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Checking in with the 2018 gubernatorial candidates: Bill Cobbs

Apr 10, 2018

2018 is an election year in Michigan, and the primaries are already four months away.

Before the campaigns get too chaotic, Stateside decided to check in with the candidates. This week, we’ll talk to the Democratic candidates ahead of the party's 2018 State Endorsement Convention. Party leaders will endorse a candidate for attorney general, secretary of state and the State Supreme Court.

The Republican candidates will stop by later this month.

Bill Cobbs is the former global vice president for Xerox, and a U.S. Navy veteran. He talked to Cynthia Canty Tuesday about his stance on a variety of issues, from guns to schools to infrastructure.

Listen to the full interview with Cobbs above, or read highlights below.

Let’s start with guns. What would you do to make Michigan’s schools safer in the face of mass shootings?

“Well clearly, we’ve gotta step back and realize that the Second Amendment does not mean that there is no regulation. And we gotta really be focusing on responsible gun ownership. And I think it’s time that we take a very close look at the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction [assault weapons] and really ask ourselves: “Do we want those kind of weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens?’ They were never meant to be off the battlefield. And clearly, we’ve seen time after time after time where they’ve been used and these kind of incidents, like what happened in Parkland. Now, we can’t continue to march down the same path and see the same results and not see that we need to do something different.

Let’s go to water. What are your thoughts on the Nestle permit?

“I think it’s a travesty. I think when you have 80,000 Michigan citizens saying ‘no,’ and less than 20 saying ‘yes,’ that it’s time for the government, it’s time for MDEQ to recognize that they’re there to serve the people of this state, not private business and not big individuals who want to use our public resources to fill their pockets. And that’s what Nestle’s all about.”

Governor Snyder’s spokesperson told us the law says the decision to allow Nestle to extract more water – at a cost of a $200/year permit – is the DEQ's and he will not be getting involved. Do you agree with that?

“Well, clearly, the governor and I have a different perspective. You know, I respect the first line of the Michigan Constitution that says that ‘all political power is inherent in the people,’ that all government is for their ‘benefit, security, and protection.’ Now clearly, some people in Lansing don’t understand that, and it’s time that we either give them a very, very long vacation, or we change our Constitution. I’m in favor of giving them a vacation.”

Let’s shift over to schools. A recent study showed that Michigan’s third-grade reading scores were abysmal: just about dead last of the 50 states. What would you do to improve Michigan’s schools?

“So, I have said that until we are prepared to fund our schools properly, we are kidding ourselves if we say that we’re serious about doing anything that’s going to impact the school-to-prison pipeline.

I am proposing equalized state funding. It’s time to move away from Proposal A, and provide for equalized funding for every kid in the state. We’re underfunding public education in Michigan by thousands of dollars. The number that we really need to get to is about $11,500 per student. That’s reasonable to me. We’re living in a state where we’re paying $41,000 a year to keep people incarcerated. We gotta really think about how we’re spending our money, and what the end result is that we’re shooting for. We can do much better.

And education has always been the only gateway in this country to social and economic mobility. If we’re not serious about making sure that all of our young people have an equal opportunity for a good education, then we’re kidding ourselves about being the country we say we are.”

Where do you see charter schools in your vision? Are they providing a viable option for families, as supporters argue? Or are they draining students and dollars from public schools, as critics argue?

“Here’s my take on this: There are people in this race who have said they would outlaw charter schools. I don’t know how you’d do that. But I can tell you that as the next governor of this state, my intent is to defund them so they’re not eligible for public dollars. Because taxpayers never intended that their money would be used to support private enterprise.

One of the challenges that we have is creating this notion that it’s better to set up a different school environment than to work on the ones we have and make them better. Schools are really the primary anchor for every single community. When you take the school out of a community, or you disadvantage to the point where it has to close, you literally begin the erosion of the fabric of the community. It’s the beginning of blight. And once blight starts, we start to have houses that are vacant. We can do so much better.”

Roads and infrastructure are certainly one of the biggest challenges this state faces – the condition of them and finding enough money to fix what needs fixing. What ideas are shaping up in your mind to meet this problem?

“I have had a fully formed infrastructure plan from the day I entered this race. And it’s a radical plan. It involves us investing $60 billion in infrastructure. We would do that by floating a 30-year municipal bond. We need to make massive investments in our infrastructure, and start at one side of the state and go to the other. We can’t continue down this path and not appreciate the impact we’re gonna have on the quality of life for every single citizen in this state.

And if we’re really, really serious about being attractive to more business, we’ve gotta have an infrastructure model that supports that. Nobody’s gonna come to Michigan to build facilities, to manufacture product, or deliver product if we don’t have good infrastructure to support their getting those products to market. It’s just common sense.”

It's looking more and more likely that whomever is elected as Michigan's next governor will be presiding over an economic downtown. Some economists even predict recession. How would you handle that?

“There’s no question that by the time we reach the fourth quarter of next year, whatever is happening in the business world, Michigan will be facing a fiscal crisis because of the way that we’ve used our resources. We’ve kind of put ourselves in a hole by giving out massive amounts of corporate welfare and not understanding that the return that we’re saying we’re gonna get is a guess. There’s no guarantee. So we’re going to have to make some adjustments.”

Recent polling has you below five percent: how do you plan to move that needle?

“I gotta tell you, Cyndy, I don’t pay any attention to those polls, because one of the things I understand is that when you do a sampling of 600 people, and you’re sampling them for one response, whose name have you heard? That’s not a representative sample of what’s really going on with the people. And then when you put at the very end that 50% of people still don’t know anybody, then this is still a very wide-open race.

And I think that over the next few months, we’ll have a real opportunity to determine who the candidates are that not only have a vision for moving Michigan forward, but can clearly articulate a Democratic message that allows us to beat [the Republican’s] likely candidate, Bill Schuette, in November."