Michigan gubernatorial candidates Rick Snyder and Virg Bernero will face off Monday in the first and only televised debate of this year's election season. The candidates, both political upstarts who upset their respective party's candidates, are pitted in a race for the governorship of what may very well be the nation's most tired states. Michigan has maintained an unemployment rate above the national rate since late 2000, and the current rate sits at 13.1%. Though this is actually a continuation in a downward trend for unemployment that has been occurring since December 2009, it is hardly the relief Michiganders have been looking for. The state whose economic confidence was the second lowest in the nation as of February, according to Gallup, will likely not see a change in its mindset for much time to come.
What makes this race so interesting is that both candidates have spent a great deal of time touting an urban agenda for their prospective governorships. The emphasis on urban affairs is understandable enough for Bernero, who has served as Lansing's mayor since 2006. Perhaps more unusual in this race is the agenda of Republican Snyder, who also has concerned himself greatly with the welfare of Michigan's urban core, a policy area avoided more often than not by Republicans.
The candidates share not just a concern for the welfare of cities-they also have very similar agendas for urban Michigan. Bernero's website and Snyder's white paper both chide the "hole in the donut" brand of land use and economic development planning that has characterized the growth of the state's metropolitan areas for decades, and advocate for a strong "mass transit backbone", as Snyder's agenda puts it. Bernero and Snyder also call for partnerships with local business and Michigan's university system. Public safety, green energy, and reform of government are common threads for the candidates' urban agendas as well.
Where then, do the candidates differ? Neither seems necessarily to oppose the other on any given issue, but each includes items in his urban agenda that is largely left out, for one reason or another, from that of the other.
Bernero, a known supporter of Michigan's unions, has included fair labor practices in his urban agenda. The Lansing mayor has also included in his urban agenda affordable housing, something that the Snyder campaign has yet to touch on. Snyder, on the other hand, has expressed an interest in increased funding for arts, culture, and tourism-something his GOP cohorts may find rather leftward for their liking. Snyder's urban agenda also calls for an alleviation of the tax burden on new development in central cities through tax credits. Bernero's agenda does not specifically call for this, though it should be noted that similar measures have been taken by the Lansing Economic Development Corporation during his administration as mayor.
What to Expect
As the debate will be occurring in Detroit, urban issues may very well be somewhat of an elephant in the room. Given that Snyder and Bernero have both made the urban agenda a major part of the agenda, and that they largely agree on what must be done for Michigan's cities, it would be interesting to see if the two attempt to make the urban agenda an area of disagreement.
The candidates, however, will be hard pressed to differentiate themselves from one another in this regard, as the urban agenda is, based on what they have let on thus far, not an area on which they greatly differ. By and large, Bernero and Snyder have similar goals for Michigan's cities. They will have to tread elsewhere to draw any great distinction between themselves (save for their personalities), and they undoubtedly will do so.
What would be of great interest, however, is to see how much time is actually devoted to the urban agenda. Will the candidates want to spend time pandering to the urban voter? Or will they seek to use more of that time to debate issues that will make clearer the choice Michigan must make?