In 2018, Michigan voters will elect a new governor to succeed Rick Snyder — who’s term-limited and cannot run again — as well as a new Legislature. John Truscott, president of the public relations firm Truscott Rossman Group LLC and a veteran of the Lansing political scene, says Republicans who have been in charge for years in Lansing need to guard against complacency if they want to maintain control.
What are the top issues in the 2018 campaign that businesses need to pay attention to?
I’m really seeing a lot, and we’re working a little bit, in the education space. When you look at where Michigan students now rank, it’s pretty much across the board we’re at the bottom of the pack because other states have improved and we haven’t. So I really see that as being a key issue for the future of the state and I do think next year will be a big year for addressing the issue. K-12 education and education quality is going to be a big part of the discussion.
What else besides education?
Beyond that, the budget is always an issue. We’re looking at the next couple years of some pretty tight times in the state budget. You have local government not being funded at the level they need to be to provide their services. You have overwhelming retirement obligations that the Legislature just tried to deal with. So a lot of those issues will probably come to a head next year.
What do your clients tell you is on their minds that Lansing needs to address?
Just stay out of the way. I have some friends in manufacturing that this year are having the best year that they’ve had in decades, and two years ago, they didn’t know if they could hang on. Part of it is the national recovery that’s going on. But those that were able to squeak through seven or eight years ago and are still around, and then went through still a number of lean years, they’re finally back and feeling really good about the future. So it really comes down to the message for the state is: ‘Don’t mess it up.’
What’s the mood among voters these days?
Who knows where it will be on election day, but right now I think overall optimism and things are moving in the right direction, but at the same time people probably have never been more frustrated with their elected leadership. You look at the controversy and all the sexual harassment and everything — things that five years ago nobody would have paid attention to. Now it’s a cascading effect of people leaving. I think people have reached a point where — and probably rightfully so — they’re expecting a lot more.
How do you think that could play into the race for governor and the legislature?
The conventional wisdom would be that this would be a Democratic year because it typically has advantaged the party out of the White House. But politics has changed so much with this last cycle that we don’t know if conventional wisdom will hold true. Any pundit that thinks they have it nailed, they’re the ones that are going to miss it by the widest margin.
What are voters looking for in the 2018 races?
We’re a Midwestern state. We are not like the coasts. We have a lot of common sense here. People just want to do their job, provide for the family, and maybe have a little more left over at the end. So I think candidates that talk to making lives a little bit better, not increasing burdens on people, and to an extent just letting them do their thing will still resonate. It mixes some of the Trump aspect of why people voted for him, but then taking it a little more positive with looking to the future in terms of what we can do as a state. The auto industry’s back, but yet there’s more competition in that space than ever before and (with) the whole autonomous vehicle sector. … How do we hang on to that and grow it and make sure we have those jobs in the future? I think that’s what people are looking for.
The Republicans have been in charge in Lansing for the last few cycles now. Do they have to guard against party fatigue?
I have said for a long time that it’s real easy to get fat and happy when you’ve been in power for a long time and you’re dealing with staff and people that have never served in the minority. There’s nothing that will make you hungrier than serving in the minority where you can’t really get anything done. Republicans definitely have to guard against complacency and that feeling that you’re always going to be in power and people owe it to you. The voters don’t owe you anything. You have to earn it every single day, and that’s a lesson that’s really hard to learn for people who have never been on the minority side of things.
What would surprise you in Lansing in 2018?
If another candidate got in on either side for the gubernatorial race. There’s nobody out there that’s expected to get in and shake up the race. There are people on both sides of the aisle asking for it, but there’s nobody actually waiting in the wings. I also think the Legislature will be somewhat cautious and do what it has to do to keep things moving along, but as you head into lame-duck status, it’s really difficult to launch a lot of new ideas. So I wouldn’t expect anything earth-shattering to come out of the next year.
What’s one prediction you have for 2018?
My Spartans win the national championship in basketball. In political terms, I don’t see any way Democrats pick up the Senate. At worst we have a split Legislature. We may get into a situation that we haven’t had in a while where it’s difficult for Republicans to hang on to the House. That would be one that could be likely. But again, what is the Trump effect going to be? I don’t think anybody can predict that at this point, and I think that will drive some of the sentiment at the ballot box.