Editor’s Note: The Michigan Daily does not officially endorse Shri Thanedar for governor. The Daily continues to reach out to other gubernatorial candidates for comments and interviews.
The Michigan Daily recently met with gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar to discuss his platform and goals for Michigan if elected governor. An Indian-born entrepreneur, Thanedar is running against former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer and University alum Abdul El-Sayed for the Democratic candidacy. The primary election is set to take place Aug. 7.
Thanedar says he is unlike any other candidate running for governor in Michigan. He doesn’t come from a family of wealth and opulence, and he doesn’t look or talk like any of the other candidates. He is an entrepreneur who came to the United States with $16 in his pocket and eventually worked to build a multimillion dollar business.
Ultimately, Thanedar argues his knowledge, work ethic and life experiences make him the candidate Michigan needs.
“I look different. I don’t look like the past governors. I’m an immigrant,” Thanedar said. “I think I’m the only immigrant that’s running for governor. I speak differently more than most people in Michigan. But my point is that say four years from now I write my State of the State address and I’m talking about taking our education to the next level, fixing the roads and we are approaching near the Top 10 … would it matter where I was born? Would it matter in what accent I said those words? That’s what I want Michiganders to remember when they go to vote on Aug. 7. Any Democrat that is ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough.”
Thanedar runs a progressive platform
If elected as the governor of Michigan, Thanedar plans to make education his top priority.
“I want to be known as the education governor Michigan never had because education is important to me,” Thanedar said. “These are not just talking points, I draw them from my experiences of life. So when I talk about education and why education needs to be improved, education was the ladder for me to pull myself out of poverty.
Thanedar also plans to increase the minimum wage, create a skilled work force and modify the tax structure.
“One of the more unusual features of my tax structure is that I will have any family that makes $50,000 or less state income tax exempt; they will not pay income tax,” Thanedar said when explaining key changes he would implement as governor. “I will raise the minimum wage to $15 and tie it to inflation.”
Working with Republicans at the state level
Thanedar says when it comes to working with people who share different viewpoints and perspectives, he is open to new ideas and willing to work with those he may not always agree with.
“Somebody who has completely opposite views from me, we start talking and I’m open to new ideas, that’s who I am,” Thanedar said. “I have very thick skin. I don’t ever tweet at 3 A.M. in the morning. I can listen to different viewpoints. I have run small businesses. I have dealt with teams; I’ve worked with teams. I’m used to this kind of openness and bouncing off things and looking at both sides of the issue, so I think I’d work well.”
Thanedar believes with his experience as a business owner he could work well with members of the Republican party at the state level.
“I think they would respect me because I’m not just talking when I talk about business, when I talk about finance, when I talk about jobs,” Thanedar said. “I’ve come from experience and I think I will get the respect that the other candidates may not get because I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a business person. When I talk about finance I understand finance. It’s not something I memorized from somewhere.”
Setting himself apart from the other Democratic candidates
Thanedar explains the role of governor is about much more than giving poetic speeches.
“Look, anybody can have a platform and anybody can memorize a speech and some of us have better oratory skills than others,” Thanedar said. “I am not a speaker; I’m a doer. I am a small-business owner. I’ve created jobs, so I am more of a person who executes things, who makes things happen.”
Thanedar explains while on the surface he might have a similar stance on several issues as his opponent, Whitmer, they are different people entirely.
“If we have similarities on issues, we are night and day apart on who we are, what kind of people we are,” Thanedar said. “What kind of life I have lived and what kind of life my opponents have lived; they both have come from privilege, they both don’t have the kind of accomplishments that I do.”
“I have lived this life”
Thanedar explains his life has prepared him for this role. Whether it was walking to the municipal tap to collect drinking water when he lived in India, coming to the United States in 1979 as an immigrant with only $16 in his pocket or sneaking into the University of Akron chemistry building with his sleeping bag during the summer months when he couldn’t afford housing and it was too hot to sleep in his car, Thanedar emphasizes he understands poverty and hardship.
“So I have experiences that the others have not experienced. So when I go and walk in the neighborhoods in Detroit and when I see people living in poverty, I understand their life and it’s not just that I sympathize, I empathize with them because I’ve been in their shoes. That is where my compassion comes in,” Thanedar said. “It’s hard to have that compassion living in a very comfortable home in Bloomfield Hills in a family income of what? $400,000? You never have to worry about college debt because your parents will pay for your education. It’s a different thing. I’m not criticizing, I’m glad that some of people have that kind of lifestyle and that privilege, but you have to live. I have lived this life and that’s where I come from. That’s where I come from and when I talk about progressive, it’s not because it’s fashionable to be progressive. I talk about progressive because I really want to overcome this inequality.”
Addressing fraud and animal abuse allegations
In November of 2017, the buyer of Avomeen, a company Thanedar launched with his son, sued Thanedar for fraudulent and misleading finances.
Thanedar said the lawsuit and the controversy over his potential fraud has no merit.
