the art of politics: Bernero and Cox gubernatorial campaigns descend on Ann Arbor Art Fairs
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
The Ann Arbor Art Fairs turned into political stumping grounds today as two Michigan gubernatorial campaigns descended upon the art-filled streets of downtown Ann Arbor.
At one end of East Liberty Street, Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican contender in the Aug. 3 primary, moved through the crowd of fairgoers, shaking hands and talking about his plan to cut taxes and reduce the size of state government.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
"Most of these folks are from outside Ann Arbor. They're from all across Michigan, so it's a good microcosm of the voters here in Michigan," Cox explained of his reasons for campaigning in such a heavily Democratic town.
Further down Liberty Street, Kelly Bernero passed out campaign literature for her father, Democrat Virg Bernero, describing him to fairgoers as the fighter for working families that Michigan needs.
"Our message today is that it's a grassroots effort and that it depends on people telling their friends and their family that Virg has the right message for Michigan," Kelly Bernero said. "Michigan needs a fighter like Virg Bernero in the governor's office who knows how to create and maintain jobs and defend working families. The more people who hear this message, the more our numbers are going to shoot up."
A new poll shows Bernero has surged past House Speaker Andy Dillon, his primary opponent, to take a 14-point lead — 35.6 percent to 21.8 percent — but with more than 40 percent undecided. That compares with Dillon's double-digit leads in other recent polls.
Despite obvious political differences, Cox and Kelly Bernero share some common ground: They're both University of Michigan graduates, and they both love Ann Arbor.
"I hated leaving here when I graduated from the U of M," said Cox, who finished his undergraduate degree here in 1986 and law degree in '89.
"I've been coming for years," he added about the Art Fairs. "I love it. This year I'm working it. Most other years I'm walking it, enjoying it and spending some money."
Kelly Bernero, 22, was joined by her younger sister, Virginia, and a friend as they knocked on 55 doors before heading down to the Art Fairs. She said there are big differences between Dillon and Bernero, and that's the message they pitched to voters.
"Most people who are voting in the primary, they haven't heard much about either candidate actually," Kelly Bernero said. "I was at the doors for an hour straight. Between the three of us, we talked to 55 voters. Once we said a few things about my dad, they were like, 'Oh, he's the only pro-stem cell research candidate? Oh, he's the only pro-choice candidate? Oh, he fought for the unions and he's for working families? OK, yeah, can I have a yard sign?' Even on the Democratic side, there are big differences."
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Polls show Cox and U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra are battling it out for the lead in the five-way Republican primary. Other candidates running include Ann Arbor venture capitalist Rick Snyder, Sen. Tom George of Kalamazoo and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard.
"I'm talking about reducing the size of government, cutting the business tax and income tax and talking about the reasons why I've been endorsed by so many major Republican players," Cox said of the message he shared today.
"Quite simply, I've talked the talk and walked the walk," he said. "I've actually reduced the size of our department. We're 20 percent smaller than we were when I began, and at the same time, we're doing more than ever before. And if people look at what I'm doing, whether it's ObamaCare or Arizona, I'm the only one who will absolutely say no to taxes. None of my other opponents will say that."
Cutting taxes, Cox believes, will put Michigan on the path to recovery.
"We have to take the price tag off us that says we're the third worst place to start a business or to create a job in the country," he said. "Under my plan, next year I cut the Michigan Business Tax in half. If we cut it in half, we'll move from the third worst to the seventh best place in the country to create a job, to start a business. So that's really the starting point, and everything else falls from there."
Kelly Bernero has been in South Africa for the past year studying abroad at the University of Cape Town, where she did some volunteer teaching and interned at an online historical society. Fresh from graduating from U-M with degrees in history and political science, she now is volunteering full-time on her father's gubernatorial campaign.
"I flew back from South Africa three weeks early just to do this," she said. "So I really dove headfirst into the campaign, and I'm working on it from the first minute I wake up until sometimes 2 a.m."
Kelly Bernero came to Ann Arbor four years ago to study at U-M. She was one of Hillary Clinton's main campus organizers during the 2008 presidential primary and has been politically active since. In addition to her most recent experience in South Africa, she also has traveled abroad through U-M to study in Vietnam.
Virg Bernero, a former state lawmaker and current mayor of Lansing, has earned a reputation in recent years as a fierce fighter for the middle class. He made national news when he lobbied Washington, D.C., for federal bridge loans for U.S. automakers.
"The Energizer Bunny you see and the guy who talks a mile a minute is the same on camera as off camera," Kelly Bernero says. "My dad is just a really passionate and energetic guy in all aspects of his life, whether it's supporting me when I played soccer or when I was a cheerleader here at Michigan. He'd come and be supportive of me, and my sister when she played softball."
But there is a lighter side to Virg Bernero, his daughter says.
"He's a funny guy. He's goofy," she says. "You should see him do the Cupid Shuffle. I think he's done it at a few of the retirement centers in Detroit and he just thinks he's the world's greatest Cupid Shuffle dancer, but you would really have to see it to believe it. I'm trying to post a YouTube video, so look out for that."