Name: Bill Cobbs
Major policy issues: Education, infrastructure and tax policy
July Financial Report: $1,839 cash on-hand
Editor’s Note: This is the second 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 and raised in the city of Detroit, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Cobbs has worked his way through every achievement made in his lifetime, and now he’s taking that mentality to the governor’s race in an effort to have a more representative government.
“We have forgotten the people should be the voice government responds to. In Michigan today, the only voices that people hear are special interest and big money, and that’s got to change,” Cobbs said in an interview with the Great Lakes Beacon.
Cobbs described his upbringing as one with “working class parents” and a dad that was a union member his entire life. He went to Detroit Public Schools, graduated from Cass Tech High School, went to college for a year and, “like a lot of working class people, ran out of money,” he recalled, at which point he enlisted in the Navy.
“I always say the Navy made the rest of my life possible,” Cobbs said, explaining it allowed him to complete his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, after which he attended Wayne State Law School and worked as a police officer to pay for it. He landed a job at Xerox after law school and then spent the next 20-some years there, he said, working his way up to global vice president for public sector consulting and systems integration.
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” Cobbs said on why he’s different. “I didn’t get a million dollars to start off and say, ‘Go do it junior, let’s see what you can make happen.’ I had to do it the hard way, and my whole career has been focused on building rather than tearing down.
“The reason I’ve been successful in that is because I’ve understood the key is to getting the most out of people and organizations is through servant leadership – leaders have to be willing to do the same things they ask people to do every day,” Cobbs said.
That’s why one of his key policy issues, if elected, would be to move for a constitutional amendment allowing a progressive income tax rather than the current fixed rate that he said is unfair to low-earning families.
“It will have a top nominal rating of 10 percent. The only way someone would be paying 10 percent is if they have a household income greater than $600,000 a year. I think that’s fair,” he said. “If they’re making $600,000, $60,000 isn’t going to break them one way or another.”
He also is focused on restoring funding to public education for pre-kindergarten through the end of high school, as well as ensuring no public funds go to charter schools.
“I fundamentally believe that a good education is a gateway to any kind of social mobility. If you don’t have that, you can’t have social mobility,” he said. “The charter school movement has been a disaster as far as I’m concerned … (For) somebody is like me who grew up when we had great public schools, they recognize the public school is really the anchor for the community.
“When you take that school out of the community, you start the process of blight, you start the process of property values spiraling down. We can’t afford to use public dollars to help private entrepreneurs get richer at the expense of our communities,” Cobbs said.
And he has a plan for infrastructure, which he said includes roads, bridges, dams and the electrical grid: Use a 30-year municipal bond to finance an infrastructure program. The additional revenue raised through a progressive income tax, he said, would allow the state to service the bond, and any surplus money after serving the bond could go into a state fund for college students to apply for grants to pay for school.
“When you talk about having a statewide infrastructure program, you’re really talking about something that’s going to last for 20-to-25 years. It won’t get done in one governor’s term, however, we can start to lay the foundation,” Cobbs said. “The collateral benefit we’ll get from that is we’ll be able to create real jobs in this state that will last for the next 20-25 years. Those jobs will pay a living wage.”
Asked how he would ensure quality of life for residents in urban centers, Cobbs said the infrastructure program would create jobs that gave people the opportunity to address whatever household requirements they have.
“One thing everybody knows is working class people, when they make money, they spend money. They don’t hoard it. They don’t try to find a way to send it to the Cayman Islands to put away for something else,” he said. “So we are better off as a society when we’re providing a living for folks so they can do the things they need to do.”
Cobbs also said a fourth policy item would be ensuring the well-being of the Great Lakes, noting, “We live in a state that’s surrounded by 20 percent of the entire world’s fresh water supply, yet we put it at risk every single day. That water is in fact Michigan’s future. We can’t expect that Michigan can prosper if we don’t have a policy that protects our most valuable asset.”
Healthcare, Prevailing Wage and Party Unity
On the issue of single-payer healthcare, Cobbs said he is “about into it 100 percent.”
“We have create a nightmare in this country around healthcare, and (the Affordable Care Act) was a great step towards getting to a single-payer model, but we still have a long way to go,” he said. “If you look at other first-tier countries around the world, we’re far behind in the way we provide healthcare to our citizens. And we can do a much better job, we just have to take the greed out of it.”
Democratic former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is said to be launching a campaign on the issue, especially in the wake of the failure by congressional Republicans to repeal the ACA, also known as Obamacare. A Michigan rally on the matter was held last week.
He is also “absolutely” in support of the state’s prevailing wage law: “You can’t talk about a living wage if you want to attack everything that is supportive of middle class and working class people getting ahead. It’s just not right,” he said.
And when it comes to bringing the various factions of the Democratic Party together for 2018, Cobbs said, “There’s really only one boat.”
“If we don’t figure out how we’re going to come together and compromise and make sure we’re doing what’s in the best interest of the collective and stop worrying about the me, we’re all going down,” he said. “When that boat goes down, it’s not going to see somebody get saved because I was a progressive or I was a conservative or I was a traditional Democrat. There will be no distinction.”
He said he would label himself a progressive, or “someone who recognizes the most important thing we can do is be socially responsible – that we provide an opportunity for everyone, that we don’t create a society made up of winners and losers.”