee for governor in this state, Michigan will have gone from having [helped to elect] Donald J. Trump, the biggest ‘Islamaphobe’ in the country, to two years later having elected a 33-year-old Muslim guy governor," El-Sayed said. “If you don’t think that comes with an ability to shape a conversation … then you have to think about how we move conversations in the first place.”
Bill Cobbs is a former Xerox executive who grew up in Detroit, and is also running for governor. He said his experience leading a division of a global business positions him to have the executive leadership needed to be an effective governor, and the business sense to know how to attract businesses and job-creators to the state. Cobbs also said he’s raising money to start gathering signatures for a pair of ballot proposal petitions within the next month or so.
One of the ballot proposals would create a massive state infrastructure spending and labor program he likened to the WPA programs of the New Deal. The other proposal would slowly raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $15 hourly, subsidizing the increases through Michigan’s welfare-to-work program to raise wages without pressuring businesses.
“We can’t take the minimum wage up to $15 overnight,” Cobbs said. “[That’s] not going to work. All we’re going to do is put people out of jobs.”
Wednesday’s town hall was the first of three for the Democratic gubernatorial candidates hosted by the AFL-CIO. Two more town halls are planned for February and March, focusing on different policy areas. An AFL-CIO official said the only reason no Republican candidates were invited to the town halls was because none had asked for an endorsement from the labor organization.
Don Farjardo is a business agent for the boilermakers union. He says all four candidates are qualified and mentioned good ideas. He says all four candidates hit the right note when it came to issues near to the hearts of organized labor.
“One is the prevailing wage, and the other is the repeal of right to work. Those are things that attack the construction industry, and all four candidates were right on target with it.”
All the candidates said they’d work to repeal Michigan’s right to work law, ad to protect the prevailing wage law -- which setsdetermines wages and benefits construction workers have to be paid.