Name: Shri Thanedar
Location: Ann Arbor
Major policy issues: Economy, education and infrastructure
July Financial Report: $3.17 million cash on-hand
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of four interviews conducted by the Great Lakes Beacon with each currently declared Democratic candidate. Republican gubernatorial candidates who have declared by September 1 will also be interviewed.
Born in India to what he described as a “poor family,” Shri Thanedar, one of four Democratic gubernatorial candidates for 2018, is what most would describe as the American Dream – a notion that for many, especially young adults, no longer exists.
And that’s exactly why he decided to run for governor, Thanedar told the Great Lakes Beacon in an interview.
“America has given me so much. Michigan has given me so much. I got my first job in Michigan. I was able to do my comeback also in Michigan,” he said. “I have achieved my American dream, but there are a lot of people that are struggling … and I want to help them achieve their American dream.”
Thanedar received most of his education in his native India, but moved to the United States to get his PhD in chemistry in the early 1980s. He worked in Michigan for a short while but then moved out of state to for another job. Then, he said, in 1996 his wife died unexpectedly, and he became a single parent raising a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old while also trying to run a business.
The business kept growing, but when the recession hit in 2008, he was among many whose home and business were under siege.
“The company had grown to about 500 employees, and then came the recession,” Thanedar said. “Just like many businesses in Michigan, my business also had trouble during the recession, and the bank from whom I had gotten the loan, got impatient, and they put a receiver on all my businesses.”
He said he and his wife packed up all of their assets and came to west Ann Arbor. He said he found a small lab the next day that had also gone out of business, and he bought it with hopes of restarting his business. It has since grown to about 50 employees with average salaries between $50,000 and $70,000, Thanedar said.
That success – as recent as last year – was when he said he and his wife “felt obligated to give back,” he said.
“Currently the focus has been more toward big, corporation welfare. All we have seen is hundreds of millions of dollars of incentives given to corporations, and some don’t even keep their promise to Michigan,” Thanedar said. “I want to end for all the corporate welfare currently practiced. I want to shift those dollars more to investing in people, in human capital.”
He said he also wants to make education affordable and invest in K-12 education.
“Our education ranking has slipped so much over the last 10 years, and I think we really need to invest in our education system,” Thanedar said. “We need to make sure we provide to middle school and high school to learn trade skills and vocational skills, because not everybody needs to or wants to go to a four-year college.”
Finally, Thanedar said he is also focusing on infrastructure, pointing specifically to the lackluster investment in cities that has been seen especially so in places like Flint through its water crisis.
“The current policies where the cites are starved for funds, and where the cities failed, the governor has put emergency managers. They are so focused on cost-cutting, and one of the reasons why Flint happened is because of the cost-cutting when they switched the water supply,” Thanedar said.
He’s also cognizant of the struggles facing other urban centers such as Detroit, saying he would ensure quality of life for those residents by building public education and ensuring safe cities so people could move there. Doing so, he said, would build up local revenue for cities to use on whatever improvements are necessary.
He also said he’d like to ensure good transportation in those urban centers, but he stressed the importance of public education in the whole formula.
“If our public education is strong, our communities are strong,” Thanedar said. “We need to hold charter school with higher standards. We need to hold all schools with higher standards.”
He encouraged less testing and the removal of “bureaucracy” out of education, among other components like “respecting teachers” and adequately paying them.
“We need to really provide the resources they need. Many teachers spend money out of their own pocket to bring supplies for schools, and that’s totally unacceptable,” Thanedar said.
Standing Out While Bringing Unity
Thanedar said he thought himself different from other candidates in the race because of his small business background.
“I am the only candidate in this race, in the party, that has actually created jobs, so I come in with a fiscal responsibility,” he said. “I’m going to come into this job and bring my vision of building Michigan so we can make Michigan work for all.”
On the question of how he would bring the Democratic Party together in the election, Thanedar encouraged a strong primary but said when that’s over that everyone must fully get behind the party’s candidate. He said in 2014, the Democratic Party settled “too quickly” on one candidate.
“The talk was we want to minimize any kind of discussions and we want to save money and be ready for the general election. But you know what that did? That didn’t prepare our candidate very well, and our candidate did not inspire Michiganders,” Thanedar said. “We need to do that.”
On the issues, Thanedar said he is a proponent of prevailing wage and supports a single-payer healthcare system if it can be done in a financially responsible manner. He also said he wants to repeal the so-called Right to Work law.
“Currently, what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and the Republican healthcare bill is very cruel, and it’s putting so many people out of coverage. The [Affordable Care Act] is not perfect and needs work, but the Republican plan isn’t really helping us,” he said. “My goal is to see every Michigander is covered under a health plan, and a single payer system would do that. We just need to look at how we can make that financially viable.”