Having represented his hometown of Flint in Congress since 2013, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee remains focused on fixing the ongoing water crisis in the beleaguered city. Like many, Kildee believes the situation is indicative of what can happen when basic infrastructure gets ignored. As Kildee calls for those long-term investments, his name continues to pop up as a potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate in two years when current Gov. Rick Snyder’s term is up. Kildee spoke with MiBiz at this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference about his political aspirations and the need for government to invest in infrastructure and public education.
Do you think the Flint water crisis and the failing Detroit Public Schools are interconnected issues?
I think the case of the Detroit Public Schools and the Flint water crisis, they’re unique to each of the situations, but they’re connected to these larger issues. I don’t think there’s one mind in Michigan yet about whether we believe enough in our own future to invest in it. That’s really the question. Whether it’s Flint and infrastructure, if we believe Flint has a future, then we have to build out the infrastructure so that city has a chance to survive.
What about Detroit Public Schools?
With Detroit Public Schools, we can’t consign a whole generation of school children to a failed future. Morally, it’s bankrupt to do that. But we also pay a heavy price. I think it’s hard to separate both issues from the larger themes, and so far there’s been a lot of good ideas thrown around, like what (Detroit Mayor) Mike Duggan is talking about — I think that’s really helpful. But I don’t think there’s anything emerging as a consensus in Michigan on either subject.
What should the state do to fix these problems so it can move on and tackle other issues?
I think the question is whether we’re going to devote the resources to rebuild our infrastructure and to guarantee every child in Michigan an education that allows them to be their best. It really comes down to not just the policy and how we do that — those are good questions — but whether we’re going to commit the resources. Is it a ‘get well’ card saying we hope things go well, or are we actually going to provide the resources to make that happen?
How do we pay for the proper fixes?
The thing that has to be part of the discussion is not just what is the cost of doing those things, (but) what is the cost of not doing them. Those are the only two choices we have. We don’t get to have a third choice where we don’t pay for good infrastructure and we don’t pay for good schools, but everything still works out OK.
What are the costs if we choose not to invest?
On the infrastructure challenge, if we don’t invest, we’re less competitive. Our products can’t compete with products in markets that are investing in roads, rails, ports, I.T. infrastructure. So basically we lose jobs and we lose economic output. On public education, if we don’t get it right, not only does it undermine our competitiveness because we don’t have the talent, but public education isn’t just workforce development. The idea is to educate whole human beings. We’re less productive, and the costs of the struggles that current school children will face in 10, 20, or 30 years are high social costs that we will pay for in a different way.
What do you mean by that?
We pay for it with higher unemployment, greater dependency, higher crime rates, lower health outcomes. We can’t afford the self-delusion that there’s not a big price tag that comes with failure to invest.
How would you evaluate the current Michigan Congressional delegation?
It’s a good and diverse delegation that works pretty well together on things that we have in common. Like with issues related to the auto sector, we work pretty well together. We also work pretty well together on Great Lakes protections as well. I think where we come upon our differences are on those larger, national questions that are more ideologically based.
What’s your working relationship with Congressman Amash from West Michigan?
Even a member like Justin Amash, with whom I have big disagreements on economic policy, he and I work really well together on issues of privacy and government’s role in national security. I think it’s a good thing in Michigan where the members take the approach that where we agree, let’s work together, and where we don’t, let’s not make that an issue that prevents us from coming together where we can.
Are you planning to run for governor?
Yeah, I’m going to think about it when the time comes. You know, after this election, I’ll sit down with my family and think about whether I think that’s the path that gives me the best opportunity to work on the things I care about.
Are you better suited to work on those types of issues as governor than as a member of Congress?
I mean, the governor has enormous authority, but I have to weigh the personal aspect of that decision and what the real politics look like. It’s mostly a personal choice. While I enjoy my work and I could see myself doing it for a long time, I’ve never defined myself by the job I have. I have defined myself by the things I’m working on. So the role could change, but it won’t change what I focus my attention on.