On a snowy evening last January, Rick and Sue Snyder bundled up in their warmest winter attire and headed to downtown Ann Arbor for a long-awaited romantic evening. As they began eating and talking about the events of the week, Sue suddenly proposed that Rick run for governor of Michigan.
The University alum and businessman took a second to ruminate on the thought mid-bite before making the decision that he was going to become a contender in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
“All of a sudden (Sue) said we need to talk,” Snyder said in a recent interview with The Michigan Daily. “Then she brought up the idea, saying she could see I was going crazy about how the state was going and she thought I was the best person to change it, and that we should talk about me running for governor as a family.”
The Snyder family spent the remainder of January discussing the implications of Rick’s campaign before the Snyders decided that it “was the best thing to do for the state.” Together they believed that his lack of experience in the political field would actually prove to be beneficial in starting a campaign for governor of a state that has been struggling for many years.
“I got involved and went after it because I don’t believe career politicians were the right answer and we needed to have an outsider come in and bring new, fresh ideas,” Snyder said.
According to his campaign website, the self-proclaimed “nerd” began reading magazines like Fortune and Business Week before age 10 and even placed investments in the stock market as a teenager. He graduated from high school a semester early and then attended the University, where he graduated at age 23 with undergraduate, MBA and JD degrees.
Since graduating from the University, Snyder has worked at various companies including the computer company, Gateway, where he served as president and chief operating officer. He later became the first chairman of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in 1999, and also launched the economic development program Ann Arbor SPARK and HandyLab — a company that specializes in creating technology that detects diseases.
“What inspired me to run … it’s an opportunity to come in and hopefully be a catalyst to get Michigan on a positive path, by bringing in some real world common sense solutions,” Snyder said.
These common sense solutions, as Snyder says, are the foundation for his 10-point plan for the state, which includes initiatives like creating an environment for job creation and preventing the “brain drain”— the mass exodus of students from colleges and universities in search of more economically flourishing areas to embark upon careers and start a family.
To achieve this goal, Snyder wants to reduce taxes for small businesses because he says the “current tax environment is a job killer, not a job creation model.”
“The comeback in Michigan is not going to be a few big out-of-state companies,” Snyder said. “It’s going to be Michiganders creating and growing small businesses.”
He hopes that by establishing a stronger job market in Michigan, students will be more willing to stay and serve the state. He said a pivotal part of this is lowering the tuition of universities to provide more opportunities for students to attend college.
“I can remember how much I paid for my first semester at Michigan and it would surprise you,” Snyder said. “You could actually work your way through school and pay for it, like I did. That’s not possible today very easily.”
The Snyder family has played a critical role in supporting Rick and helping him during his run for governor. Since his wife proposed the idea that spurred the campaign, she and their three children have helped garner support for him within Michigan communities and at various political events.
“They’ve all been great about coming to events and helping out, they’re excited,” Snyder said.
Inspired to improve the lives of his children, Snyder hopes to improve the state of education in Michigan, from early childhood education to higher education. He refers to higher education as “one of the gems of our state” and says that we need to focus on improving the system to increase the quality of education, rather than spending vast amounts of money.
“We need to be much more focused on the system that’s much more about getting outcomes and results and actually educating the kids, versus just spending lots of money,” Snyder said.
While many Michigan citizens have viewed Snyder’s campaign as more moderate than past Republican candidates, Snyder says he tries not to focus on labels of Democrat and Republican, but rather on policy.
“I don’t use labels,” Snyder said. “I don’t think they have any value. I’m focusing on the issues that really matter in this election, which by far is the jobs issue. I’ve done over 60 town halls, and when you do those, you find out the top issue by far is the need for more and better jobs, followed by the issue of keeping our young people in our state.”
Snyder believes that his non-political background is actually an advantage in providing new, innovative ways of governing. He said he plans to emulate his business attitude in governing the state, particularly in developing systems that yield more money for the state rather than contributing to the vast deficit.
“We need somebody with a new approach and attitude, and coming from the business world there’s a lot of things that have been really successful there that we should be doing in government,” Snyder said. “The goal of government is not to make a profit, but I believe the government should be showing a positive return on investments from citizens and society and that’s true of a lot of business in America.”
“We need to show real results to real people instead of just spending money which is the current problem,” he added.
Snyder looks at his election as a way to completely reinvent the state rather than just fix the problems within it.
“People are fed up with the current system, it’s a broken model for our government and people are ready for a significant change,” Snyder said. “That’s why I say fixing Michigan is not good enough, we need to reinvent our state.”
Charles Bogren, chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said he believes that Snyder’s ability to develop policy based on a business perspective is crucial in helping transform the state.
“He’s not a career politician,” Bogren said. “He comes from the private sector, an area where you have to be much more efficient, much more up to date, and it’s something that the state of Michigan hasn’t had in a long, long time. It’s something that we really need very badly.”
Bogren said he thinks that Snyder’s ability to deal with employees who were not performing well or to fix failing initiatives translates into work at the government level and can be used as an advantage to help Michigan.
“Someone like Rick who has in the private sector had to deal with people who were underperforming or simply weren’t getting the job done, someone who can bring that perspective in is going to have a much better chance and opportunity to fix the system,” Bogren said.
As a University alum who has had a successful career, Bogren said Snyder serves as a role model for students who might be thinking about leaving the state to look for careers.
“It’s great not only for kids who want to be public servants, but for kids who want to go into the private sector, because (Snyder) represents both of those so admirably,” Bogren said. “He’s a completely self-made man, and the education the University of Michigan gives you is world class, it’s second to none, and I think that’s a great message for the kids who go to the University of Michigan right now.”
In regards to the notion that Snyder has been viewed as moderate in this election, Bogren said that Snyder has clearly supported Republican viewpoints, but that voters should focus more on his passion for fixing the state of Michigan and stimulating the economy.
“He’s stated before that he’s pro-life, he’s obviously very pro-business, he’s a good Republican and that’s really all that matters at this point,” Bogren said. “All that should matter in this case is that he’s what’s best for the state of Michigan.”