Former president Bill Clinton visited Flint, Mich. to rally support for the Michigan Democratic midterm election candidates and “an economy that works for all.”
“Are we gonna go back to trickle-down economics?” asked Clinton speaking to a crowd of about a thousand at the Riverfront Banquet Center, “or are we going to help working families and help ‘middle-out’ economics-grow the middle class, raise it, and give poor people a chance to work their way up?”
Clinton argued against Republican economic policy proposals with his trademark folksy, Southern charm and encouraged citizens to embrace a Democratic Party platform he believes protects “jobs, incomes, education, health care, families, and communities.”
Sharing the stage with Clinton were gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and senatorial candidate Gary Peters. Schauer's campaign appears to be flagging, even despite the mobilization of pro-labor forces in the Mitten State that have been disgruntled by what some see as a betrayal by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. Peter's campaign, however, appears to be advancing nicely. Republican candidate and former Michigan Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land has had a campaign marked by mis-steps.
“I think middle-out is the way to go,” said Genesee County Commissioner Jamie Curtis responding to Clinton’s speech in an exclusive interview. “I think the people - including many UAW pensioners- in the audience remember what he did [for the economy].”
In a city known for its high rates of crime and poverty, Clinton’s message on October 22 resonates with local Democratic leaders who look back fondly at the economic successes they associate with the former president’s administration.
“President Clinton knows more about creating an economy that works for all more than anyone,” said Flint Mayor Dayne Walling to the crowd at the rally. “That’s what we need in Flint right now.”
”We just can’t take another Republican recession,” continued Walling. “We know about that all too well here in Flint.”
(Photo courtesy of Melvin Lewis II)
The birthplace of General Motors, Flint is a pro-union Democratic stronghold and the 2011 tax increase on retirement income from pensions is one of many concerns for local politicians and their constituents. Flint is a case study about the dangers of relying on a single industry for a community’s economic development. Having struggled to recover from General Motors’ gradual withdrawal from the area, the 2008 recession hit the community hard and crippled the city government financially.
Many local community leaders argue that the city government’s fiscal emergency was exacerbated by the state government’s failure to fully distribute funds through a statutory revenue sharing program.
“Flint lost $50 million in revenue in the last 4 years,” said Curtis. “Without the revenue sharing we cannot provide essential services, so you have to make cuts.”
Michigan's Governor Snyder (R) replaced statutory revenue sharing with the "Economic Vitality Incentive Program," reducing the amount of funds available but rewarding local governments that have made efforts towards financial stability and administrative transparency with increased funding.
However, local Democrats see direct involvement in city management by the state as a problem in itself. Public Act 436, signed into law by Gov. Snyder, is particularly unpopular since it gives state-appointed emergency city managers the power to renegotiate collective bargaining agreements, end contracts, and dismiss elected officials in the cities to which they are appointed by the governor.
Democrats hope to capitalize on the tensions between a Republican-dominated state government and a disgruntled voter base in Michigan cities like Flint in the upcoming midterm election.
Reminding the crowd of the famous 1932 Flint Sit-down strike that led to the creation of the modern labor movement, gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer (D) described Flint as a “full of tough people” and how the city played a part in “building our own American Dream, our Michigan Dream.”
In an interview with Amir Baz of the Michigan Times, Representative Dan Kildee (D) argued that the often overlooked midterm elections have massive political implications for the future of the Democratic Party and the country. “If the former President of the United States is willing to travel to Flint, Michigan, that demonstrates how significant this race is,” said Kildee. “If this election is important to him, a person who was at one point the most powerful person on the planet, it has to be important to the people whose lives will be affected by the outcome of this election.”
Local community members expressed their enthusiasm for the Democratic candidates, but the most praise was reserved for perennial speaker President Bill Clinton. “He brings a lot of energy when he goes anywhere,” said Pat Haley, 48, of suburban Mount Morris Township. “I hope we see more of Bill and Hillary Clinton in Michigan in the next few years.”
Mariana Barillas is freelance writer who resides in Michigan.