“Well, let me explain: There is no controversy. Basically, people get sued all the time, especially in the business world. I’ve been doing business for 26 years and I may have been sued like four or five times,” Thanedar said. “All of them have since been withdrawn. The current suit has no merit. I believe that I will prevail and I had plenty of opportunities to settle it but I did not because it has no merit. I’m fighting it. That’s the kind of person I am. I don’t get easily bullied and I don’t get easily intimidated. I don’t operate under fear. I’m very fearless. Growing up in poverty, that’s the one thing that I learned from my mother. When someone tried to intimidate me, especially now that I’m a candidate, I said, ‘Fine, go sue me.’”
Since the 2017 lawsuit, people have also pointed fingers at Thanedar after over 100 dogs and monkeys were recently rescued from an abandoned lab owned by Thanedar. Thanedar says the alleged animal neglect was reported inaccurately.
“There’s one reporter that has some friends in my opponent’s camp and this reporter has written like four or so articles (as a) major crusade,” Thanedar said. “A lot of that reporting is incorrect. They’ve taken some events and facts and distorted them and then my opponent then uses that information and sends out Facebook advertisements. He is advertising that some of the dogs were left to die and it is far from true. It is totally baseless and dishonest for them to do that.”
“This is what really happened: The fact and truth is that I had a pharmaceutical business that was a service business and we created medicine. Part of the innovation for new medicine is that the governor and the FDA require you to do animal research. That’s part of it. It’s not necessarily the best part of it. I had an animal facility that was used for that and then when my business got in trouble during the Great Recession, like how many businesses failed during the recession, the bank who I borrowed money from came and acquired all of my assets. They shut down that part of the business. They kept six of my animal care employees. The animals were completely taken care of.”
Despite a previous interview with The Detroit Free Press where Thanedar claimed he had no knowledge of what happened during the three month period, Thanedar said the animals were provided for by his company during the three months.
“During the three months that the animals were taken care of, the bank had sold all of my assets and they took $160,000 of my money to take care of the animals over a three-month period,” Thanedar said. “The animals were fed, they were taken care of, they were nurtured, they were groomed, medical things were taken care of.”
On current issues
With Michigan’s third grade reading scores coming in nearly dead last of the 11 states surveyed, Thanedar says education is his top priority.
“We need to start that learning very early in their life so the 3- and 4-year-olds should be able to get a good early education,” Thanedar said. “I would heavily promote that. Start the education process early, start teaching the kids reading and math skills very early and expand kindergarten education. Really, early education I think is the key, but we certainly need to invest more money in K-12. We need to invest money into people instead of just zip codes.”
Flint Water Crisis:
Thanedar explains with a doctorate in chemistry, he understands the effects of lead poisoning and has several plans to combat the crisis.
“The state did something terribly wrong to the (Flint residents) and we need to make that right,” Thanedar said. “We’re only going to do that through providing free health care and giving them some more opportunities. We need to replace the lead pipes in Flint and everywhere else. That’s the absolute minimum that we need to do. But, in general my concerns are that funding for cities and how the state distributes the revenues and the revenue distribution needs to be based on needs, not on zip codes. The heart of the Flint problem is uneven revenue distribution. The heart of that is leaving communities unattended and not cared for.”
Sexual assault on college campuses:
Thanedar says instances like the Larry Nassar scandal are symptoms of a bigger issue: Universities are acting like big corporations.
“What appears to me in MSU’s case is that their interest is higher than that of the survivors’, which is absolutely wrong and then when they got in trouble they hired (MSU President John) Engler and I think the reason they hired him was because they can get some leverage,” Thanedar said. “I never saw in MSU any kind of sincerity to address this issue. I saw no empathy there; all I saw was like a big corporation trying to protect its reputation. Our universities are more than a football program and they’re starting to act like corporations. Their role is to protect the students; their goal is to provide a good education to the students. They’ve become so institutionalized and that is the heart of this issue.”
In light of what seems to be an increase in school shootings, Thanedar explains his plans for combatting gun violence.
“The key area here is responsible governorship. We need to make sure that guns are out of the hands of people that are mentally unstable or convicted domestic abusers while protecting the rights of our citizens. I fully support (the) Second Amendment, and I support the right to bear arms,” Thanedar said. “We need to ensure that the guns are not getting into the wrong hands. Absolutely no guns in schools. I want no guns in the hands of teachers. Teachers need to teach. We need to put enough money into education and schools so that we are able to protect by using technology through card access or cameras or security or whatever it needs to be. The teachers should not have to be worrying about using guns.”
Thanedar says he not only plans to legalize marijuana use, but also expunge the records of non-violent offenders.
“I’m fully supportive of that (legalizing marijuana),” Thanedar said. “It would provide revenue for the state, which we could put into schools and roads. I think it should just be regulated like alcohol. We should have an appropriate age limit. There should be a level set like alcohol and once it’s passed, I want to expunge records of those who have been held for small possession charges, the non-violent offenders. I would find and I would use my power as the governor to pardon some of those and expunge their records so they would not be held back from healthcare education, housing.”
To read the official interview transcript click here.