Elections for University governing boards are typically low-profile races, but Mark Bernstein, a Democratic candidate for University regent, has drawn attention to himself by traversing the state in the Bernstein Bus.
To inform voters about his policies, Bernstein has traveled everywhere from Ann Arbor to the Upper Peninsula in a school bus covered in logos such as “Keep College Affordable” and “Higher Education, Lower Cost” designed to promote himself to prospective voters.
Bernstein said the bus has drawn the interest of many Michigan residents.
“I thought the bus was going to be good, but it has far exceeded my expectations,” Bernstein said. “I expected the bus to be a home run and it’s been a grand slam. The bus is proving to be an extremely effective vehicle to communicate the primary message of our campaign … we are running to protect the promise of public education and public university.”
Regents serve eight-year terms at the University. While all members were eligible for re-election, two seats on the board will be open, as incumbents S. Martin Taylor (D–Grosse Pointe Farms) and Olivia Maynard (D–Ann Arbor) decided not to run in November. In February, Taylor and Maynard told The Michigan Daily that they plan to reallocate their time to family affairs and community work.
“It was wonderful to have served and I think (the University) is being left in even better shape,” Taylor said in February.
Bernstein is one of two Democrats vying for the open regents seats, after officially being nominated at Michigan’s state convention Sept. 8-9, along with Shauna Ryder Diggs, a dermatologist and University alum.
They will be running against GOP candidates Rob Steele, a University alum and cardiologist and Dan Horning, who previously served on the board from 1994 to 2002.
Michigan is one of only four states — including Nevada, Colorado and Nebraska — that hold elections for positions to public university boards. The others boards in other states are appointed by governors, in an attempt to avoid ill-informed voting on positions with that voters often know little about.
Bernstein said his inspiration for the bus came from the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone who campaigned for U.S. Senate in a green school bus in the 1990s. Bernstein added that the signature success of his own bus derives from its association with the public school system.
“This specific type of school bus is an iconic symbol of education,” Bernstein said. “It couldn’t be a fancy Mitt Romney bus … it had to be a classic, iconic, public school bus, because it delivers the message about education very powerfully.”
Ultimately, the Bernstein Bus is meant to serve as what Bernstein calls a “spectacle” designed to capture attention and get people talking about his campaign.
“The traditional approach to running this kind of campaign is to fight for the nomination and then do virtually nothing … that is not my strategy,” Bernstein said. “My strategy is to run a co-active, aggressive, hardworking, highly-visible campaign and the bus helps me accomplish this.”
In addition to using the bus to garner votes, Bernstein has also been among the most active candidate on Facebook and Twitter. As of Wednesday evening, Bernstein has 4,257 likes on his campaign Facebook page, compared to Steele’s 255. Horning and Diggs do not have election pages.
Similarly, his Twitter account @MGoBernstein has 689 followers.
LSA senior Kellen McCoy said the bus successfully captured her attention and interest.
“I mean, any brightly colored school bus would probably garner some attention. But, I think it’s a clever twist on the idea of a campaign bus, and I love the words on the door of the bus,” McCoy added.
University alum Angeles Meneses said seeing the bus on the campaign trail was out of the ordinary.
“It is very eye-popping,” Meneses said.