Editor’s Note: The Michigan Daily does not officially endorse Patrick Colbeck for governor. The Daily continues to reach out to more gubernatorial candidates for comments and interviews.
The Michigan Daily recently met with Michigan gubernatorial candidate Patrick Colbeck to discuss his platform and goals if elected. A University of Michigan alum and state Senator, Colbeck is running against Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and medical doctor Jim Hines for the Republican candidacy. The primary election is set to take place Aug. 7, and the general election Nov. 6.
The Michigan Daily: What sets you apart from the other Republican candidates?
Colbeck: First of all, I can win the general election. I think that’s very important to know because the two candidates that are out there, Bill Schuette (and the) Progress Michigan’s headquarter where I’ll have an interview next door, they’ve had a campaign for Schuette called ‘Shady Schuette Campaign’ ever since October of last year with display stands and they’ve had brochures, they’ve had flyers, and there’s some substance to some of their claims. Lt. Gov. Calley has got a lot of damage with association with Gov. Snyder and he’s got philosophically a much different approach to governance and what Republicans usually support in the primary election and especially the general election. There’s not going to be too much enthusiasm to go get out the vote in the general election and, frankly, the Michigan Democratic Party chair talks about me being the biggest threat to the Democrats in the general election. I think that’s the biggest difference. The other difference is because of my training here at the University of Michigan. I’m an engineer so I actually solve problems. Everybody else, they’re much better speakers. I had my one technical speaking course at Michigan but that was about it. The key is people are looking for someone who can solve problems and whatever the policy issue across the board is, I’ve demonstrated that I can go into the details on any of the different policy issues that we’re facing at the state level and I can find solutions to those problems.
TMD: How will Schuette’s Trump endorsement affect your campaign strategy and how do you plan to overcome Schuette and Calley because they get a lot of media attention?
Colbeck: Yeah, they do get a lot of media attention. Well, first that’s the only thing that he’s running on. There’s no other thing Bill Schuette is running on except for his Trump endorsement. There’s no other solid policy initiatives, nothing. President Trump got some bad advice from him, because when you actually look at the polls that I’ve seen around who Trump Republicans actually support, 92 percent go with me. That’s within the margin of error. We’re pretty comfortable and you can actually see it at all the different rallies. The only time Bill Schuette shows up in support of the president is when the president is in town and there’s a lot of cameras around or when the vice president is in town and there’s a lot of cameras around. I’ve been out with the grassroots and telling everybody to make sure we have President Trump’s back and support him in policies and support him in grassroots and keeping that support for him for a prolonged time. The interesting thing is I actually helped with the Trump transition team. I was a couple of tiers below and I never met President Trump yet, but I was the one who provided all of the free market health advocates for health and human services. We did a pretty comprehensive list of people that we’ve added for those positions.
TMD: Another thing you said (at the debate) was that the voters are sick and tired of ‘politics as usual.’ How will you mix things up?
Colebeck: Well, I think just plain talk. When you talk about fixing the roads, I don’t frame the problem for 58 seconds out of a one-minute reply and then have a two second response on how to fix it. I actually spend all my time, probably talking too fast trying to squeeze it into a minute, and say, ‘Here’s the solution. Here’s how to go off and fix the roads. Here’s how to fix auto insurance.’ It’s a much different approach than the other guys and I’ve gotten people that have declared Independent or Democrat that come up and want to support my campaign because they’re tired of people with the marketing blitz and not any substance. So, the big differentiator and the way I set up is that I’ve got substance in my narrative and in my solutions. All they’ve got is the marketing pizzazz if you will. They’re not known for their marketing pizzazz.
