Long ago, way back in, say, the 1980s, there was something quaint about most elections in this country: Candidates did not actually begin running until the year of the election itself. We hold primaries in August and general elections in November, and it was thought that if you declared your candidacy in January, say, that would give you enough time to persuade voters.
Well, we’ve evolved far beyond that. These days, candidates sometimes begin running for the next election almost before the last one is over. Former Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, for example, declared her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor next year right after last Christmas.
On the Republican side, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley are both running hard for their nomination, though neither has formally declared. While a couple of unknown candidates are also running for the Democratic nomination, the presumption is that the main event is likely to be between Whitmer and Flint Congressman Dan Kildee. I caught up with Kildee yesterday morning at a coffee shop in downtown Detroit.
To my surprise, I found that he hasn’t made up his mind. He’s certainly thinking about it, and talking to people who could help. But he told me “it really depends on where I think I could make the biggest difference,” and he seemed sincere.
Kildee, who is 58, is in his third term in Congress. He has an entirely safe seat, and could easily rise to a position of power and influence, if and when Democrats take back the majority.
For now, however, he is forced to play defense, and mostly work to lessen the impact of legislation he sees as harmful. He’s adept at building relationships, even friendships on both sides of the aisle, and forging coalitions to get things done.
He likes being in Congress. But he is also worried about the state where he’s lived his entire life. He feels the biggest issue is “the absolute failure of K-12 education in Michigan.”
Education has always mattered to Kildee; he was elected to the Flint school board when he was only 18. Personally, he would prefer a world where we concentrate on fixing conventional public schools, rather than the present and confusing blizzard of charters.
But he told me “we have to play the cards that are on the table,” which means demanding transparency and accountability from charter schools and those who run them, something that the charter school lobby has so far successfully avoided.
‘There are other big issues, but this is one that has such long-term consequences and which is so clearly a state responsibility,” he said. “We’ve broken a promise to our kids.”
There are other big issues; infrastructure is never far from the minds of anyone from Flint. I asked when he thought he would need to decide about running.
“It is still too early,” he said; technically, he could wait until the filing deadline next April, though something like late fall is probably more realistic. “It sounds corny, but in a way, the best way to campaign is to do well at the job I have now,” he said.
Will he run? My guess is yes. But I wouldn’t bet more than my lunch money either way.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.