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Is FOIA like the Russia probe? And other surprises from Michigan GOP candidates

August 2018 update: Bill Schuette wins Republican nod for Michigan governor

Spend long enough with Michigan governor candidates, and there’s still room for surprise, as Bridge Magazine and its reporting partners at the Detroit Journalism Cooperative learned during hour-long interviews with six of seven major-party candidates.

Amid talk of policy plans on K-12 education and infrastructure were tidbits the public perhaps hasn’t heard before.

Here are five intriguing takeaways from interviews last week with three Republican candidates competing in the Aug. 7 primary: Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Saginaw obstetrician Jim Hines. (State Attorney General Bill Schuette did not attend, citing scheduling conflicts.)

How public records are like the Russian probe

Michigan earned in “F” in government transparency and integrity in 2015 from the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity.

Michigan is only one of two states that exempt the governor and Legislature from its state Freedom of Information Act, which gives the public a right to access many records created by elected and government officials.

Most candidates for governor have said they’ll work to expand public access.  But Colbeck urged caution, saying FOIA allows “fishing expeditions” that he said are not unlike the FBI’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.

“A lot of people are using the Freedom of Information Act as a political weapon, not as something to keep people accountable,” he said.

“You've got to have safeguards in it so that folks like (Washington special counsel) Robert Mueller wouldn't be able to do the same thing into state legislators or a state governor's office and essentially use their authority or abuse their authority to just go on fishing expeditions.

“Joseph Stalin had a famous quote once, he said, ‘You show me the man, I'll show you the crime,’” Colbeck continued. “We have a very low standard for some of those searches as exemplified by this Robert Mueller investigation.

(Colbeck’s interview came days before last week’s indictment of 12 Russians on accusations of hacking, and President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.)

Calley’s lessons from Flint

Gov. Rick Snyder has survived calls for his resignation and even criminal prosecution for his role in the Flint water crisis. Calley was the governor’s point man for the crisis, and is running largely on the administration’s record.

When asked what he’s learned from the crisis in Flint, he implied the state should have listened far earlier when Flint residents complained about the water in 2014, after a state-appointed emergency manager ordered a switch to the city’s water supply.

“When somebody says they have a problem, even if there’s disagreement about that, the default position should be to believe them,” he said.

“In Flint, it was like ‘we’ve got this problem’ and somebody says ‘Well, that’s not really a problem,’ or ‘You don’t really understand,’ or ‘Everything is OK.’ But still you’ve got to stay at the table, keep talking, keep working toward it, keep validating, just getting to the bottom of what it is. And today I think we have a trust problem, naturally. And so we have to keep working at that. But in the beginning people were right and the (state) experts were wrong.”

Family values and childcare costs

Childcare costs are prohibitively high for many families in Michigan, a burden that’s taking a toll not only on parents but on business growth.

Colbeck said part of the problem is a breakdown of the “traditional family unit.”

“If you have a mom that’s working, for example, dad can stay home and take care of the kids. If you’ve got a dad that’s working, mom can stay home and take care of the kids. We had a family structure that used to take care of some of those needs.”

Hines said daycare provided by grandparents or the private sector is a possible solution, but the state should not subsidize child care. Michigan, like all other states, subsidizes child care for low-income families. The latest budget approved $217.2 million for the state’s child care assistance programs.

“Having the state fund something for parents to watch their kids so that they go to work is probably not viable,” he said.

When asked if he thinks the state should subsidize child care in any way, he said “I don’t think so … I would consider ending those programs.”

Math majors, beware

Hines said the purpose of universities is “to prepare young people for a profession or for advanced studies,” so they should “offer majors that are going to be significant that you can get a job in.”

“A third of our majors (are) in subjects that we don’t need in the workforce. I think that’s a very important thing that has to be looked at,” Hines said.

Asked to elaborate, Hines said ultrasonography, math and chemistry are specializations that are oversaturated in the job market, making it difficult for students to get jobs in their chosen field.

(In fact, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports jobs in ultrasound technology and mathematics are growing faster than average and chemistry jobs are growing at an average pace. And math and chemistry are among the highest-paid STEM majors, averaging about $60,000 apiece for entry-level jobs, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.)

College is ‘definition of success’

The cost of attending Michigan’s colleges has soared over the last several years. In 2016, more than 60 percent of Michigan students graduated with debt, which averaged $30,327.

Over the campaign, Calley has called for increased educational opportunities outside of four-year degrees, such as skilled-trades programs and community colleges.

He upped the ante with Bridge and the DJC, saying that universities have somehow become “the definition of success” and are an expectation.

“Parents, if you don't buy this for your kids, you are a failure as a parent. If you had that market power, you could charge anything that you wanted, and people would line up it to pay it. They would borrow money to pay it and in fact that's what's happening.”

Calley said the state should amend its constitution to give the state more oversight over universities to keep costs down.

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