Colbeck: One thing we need to do especially is to open the environment here in universities where it’s okay to talk about that issue because if you look at what happened with Rachael Denhollander and all, they were told to ‘Shut up’ and ‘It’s not a problem. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ So, you have to create a culture where you’re allowed to have a voice and concerns for people without being shut down. One of the reasons I’m such an advocate for campus free speech is that, while that’s a broader issue, it’s actually symptomatic of what’s happened in this case. I want to make sure we all have the ability to talk about issues that other people think are sensitive and you should be able to discuss them. The other thing is, I mean sexual assault in general, I’m a big advocate of people’s right to bear arms in self-defense. We’re actually in testimony on the ability for people to carry firearms on campuses. I highlighted, ‘What about the 18-year-old college student that is a young lady that is sitting there saying, “Hey, I need an equalizer. I got a 350-pound linebacker that’s coming after me. I got to have something that’s going to be able to defend me against somebody like that.”’ This guy actually said, ‘Well you can carry around a baseball bat’ in testimony. That’s what he said. I go, ‘I’m sorry. That’s not going to cut it.’ I think we all have the right to bear arms in self-defense. I think that one of the things you need to address are the gun-free zones. People will think twice about if they’re going off and assaulting somebody that’s armed.
TMD: As a follow-up question on campus free speech that you were talking about, especially within the past year there’s been a lot with Richard Spencer trying to speak on campus and other conservative versus liberal atmospheres. There’s also a current federal lawsuit going on right now regarding the Bias Response Team at the University. It cited that a lot of conservative students on campus feel uncomfortable, so what do you think of that?
Colbeck: Thankfully, I was on the engineering campus and didn’t have to deal with a lot of this since we’d just focus on formulas. One of the reasons I got involved with the campus free speech conversation was with what was happening with the Black Lives Matter discussion I was on about a year back. What happened is that they wanted to have a debate on the issue: Is it being helpful to race relations or hurtful? They got shouted down for even having that opportunity to discuss that issue. The First Amendment was put in place not to protect people from things that they don’t like to hear. There’s no First Amendment to keep someone from saying, ‘I love you,’ right? You need it for having these adult conversations on some other topics. Right now, there’s a lot of shutdowns. Have you read 1984 by George Orwell? As an engineer — but believe or not I didn’t read it until about a year and a half ago. I’ll tell you that I think the timing was fortuitous. When you actually read it in context of some of the stuff that’s happening today, it really is a case of universal deceit and the act of telling the truth is seen as a revolutionary act. That is really happening today and when people are talking about sensitive issues, the immediate response nowadays is name-calling and trying to shout somebody down. I think we owe people a higher call and actually have that adult conversation, a civil dialogue on those topics, especially on a University. That’s what we’re supposed to have: free exchange of ideas.
TMD: Can you give some specific examples of how you will address gun violence in schools. How do you think the hardening of schools will change the role of teachers and the schools themselves?
Colbeck: This is the tough part because back in the bicentennial 1976, I visited Philadelphia with my parents, went to Independence Hall and went to the Liberty Bell. Back then I could walk up to the Liberty Bell (and) put my hand on it. I could go up in Independence Hall (and) climb up into the rafters. Here we were at the birth place of freedom and I could do anything I wanted to do. Just a few years ago I went to Philadelphia on a contract for work and it’s surrounded by armed security guards. To get to the Liberty Bell you have to go through three metal detectors, and we’ve kind of battened down the hatches and the birthplace of freedom all the sudden now (monitored). We’re trying to wrap everybody into a plastic bubble wrap. It’s kind of, the trend line is not good. When you look at schools, there’s some things you can do to harden the schools. I actually started a fund back in 2014 for school safety grants where if schools wanted to come in and harden their schools, there’s a method for going off and doing that. Some of the most effective techniques I’ve seen for some of the teachers frankly was this guy had a three quarter-inch drill bit, put a hole in the floor and then bought a $10 piece of rebar so you can’t open the door to that classroom and it worked just fine. But overall those school safety grants are just kind of life placeholders. They just kind of do some common sense stuff so you’ve got one point of entry and you know who’s coming into the building and who’s leaving. Ultimately, though, the way to solve it is to get rid of gun-free zones because these bad guys, these psychopaths that come into these environments, they’re counting on nobody being able to fire back. And I’m not saying arm the teachers, I’m just saying allow the teachers to arm themselves and the administrators and parents if they visit. … We have this fundamental Second Amendment right in our U.S Constitution. We have a fundamental right in the Michigan Constitution article in section six to defend ourselves. So there’s two different approaches on this, right? One of them is you can ratchet down all our freedom in society and wrap everyone into this plastic bubble wrap and nothing ever happens to them but nothing good ever happens to them either. Or you can go off and say, ‘No. Each individual has the right to defend themselves.’ It’s a much more local control type of issue and I bias it towards the Constitutional freedom side.
