Michigan needs a governor for the powerless

By Bankole Thompson

The race for the next governor of Michigan should not be decided on the basis of who is the most likable candidate. It should not be about how many talking points a candidate is able to rattle off on the campaign trail to ease the concern of worrying voters. It should not be won on a popularity contest.

Instead it should be focused on who cares the most about the challenges low-income families are facing in a city like Detroit with high poverty rates. Whoever is going to succeed Gov. Rick Snyder should be willing to provide a roadmap for how the sufferings of economically disadvantaged families are going to be alleviated under their administration.

That is the message Juconda Goodson, 44, a longtime Detroiter brought with her to an August 5 rally at Gordon Park on the city’s west side where Gretchen Whitmer, Democratic candidate for governor spoke alongside Mayor Mike Duggan, Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. The rally hosted by Duggan, sought to encourage and energize voters to support Whitmer, who is facing candidates Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar for the Democratic nomination ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

“I’m low-income and I’m trying to get help,” Goodson told me Sunday afternoon. “They say help is out here. But you’ve got to know the right people to get help.”

Goodson is right. The long-held perceptions and beliefs are that only the politically connected can get the attention of those in government when seeking help. Because of that it is easy for them to get their issues resolved by having the ear of the governor or those in the cabinet. Those with no political connection like Goodson are often left behind to deal with bureaucratic hurdles as they navigate state government. Some end up giving up on the system believing that it only exists for the privileged few and others make the conscious decision to no longer participate in the voting process.

That is why it is all the more important that the governor’s race puts the spotlight on the challenges faced by families who wake up each day and have to worry about their kids and putting food on the table for them. Michigan doesn’t need a governor for the powerful. Michigan needs a governor for the powerless because too many people have been left behind in a so-called economic boom and their issues are confined to just sound bites. Period.

The powerless in Detroit and other underserved areas are forced to deal with the high cost of auto insurance like Goodson. They are facing threats of water shut-offs which Goodson is experiencing now. They are watching babies in Detroit getting killed in cold blood as Goodson explained to me about the seeming lack of empathy in the community for children who are maimed.

It is easy to dismiss these issues and quickly blame the poor for the plight that they are facing. It is easy to just roll your eyes and wonder why these issues deserve attention in the race for the state’s next chief executive.

But given how election after election continues to expose the disconnect between politicians and constituents they are supposed to be serving, it will be a mistake to return to business as usual this time around. If government exists to serve the people, it should do just that. That is why Goodson and others like her deserve to be heard. Their issues and concerns must be top priorities for those seeking the state’s highest office.

As former President John Adams noted, “When economic power became concentrated in a few hands, then political power flowed to those possessors and away from the citizens, ultimately resulting in an oligarchy or tyranny.”

Adams’ observation captures the sentiments of many frustrated and disaffected voters who simply see politicians as merchants for the elites and the powerful and not the masses of people who put them in office. This year’s gubernatorial race could be different if the candidates talk more about the issues of the poor that hardly ever makes it on their to-do list.

Bankole Thompson is the chair of the Academy of Fellows and Editor-in-Chief of The PuLSE Institute, an independent non-partisan anti-poverty think tank based in Detroit.

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