State Sen. Tom George (R–Kalamazoo) has been an anesthesiologist, a member of the Michigan House of Representatives, a state senator and is now a Republican candidate for governor. This weekend, however, George will buy his cap and gown in preparation for the University’s spring commencement so he can finally become a college graduate too.
George, currently serving his second and final term in the Michigan state Senate, has spent the past 25 years working in public service, both as a doctor and as a member of the Michigan legislature. Though he has met more success than many without college degrees, he said he’s finally decided it’s time to graduate.
George came close to graduating from the University when he was a student at the University’s Flint campus before transferring to the Ann Arbor campus — more than 30 years ago. After three years of studying at the University, George was given the opportunity to apply to the University’s Medical School early, despite not yet having a bachelor’s degree.
“It’s a little odd, but at the time, you could get into medical school with 90 credits undergrad,” George said in an interview on Friday. “That was a little unusual. Most applicants finished undergrad, but I was doing well, and it’s like, ‘Why spend another year in LS&A?’”
After graduating from the University’s Medical School in 1982 and completing his residency in anesthesiology, George and his family moved to Kalamazoo, Mich., where he practiced medicine full-time. George said his wife Sandy — a graduate of both LSA and the Ross School of Business — was largely responsible for his eventual involvement in politics.
“It was actually Sandy who was the one who was politically active,” George said. “She was the College Republican, and I really wasn’t, and I was focused on medical school, you know, it takes up a lot of time.”
Though George said he was initially a “tag-along” to his wife’s political involvement, he gradually became more interested in politics. His interest culminated in a bid for a seat in the state House of Representatives in 2000.
Since then, George has spent two years as a representative in the state House and eight years in the state Senate. In his bid for the Republican nomination, George faces competition from Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder and Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, amongst others.
During his time in public office, George has also continued to practice medicine part-time, most recently working two 24-hour hospital shifts during Easter weekend.
Since he joined the state legislature, George said he has used his knowledge of the medical world to try to fix the state’s budget crisis, which he believes to be the biggest problem in Michigan. George said a large part of the state’s deficit comes from health care spending, which he said is currently more expensive because of the way the government provides health care coverage.
“The government programs that are intended to increase access involve giving people a (Medicaid) card,” George said. “That sounds great, you know, we’re giving people access, but the truth is, health and health care spending are more determined by your behavior. So giving people a card and simply access without asking them to change their behavior fails.”
The high cost of health care spending in Michigan has led the legislature to cut funding to other important sectors, including education. George said the funding cuts, though unpleasant, were necessary to balance the state budget, which is strained by Medicaid costs.
“(Funding cuts) were unfortunate, and that is a very worrisome trend,” George said. “If Michigan is going to be competitive, we’re going to have to fund our universities and education in general, and we have to reverse that trend.”
George said the federal government’s recent health care bill — a part of which increases Medicaid coverage to uninsured Americans — will exacerbate this problem by simply adding more dependants to an already costly government program. To fix the costs, George said the structure of Medicaid must be changed, such that individuals are “incentivized” to engage in healthier behaviors.
He added that to change the structure of health care, and the inefficient state budget in general, a new state constitution must be drafted this year. The last time the constitution was drafted was in 1963, when Michigan adopted its fourth constitution.
If elected governor, George said he alone would not be able to remedy the structural budgetary issues, as they are inherent in the current constitution.
“I would recommend drafting a new constitution, because the one we have now is outdated, and it has created a government that is too expensive,” George said. “If we want to open Michigan up for growth, if we want to be economically competitive, a mechanism to do that is by redrafting our state constitution.”
To modify the state constitution, citizens must vote in favor of making a change and then elect delegates to draft a new document. The citizens must then vote again to accept the drafted constitution.
George has a lot to think about over the next few months: a race to become Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s successor, an increasingly expensive state budget and the patients he still makes time to see on the weekends. But for now, George said he is just focusing on graduating college next month and finally getting his LSA degree.