TMD: Do you have similar ideas for gun violence outside of schools, especially with the shooting in Maryland yesterday?
Colbeck: Yes. Exactly. Same thing. You have an example of another gun-free zone, so everybody’s trying to figure who’s going to defend me. Well, ultimately, I mean this is what you have when you have a society that is focused more on promoting dependence upon government as opposed to independence. …The bigger picture issue is that everybody is counting on somebody else to take care of something that they can take care of themselves.
TMD: Talking a little bit more about schools, but looking at a different aspect: What are you looking to replace common core with and what specific tactics will you implement to fix education in Michigan?
Colbeck: Yeah, there’s a lot going on with that one. Well, the bill that I put forth was to replace to replace the common core standard in Michigan for Math and ELA – English Language Arts – with the pre-common core Massachusetts’ standards for Math and Language Arts. Those were the top standards in the country. And as far as how to improve the education system, number one is we need to get an appreciation for how education is designed, so I’m going to get a little engineering-ish on this. So there’s kind of a five-layer cake on education. You have the standards bone connected to the assessment bone connected to the curriculum bone connected to the course materials and lesson plans, right? So the bottom three have always been within the domain of local control. It’s curriculum, you know the local school board (members) go off and figure out what the curriculum is. When I was going to school, we had no such thing as a statewide assessment. We didn’t have it. I took a California test or an Iowa test and so you don’t necessarily need this statewide assessment or the standard. Now I understand why they put it out there. They say at the state, ‘We are investing over $12 billion in education. We want have some measure of the quality and such here.’ But the only problem with that is it’s not the state that should be measuring the quality of it, it should be the individual parent. And so if you’re in a school choice environment and if they see value in taking their student to a specific institution, they’ll take them to that school. If they don’t, they’ll take them to another school and the money is going to follow with them. That is a competitive environment, so I’m a passionate advocate for school choice because I believe it not only helps parents and helps empower parents to take their student where they need to take them, but that competition – I’ve already seen it happen in my district already – actually forces the traditional public schools to up their game. And when they up their game, then the charter schools up their game and it creates this real competition and its working in our area so I think that competition part is very important.
Another aspect of it is, I want to make education a lifelong endeavor, not something that is just focused on pushing everybody into higher education. Even when I was at Michigan I realized that there were certain skill sets I did not have in engineering. I still remember from a theory, from a practical perspective I designed the best robot arm out of anybody in my engineering class, but I could not for the life of me machine it to speck. I developed an appreciation for skilled trades. People have different skills. Some people are skilled with their hands. Some people are more skilled with their head, and I learned my hands were not that good on this. So I want to make it so that we have an opportunity for everyone to promote lifelong education, whether or not they want to go onto skilled trades, whether or not they want to go into higher ed, whether or not they change their career idea at the age of 40 and still have some money in the bank and say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to be a doctor anymore. I want to be a plumber.’ Whatever the case may be. I have something called an Enhanced Michigan Education Savings Program; it’s legislation that I passed out of the senate, passed out of the House of Education Policy Committee. It’s now sitting on the House floor and what that would do is open the door to additional funding and additional control for the customers of education, which are the parents or actual students. It also provides more transparency on how much money we spend on education. So we have more money, more transparency and we get the parents more education; that’s everything that the American Federation of Teacher says they want in education but they oppose this legislation because for them it’s more about control, and if you ever want some fun listening, go watch their testimony when they testified against legislation that did everything that they said they wanted.
TMD: Schuette talks about grading the schools A through F. What do you think about that? Would the state hold the schools accountable in that way?
