AP Interview: ‘Underdog’ Schuette pushes tax cut, AG record
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republican Bill Schuette said he will not distance himself from Donald Trump despite the president’s unpopularity with Michigan voters and will win them over with a pro-tax cut message and his record as attorney general of helping victims of human trafficking and sexual assault.
The gubernatorial nominee has trailed Democrat Gretchen Whitmer in polling conducted since they won their primary contests last month. And with less than two months until Nov. 6, he knows he must appeal to more of the electorate, particularly crucial independents who favored Whitmer by nearly 14 percentage points in a Detroit News/WDIV poll released in recent days.
Schuette already is calling himself an “underdog” and harkening back 28 years to when Republican John Engler narrowly upset Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard despite one poll showing him well behind just days before his election.
“I’m going to win ... because of this real fundamental question, ’Are we going forward or are we going backwards?” he told The Associated Press in an interview, saying his pro-growth “paycheck agenda” would cut the state income tax, lower auto insurance premiums and put a greater emphasis on student apprenticeships.
Schuette continued his criticism of Whitmer as the next Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who served as governor when the state had a prolonged economic downturn that led to budget-balancing moves such as income and business tax hikes and spending cuts. Whitmer, a state lawmaker during three governorships, backed the tax increases and is now proposing a $3 billion infrastructure plan to improve the roads and water systems — funded most likely with additional fuel taxes or other fees.
Michigan was already struggling economically years before the 2007 tax hikes, and then the Great Recession brought the auto industry to the brink of collapse. But Schuette contends that higher taxes contributed to high unemployment and job losses, and that Whitmer’s “high-tax, big-government” agenda is “extreme.”
“That’s the difference, and that’s how we win,” said Schuette, who wants to reduce the 4.25 percent personal income tax to 3.9 percent, where it was previously.
Schuette also pointed to his achievements as attorney general: pushing anti-human trafficking laws so women forced to have sex are treated as victims — not criminals — prosecuting serial sex abuser Larry Nassar and securing funding to process a backlog of untested rape kit evidence.
“For the rest of his life, he is behind bars. I think that has great connection with people all across this state — whether you’re a Republican, independent, Democrat, what have you. That record of accomplishment is significant,” he said.
Schuette said he will not “run away” from Trump, who endorsed him in the primary but has a low favorability rating among likely voters, particularly women. He credited federal tax cuts enacted by the president and the GOP-led Congress with bringing jobs from Mexico to Michigan.
Schuette has softened his stance on one major issue since the primary, telling the AP that the expansion of Medicaid coverage to 663,000 lower-income adults is “the law” and is “not going anywhere” despite his opposition to the federal health care law that authorized it. He said the federal government will eventually change the Affordable Care Act, and he wants to ensure that people are provided coverage and do not “slip through the cracks.” He said he supports work requirements so able-bodied recipients are encouraged to get a job.
Democrats are not buying his shift after he spent years opposing the health law championed by President Barack Obama. They have made health care a big topic in the race, and a new TV ad being run by the Democratic Governors Association accuses Schuette of wanting to take away protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Schuette said the attack is false. He said that “from day one” he has said that any overhaul of the federal law should retain coverage for pre-existing conditions, allow children to be on a parent’s plan until age 26 and make health insurance more portable.