To me, Snyder insisted that the picture his opponents paint of him doesn’t tell the full story. “The majority of bills I signed into law had broad bipartisan support from both parties,” he said. Snyder pointed to his work to raise the minimum wage, accept the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid-expansion funds, and bring Detroit out of bankruptcy through a combination of public funds, private loans, and pension cuts. “I don’t use a partisan lens, I don’t use a political lens when I make my decisions,” he told me. “I’ve tried to do the right thing and treat people with civility and make things better, and that’s a model that’s worked well and shows results in Michigan.”
In many ways, the arc of Snyder’s term has mirrored that of Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper—a businessman-turned-politician who sought to forge a middle path by avoiding hot-button issues and forging bipartisan agreements. Like Snyder, Hickenlooper's own party has forced him to take sides on divisive issues, tarnishing his nonideological brand. And Hickenlooper, too, now finds himself endangered after voters stopped believing his common-sense shtick and started blaming him for all the elements of his split-the-difference compromises they didn’t like.
In both cases, the man who once convinced voters he could rise above politics has ended up, instead, with everyone mad at him. “We’ve got to have a change,” Cassandra Brown, a 64-year-old retired Detroit teacher, told me. Her former colleagues, she said, have seen their classes get bigger and been forced to spend their own money on classroom supplies under Snyder’s budgets. “A lot of working people have been affected by all this.”
The race has shaped up as purely a referendum on Snyder and his policies, both sides acknowledge. There has been little focus on Schauer, a former state senator and one-term member of Congress. After losing his House seat in 2010, Schauer took a job with the laborer’s union, and he was pepper-sprayed in the protests over right-to-work.
When I spoke to him, Schauer blasted Snyder’s restructuring of the tax system, which eliminated many business levies while imposing new individual taxes, including taking away the income-tax exemption many pension recipients previously enjoyed. He vowed to restore Snyder’s budget cuts and give a tax break to the middle class, but when I repeatedly asked him whether he’d reimpose the business taxes Snyder eliminated, he refused to say. “I think we’re all in this together,” Schauer said. “Businesses benefit from roads, schools, and healthy communities. We have to decide together what things we value and how we’re going to pay for them.”
Back at the Grand Rapids town hall, Snyder was, by his standards, fired up. He described the attacks against him as “hogwash” and even “lies.” “There’s several ads out there saying I cut state investment in K-12 education since I’ve been governor,” he said. “You know what? They’re a lie. I used to use nicer words. We’ve invested a billion dollars more in education.” While education spending has gone up under Snyder, much of the increase has gone into shoring up pensions, resulting in less classroom spending.