Colbeck: I’m okay with score cards. There’s some multifaceted score cards that address everything from achievement to growth to economic environment, but there is a little bit of an issue because that grade is tied to a statewide assessment. In order to do some of these things like the Teacher Tenor Reform, all this implies a need for a certain infrastructure that may or may not be good so a state-wide assessment is needed for that A through F system. Now, ultimately, the customer decides what the quality is and my concern – I support an A through F if it’s multifaceted. I don’t support an A through F if it’s just a ranking, because that doesn’t have multifaceted breakouts on it and I want a separate letter grade for each one of all those different areas. So, ultimately, you’re putting that grade out there to inform the parents, help them make a better decision. It’s kind of like a crash rating on a vehicle: “I want a five-star rating, a four-star rating.” Whatever the case may be. In this case, the growth may be more important than the achievement for some parents because maybe they’ve got a student that’s falling behind. If they send them into a high achieving environment, maybe they might not get the attention they need. In other words, all the questions that a parent would ask before sending their student, that’s what I would want reflected in that grade. If it’s just a composite grade, I don’t think that gives the parents the information they need to go off and make a good decision about where to send their kid to school.
TMD: How would you implement your “no state income tax” resolution? Where would you draw the funds for that while still addressing issues like poor road conditions?
Colbeck: The first thing to understand is that our budget in the state has increased from $46.8 to $56.8, $56.6 billion in just 10 years. So the gap that is created if you eliminate the state income tax is about $9.7 billion net difference. So already you’re seeing that if I were to just cap and freeze the spending at the previous level, we’re already in the ball park of eliminating the state personal income tax. But having said that, it’s not a matter of one bill being introduced and then saying that, “Oh, you just lost $9.7 billion.” No, I would set up specific expense reduction milestones based on the following entries – and there’s a lot of them so it’s not just one thing. So there’s 16 different departments and agencies that as a governor you have an opportunity to influence all of them, as a state senator you’re lucky to influence one of them at a time as a committee. Start with Medicaid – it’s the single biggest line item in the state budget and I’ve identified a way to actually cut Medicaid expenses while improving the quality of care. It’s through something called Direct Primary Care. We’ve actually got a pilot kicking off on that on July 1. It’s an opportunity to save 20 percent on an $18 billion line item and that’s $3.6 billion against that $9.7. And everybody, as soon as you start saying you’re going to cut it based on Medicaid and you’re going to take it out on the poor, no. We’re actually getting the poor better care. We’re actually getting rid of the scarlet ‘M’ that a lot of Medicaid recipients see. They can’t get access to a primary care physician. Now, we’re giving them an opportunity to get to a primary care physician which will help keep them out of the hospital and out of the chronic illnesses. It’s a win across the board. The only people that lose out are hospitals. And guess where I’m getting the opposition?
So the other thing is looking at economic development. We talked about that last night in the debate as well. So right now we spend about a billion dollars of our state budget toward Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan Strategic Fund. Those funds invariably are paid out to very large businesses, the one’s that can get the ears of the power broker up in Lansing. The threshold I think for the so-called Gilbert Bill’s transformational brownfield credit bill is about 3,000 employees they had to go off and promise somebody. That’s a different way to go off and incentivize economic development. Mine is to get the government out of the middle of all this. And I pursue what I call broad based economic fulfillment attendant. Nobody has to fill out any paperwork to tell them how many jobs they’re going to provide. What you do is you eliminate the barriers to creating more jobs and lowering the cost of business operations, which the most straight-forward way of doing that. Cutting regulations and other things like that help as well. So (you do this) instead of taking a billion dollars out of the taxpayer’s wallet and using it to go off and pay friends and family that are friendly to you in political campaigns, which is a serious issue we want to bring up. You know Mackinac Center did that analysis (of) Bill Schuette; 100 percent of the time a bill came up to go off and subsidize a corporation, he voted in favor of it. Ninety-five percent of the time, Brian Calley did. I have the best record of any senator in over 20 years at 3.5 percent and the majority of that was for a company that wasn’t even my district but they said that if we don’t pass this bill – it was for a company that bought another company and assumed that they would have the tax credits that the old company had and if they didn’t get that they would have immediately fired all the people that they had. So I want to prevent it at the point of entry so I say, ‘No, this shouldn’t be an incentive to bring them here to the state.’ But if they’re already here and they’re already giving that expectation I don’t want to take that away. So anyway, I was at 3.5 percent compared to them and I was at least 20-25 percent better than the next senator over two decades. So I’ve got a different philosophy on economic development. So we’ve cut it from the $3.6 now we’ve got another billion against the $9.7.
