Michigan voters have granted four more years to the “nerd.” Republican Gov. Rick Snyder won reelection Tuesday, defeating Democratic challenger Mark Schauer in a closer than expected campaign.
With most precincts in the state reporting, Snyder captured 51 percent of the vote compared to Schauer’s 47 percent. In the last few days before the election, Snyder and Schauer were close in the polls with the Detroit Free Press reporting a two-point lead in Snyder’s favor on Oct. 29.
In his victory speech at the Renaissance Center in Detroit Tuesday night, Snyder emphasized the economic trouble the state had long endured and his efforts to fundamentally change its course.
“Our spirit was being broken,” Snyder said. “It was not the time to fix Michigan; that was not going to be good enough. It was time to reinvent Michigan.”
In his speech, Snyder said there was plenty of evidence of an economic turnaround. He pointed to the creation of nearly 300,000 private sector jobs, the increase in the value of Michigan homes and the greater number of college graduates taking jobs in the state as indicators of success.
Yet despite Snyder’s belief in the success of his first term, he maintained there was much work to be done in the next four years.
“When you have success like this what’s the next thing you need to do? It’s not to stay complacent, it’s time to accelerate and go even faster,” Snyder said.
Snyder hinted at some of his goals for his second term, like filling tens of thousands of skilled trade jobs, helping young people connect with education opportunities, and improving access to career technical education, all of which he hopes will lead to more well-paying middle class jobs.
Four years after running on a pledge to reinvent Michigan’s economy, Snyder was able to secure a second term largely on his fulfillment of that promise. His supporters point to his hands-on approach to Detroit’s recovery as a signature accomplishment of his first term. The state legislature, the city and its creditors and pensioners struck a Grand Bargain that allowed the city to move ahead with its bankruptcy proceedings, which will wrap up this month.
On higher education, Snyder cut state funding in 2011 with the promise to raise it again in subsequent years. He has incrementally increased the funding but has yet to return it to the 2011 levels. Consequently, Schauer attempted to brand himself as the “education governor” in his campaign, calling for its funding to be restored to pre-2011 levels upon election to office.
In terms of the statewide economy, Snyder repealed the Michigan Business Tax and replaced it with a flat tax to appeal to new businesses, and each of his last two budgets have resulted in a surplus. Additionally, the state’s 7.2-percent unemployment rate rate is its lowest since 2008, though it is still above the national rate of 5.9 percent.
Last year, Snyder pushed through Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act against the wishes of the Republican-led legislature. More than 400,000 people have enrolled in the Healthy Michigan Plan since its April launch. Despite Republican opposition, Snyder also secured an agreement with Canadian officials to go forward with the New International Trade Crossing, a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.
The Medicaid and bridge decisions were indicative of Snyder’s willingness to break with his party, and followed the principles laid out in his first campaign. A former chief executive of computer company Gateway and a venture capitalist, Snyder entered the 2010 gubernatorial race as a relative unknown and a political novice. His pledge to put politics aside and instead use his business acumen to improve the state appealed to voters, as he sailed to an 18-point victory over Democrat Virg Bernero.
“It’s time to drop the labels … of party, of ideology, of geography,” Snyder said in his 2010 victory speech. “To make this work there is only one label that matters. That label is Michigander.”
Snyder echoed similar sentiments Tuesday night, expressing that divisiveness and constant blame should not be the political norm. He was instead optimistic that the state could overcome political barriers to work together.
“We can raise the standard of how politics should operate in this country,” he said.
Yet his smaller margin of victory four years later may reflect criticisms that he too often broke from his promise to avoid promoting partisan issues.
“There were some things that happened in (Snyder)’s first term that showed he could be quite political, so he didn’t have the same kind of independent persona that he did in the first election, and that cost him the mobilized Democrats,” Political Science Prof. Mike Traugott said in an interview with The Michigan Daily.
In the legislature’s lame duck session in December 2012, Snyder signed right-to-work legislation into law, outlawing union requirements for members to pay dues as a condition of employment. The following December, Snyder signed a measure banning abortion coverage from private health plans, instead requiring women who wanted such a plan to purchase supplemental insurance. He has also declined to take a personal stance on gay marriage, choosing instead to defer to the pending decision in federal appeals court on the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The Schauer campaign attempted to differentiate from Snyder on those issues, and argued that the Governor’s decisions to lower the business tax and raise taxes on retirees hurt the middle class. Schauer also sharply criticized Snyder for cutting both K-12 and higher education funding in his first budget — though both funds have increased in each of the budgets since.
In a concession speech Tuesday night, Schauer reiterated his commitment to those issues.
“We fought hard,” he told the crowd. “We left it all on the field. We made this race about our kids, about seniors, about our middle class, about working people.”
He said he was disappointed, but not discouraged, by the results.
“This was not just about 2014,” he said. “This was a movement about the future of our state. If I learned one thing during this campaign, it’s that the people of Michigan never give up. When we get knocked down, we get right back up. For me, this campaign is over. But for all of us as Democrats, as Michiganders who love our great state, this work must and will continue.”
College Republicans President Gabe Leaf, an LSA senior, said he has been happy with Snyder’s work in higher education, despite public criticism.
“He’s really putting a focus on education,” Leaf said. “He’s a Michigan man himself so he comes from us, he knows what we’ve been through, the kind of struggles are for higher education to operate and he’s also a businessman, so he knows how to run these things more effectively.”
In closing his victory speech Tuesday night, Snyder made a commitment to carry over the energy of reinvention into his second term.
“The passion, the fire, the excitement, the conviction to do the reinvention that you’ve seen this Tuesday, I’m going to have it on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and for the next four years,” Snyder said.
Daily Staff Reporter Shoham Geva and Emma Kinery contributed reporting.