Hey, Republicans. Would you like to get Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to run for governor in two years?
Then by all means, keep pushing the punitive state House version of Detroit Public Schools “reform” –– which almost certainly won’t do anything to fix the mold, rats and terrifying safety issues plaguing the state’s largest school district.
Duggan, a pro-business Democrat credited with turning around Michigan’s biggest city, has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to be Michigan’s next CEO.
It’s not hard to see why. The former Detroit Medical Center chief relishes in getting things done –– and he’s been able to make a real impact in his city. As Gov. Rick Snyder knows all too well, change often comes at a glacial pace in state government.
But many Democrats are still begging him to run in 2018. Duggan is well-known where the votes are in Southeast Michigan, he’s a strong fundraiser and he’s assembled a solid field operation. No wonder he led the Democratic field in the latest gubernatorial poll, completed by Inside Michigan Politics and Target Insyght.
And Republicans really, really don’t want to run against Duggan, who has enviable crossover appeal. That’s why conservative Detroit News editorial page Editor Nolan Finley whacks Duggan whenever he can. The man’s a threat.
Now the mayor just a hit a big roadblock in Detroit’s comeback story, courtesy of House Republicans playing politics.
DPS schools have been a mess for decades. Unfortunately, being under state control for the last seven years hasn’t helped, as Snyder says the district needs $715 million to escape fiscal insolvency.
Duggan has been a fierce advocate for a bipartisan DPS turnaround package that passed the Senate before spring break. Snyder was on board, as were staunch conservative Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) and stakeholders in Detroit.
The Senate plan would shore up DPS’ finances and get $1,100 more per student into the classroom –– which is where it’s needed most. The package also created a Detroit Education Commission that could regulate charter schools, a boon industry in the city. While Duggan and others support education choice, they refuse to turn a blind eye to the myriad abuses and failures that have rocked some schools.
In other words, it’s perfectly reasonable compromise legislation –– which is why radical House Republicans rejected it. Their package passed in the wee hours this morning is partisan politics at its worst.
The bills didn’t even bother to come up with all the money needed to save DPS from the fiscal abyss. House GOP leadership decided it was more important to reward a special interest group near and dear to their hearts, the education choice lobby. So they scrapped the quality-control education commission.
And they took the hatchet to a big political enemy: teachers’ unions. Under the plan, educators would be made to reapply for their jobs, uncertified teachers could take teaching jobs, unions couldn’t negotiate the school calendar, and unions and teachers would face heavy fines for strikes.
This all amounts to exacting revenge on teachers, who have had the nerve to organize sickouts in recent months to protest schools’ deplorable conditions and the real possibility that they wouldn’t get paid.
Trust me, no legislator or Lansing lobbyist would ever put up with any of that.
Moreover, there’s something deeply disturbing about demonizing teachers, which we’ve seen time and time again under total Republican rule. There are few tougher jobs than trying to inspire the love of learning in young people. It’s a noble calling and should be treated as such.
In Detroit, teachers are on the front lines of an educational apocalypse. So many are trying to advocate for students struggling with crippling poverty, violent crime and severe health problems due to lax environmental standards.
But too many Republicans just see them as union stooges, not people dedicated to making a difference in children’s lives.
Teachers may sadly be an easy political target in Michigan, but Republicans should probably think twice before tangling with Duggan. He’s been around a lot longer than House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) and his posse. He knows how to broker deals and deal with his enemies.
And he knows Detroit will never fully recover without a functional school district where residents want to send their kids.
If House Republicans insist on standing in the way of his city’s progress, Duggan won’t forget it.
And he may just decide that the only way to really get things done is from the governor’s chair.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.