There’s something called sales tax fraud. Have you ever heard of a zapper? For cash transactions, what they have is this little device you can put on your cash register and it’s called a zapper and it’s more sophisticated nowadays because you can do it over the internet and a lot of other places. But we have some very clever thieves and what they do is when you ring up a $5 cash transaction it actually shows up as $4 cash transaction. That means you save yourself the sales tax on that dollar difference and they put that dollar into your pocket. The La Shish restaurants – I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them before – it was a restaurant chain in southeast Michigan that was caught funneling $21 million to Hamas. And they were using this sales suppression software to go off and fund that campaign and they were busted on that. It’s forecasted it’s about a billion dollars of lost sales tax revenue every single year. Without changing a law or anything, just saying we’re going to get rid of these zappers. So that’s another billion dollars. $5.6 billion against the $9.7.
If you increase the number of private sector jobs in the state by another 500,000 just like we’ve done over the last 8 years now, all the sudden we get another $9.1 billion net positive on that. Because now you’re paying less on government assistance, because people are actually working and you’ve got people paying sales tax, property tax and all that kind of stuff. That just gets it down. The rest of them are much smaller amounts to get all the way down across the finish line, but once we get into striking distance, like about $1 to 2 billion, now we get into the point where we can just eliminate it. And, by the way, everything I talked about doesn’t hurt roads, doesn’t hurt public safety, doesn’t hit schools, doesn’t hit any of the usual suspects that they throw at you when you do that. It’s just about doing government more effectively and more efficiently and goes beyond the generic waste, fraud and abuse line and gives us specific ways we can go off and drain it …I think it’s a rational approach and the big opportunity at the end of this is the fact that we have a 0 percent income tax and 6 percent sales tax we’re going to compete with some of the fastest growing states in the country that are at 0 percent and 7 percent sales tax. That’s huge. The people that we shipped out in the last decade, they’re going to be coming back home. My sister’s here today. She’s living in Florida. She got shipped out in the last decade and that’s where she found her job.
TMD: With public university tuition at schools like MSU and U of M continuing to increase, how will you address college affordability?
Colbeck: Well, a couple ways. First of all, I have that enhanced Michigan Education savings program. That had an opportunity to put additional funds from work study into high school, just like they do already at private schools like Cornerstone Schools. They’ve put about $7,000 per year per student into the education of the student. That would be a nice way to go in from a scholarship perspective into school, don’t you think? You actually get work experience in high school to go along with it, your resume. That’s one thing. The MESP helps out on the revenue side of the equation. The key thing is to zero in on the expense side of the equation. I think it’s Senate Joint Resolution P that I’ve introduced where I want the state to have more oversight over University operations, particularly around financials. Every time we try and go off and put on financial tuition restraints in the budget, the University has some of the most powerful lobbyist groups in the state government because then it goes into alumni who say it gets very contentious. You’ve got to start putting a flashlight on how they’re spending the money that we have right now. I’m convinced that it’s an expense problem; it is not a revenue problem. The inflation rate for universities is five times the rate of inflation for anything else. You can’t tell me that there’s anything unique to a university that’s driving expenses besides the fact that they can. They haven’t been pushed back upon.
I understand they’re getting half million dollar bonuses for some of the deans from the endowment funds. It’s like, that would be nice but what are they doing for that money? Frankly, I look at it as a money laundering scheme for the Democratic party. All these special positions that are out there, they give them very nice paychecks and guess who they contribute to?
TMD: Switching gears here, what is your perspective on the legalization of marijuana?
