Of course, it’s also a political given that speaking up forcefully—whether on TV or the House floor—can come with profile-burnishing rewards, and Kildee’s stock is certainly on the rise. “It's kind of a remarkable confluence of events,” said Susan Demas, the publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, a well-sourced newsletter in the state. “He has been the most prominent advocate for both causes, and he's really rocketed to national prominence.”
Kildee, Demas noted, has long been touted as a potential 2018 gubernatorial candidate, and recent events have done nothing to dispel those rumors. “There's not much doubt that he's extremely interested in running,” she said. “Given all these events, at this point, he has to be the Democratic front-runner.”
State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a fellow Flint native, has known Kildee since he volunteered for the campaign of his uncle, former Rep. Dale Kildee, in 1998. He described him as a natural leader. (Dan won a seat on the Flint Board of Education as an 18-year-old, followed by stints as a Genesee county commissioner and county treasurer. He succeeded Dale Kildee in Congress, winning the seat after his 18-term uncle announced he wouldn’t run in 2012.) “An implied role [of Congress] is advocacy, and not everyone does that, but he’s one of the best,” Ananich said. “He’d be a heck of a governor. … But if he decided to do it, we’d lose a great congressman.”
For his part, Kildee said politics is far from his mind right now, and his decision will be determined by how he believes he can best serve. “You just do your job, fight for the things you care about, and when the time comes, make a decision about what role you’re going to try to take on to make the biggest impact.”
In the House, colleagues say Kildee has a bright future if he chooses to stay. “Dan represents the very best of what it means to be the voice of the voiceless,” said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, his boss at the DCCC. “He goes to the House floor, he’s on local media or national media—whatever the stage requires, Dan always stands up to it.” With House Democrats’ messaging chief, Rep. Steve Israel, retiring at the end of this term, Lujan said Kildee should be among those considered for the job.
For now, Kildee said he’s focused on dealing with the fallout in Flint. Snyder pledged $28 million of aid in his State of the State address, and Obama said $80 million in federal money is on its way. But that may be just the start. Kildee is pushing to get citizens set up with filters immediately, and for a robust testing regimen to monitor progress. As soon as possible, he wants private lead-service lines to be replaced, a project that could run as high as $75 million. The more long-term response, he said, will require years of educational and nutritional programs for kids who were exposed to lead—which will require buy-in at the state and federal level.
Kildee did score one policy victory in the omnibus, transferring $2 billion to a program that funds blight removal for cities like Flint. Whether he runs for governor or stays in the House, he says he’ll bring the same mind-set to work. “I take the approach that I’ve never changed jobs in my life,” he said. “It’s basically about the same things, trying to get it right for my hometown and places like it.”