Colbeck: It’s tough. In my heart, I’m all about liberty, right? That’s not a problem. The issue is that there’s a lot of practical issues with legalization. First of all, I wasn’t thrilled about it but I was okay with the people’s initiative where they put in 2.5 ounces in possession and 12 plants for an individual. That was relatively constrained. I opposed the expansion of medical marijuana market because I knew it was going to lead to full recreational marijuana. All they’re doing is trying to put in the infrastructure for big business. There is more money being thrown around on this issue up in Lansing than any other issue. There are billions of dollars to be made by people. They’re putting out incentives in the form of shares in companies, financial incentives, big campaign contributions. It’s dirty. Part of my issue with the whole legalization push is that there’s too much money being used to influence the direction of policy. Having said that, there’s some practical issues with the recreational marijuana. Number one, federal government still sees it as a controlled substance. It’s illegal to use our banking system for it. Everything is a cash transaction. You have a billion-dollar market in marijuana and you’re going to have a lot of Brinks trucks walking around with a lot of dollar bills inside the back of them and that’s going to make it more susceptible to crime. Number two, employment. I got 31,000 job openings in my district right now. When people are not able to pass a drug test to get a job, government assistant roles are going to up. We’re going to exacerbate the economy because we’re going to have qualified people to fill jobs but they’re going to be excluded because of the drug test. That’s a serious issue.
From a freedom perspective, I’m all for it. But, when you actually look at what the practical impacts are going to be, there’s some serious concerns. Everybody talks about the revenue side again, and that’s kind of a habit in government where they only talk about income and revenue, they never talk about expenses. The expenses on government assistance when we’ve got a lot of people having to claim unemployment benefits because they can’t get a job. There’s going to be a lot of expenses and then all of the crime that will happen for carrying around wads of cash instead of just $20 or $30 at a time, which is what we had originally. It’s serious issues. But, having said that, if the people pass it, I’ll find a way to make it work in the state of Michigan. Ideally, what I’d like to see is the Feds legalize it. Then, we can use the pharmacy system to go off and provide access to it.
TMD: How will you work with people with conflicting views from you?
Colbeck: On the social studies standard, before it got all politicized in this governor’s race, I was outnumbered 20:1 in these focus groups. We got agreement on all the different issues because I started off like I do with 11 years in management consulting, so I never had the final say in anything. All I could do was say, ‘Here’s a good way of doing it. Here’s why I think it’s good,’ and then you try to encourage people to go in that direction. With the social studies standard, it started off as a simple objective that everybody could share. That is, we want to make sure that these are politically neutral and they’re accurate. We didn’t get into any of the details of what does that mean for the specific standards. We let that frame the discussion for the detailed content of the standards. That’s the way I like to work across the board is that you start with what everybody can agree on and then you measure your possible solution to the problem you’re trying to solve in context of what everybody agreed upon. It’s like an engineering trade study. There’s a lot of different ways to solve a problem. …(O)nce you put out all the different options you say, ‘Well, which one of these options best satisfies this criteria?’ I found that works almost all the time.
TMD: Is there anything you’d like to add for our readers?
Colbeck: Maybe on health care. Health care, I kind of call the government’s swiss army knife because if you have a good free market health care system, it solves so many problems whether or not it’s government expenditures or whether or not it’s economic development because we spend about $36 billion on health care in the state of Michigan. You get 20 percent savings on it, that’s a little over $7 billion that can be put into other activities in the economy. Health care for me is something that I’m passionate about. That’s one question that’s never been asked in any of our debates, and I’ve been in about 18 different debates, and I think the reason they’re doing that is I’m not just recognizing at the state level what health care solutions are, but I’m also recognizing it at the federal level. I’m published on forbes.com. Some of the most popular articles on health care reform are in there and they’re penned by me. I’ve spoken at the Heritage Foundation on health care reform. I’ve spoken at national conferences with doctors on health care reform. That’s something I’m pretty passionate about. You do that right and it opens up so many doors for other opportunities, whether it’s restraining the budget or whatever.