By Susan J. Demas
Retiring U.S. Rep. Candice Miller’s exclusive interview in subscription-only IMP (Vol. XV, No. 42) is not to be missed.
The Harrison Twp. Republican gave an inside look into her surprise bid for Macomb Public Works Commissioner, challenging long-time Democratic incumbent Anthony Marrocco. She also talked about her close ally, Democratic County Executive Mark Hackel, and whether a 2018 gubernatorial “Unity Ticket” was possible. And Miller wasn’t shy in her criticism of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump –– but discussed why she’s getting behind him.
As a bonus, here’s a bit more of Miller’s interview, in which she talks about the Flint water crisis and how Gov. Rick Snyder has handled it –– as well as some background on the controversial KWA pipeline. Miller also frankly addresses the challenges for women running for office and gives a humorous take on the media’s obsession with how female politicians look.
Here are excerpts:
IMP: You have been the only female committee chair in the House [of the Administration Committee for two terms, 2013-17]. Are somewhat disappointed that the field for your congressional seat is all male?
Miller: Yes. [Laughs]. I mean, I’m a big supporter of women getting involved at every level ––politics, professionally, the private sector, what have you. Certainly in politics, I believe we need more women on both sides –– certainly on my side. We do bring a different perspective. And I thought [state Rep.] Andrea LaFontaine (R-Memphis) would have been a very good candidate. But she’s getting married; she’s moving out of the district. And this is what happens in women’s lives. It’s still a part of it, right? Or all of a sudden, you have small children; you’re not willing to be in Washington three days a week. Some of the women that do that and have small children –– honestly, I do not understand how they do it. God love ‘em. I don’t know how it all works. Or if you have elderly parents, taking care of them. Or whatever it is. It’s still part of it.
And I also think it’s more difficult for women to raise money. For whatever reason –– we all talk about it –– we have no trouble asking someone for $1,000 to give to the local hospital or something like that, right? But will you give me $1,000 to run for Public Works? I mean, that is a difficult thing for women to do. It’s just more difficult. I don’t really know why. But that also is a hinderance to some women running. I talk to some women who are thinking of running. And I say, ‘You should just get a bunch of your women friends that you should start with. And you should say, ‘Look, what does it cost for a new outfit for you? Is it $50? $100? Instead of that, would you be willing to invest in good government, in my candidacy?’’ And you got your start here, right?
IMP: You recently told the Detroit Free Press’ Carol Cain that you’re ‘not into clothes and hair’ even though the media are preoccupied with female politicians’ appearances. What advice would you give women looking to run for public office on this front?
Miller: [Laughs]. Just know that that’s part of it, right –– that that’s part of our culture. Look, whether you’re a newspaper reporter like you are or Carol Cain or Candice Miller, let’s face it. When you go on Off the Record, I’m sure they’re not looking at [Michigan Radio Network Bureau Chief] Rick Pluta’s hairdo [to see] how he’s doing. It is what it is. It’s universal. So there’s no use complaining about that. I think you can overdo it a bit or just say, ‘Well, whatever.’ I mean, I’m 62 years old. Guess what? I have a double chin. Oh, well. [Laughs]. I always say, ‘’Slightly’ is the operative word.’ Whatever, I’m healthy. I feel good. And I’m blessed.
IMP: You’ve cited the Flint water crisis as one reason why you’re running for Public Works Commissioner. Do you think that Gov. Rick Snyder has been treated unfairly over this issue? Has it been a bit of overkill?
Miller: Yes, I think so. And yes, that is one reason why I ran for Public Works. I have to tell you, I think that is one of the most terrible things –– about the worst things I have seen in Michigan since I’ve been in office. I mean, there was one woman outside the [U.S. House] hearing room –– she came to Washington, African-American woman and she said to me cause they were also saying that some of these miscarriages might have been … now I don’t know; I’m not a doctor. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But she said, ‘I miscarried twins. I miscarried twins. And my two children that are alive, they both tested positive for lead poisoning.’ Now think about that for a moment. It is just beyond terrible. So it’s really, really bad what happened.
That being said, I think the governor because of the kind of person he is –– not because of his professional background as a CEO –– immediately stepped up and said, ‘That’s my responsibility. That’s on my watch and I take full responsibility.’ The truth is, there was enough blame to go around. But by the time I think everybody said, ‘Hey, what about the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]? Look at this. What about the [Flint] City Council?’
And quite frankly, [Genesee] County pushing that KWA [Karegnondi Water Authority]. What the heck was that all about? That is ridiculous. I remember those guys coming into my office asking me for earmarks when they were going to start that. And I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. You’re not getting earmarks for that. Yes, you might have some corruption in the Detroit Water System, but there’s never been a question about the [water] quality. So build me a brand-new line for that kind of money? Are you out of your mind?’ And they came back twice; they asked me a number of times. I told them, ‘Don’t come back here. I’m never going to help you do that. We shouldn’t be building a new line.’
Anyway, there’s lots of blame to go around. That was way before Gov. Snyder even thought about running for governor. So I it’s just as I say. It’s a terrible thing that happened there. But I do think, if there’s any silver lining there –– and it’s difficult to find any silver lining there –– it’s that people are aware that we need to invest in underground infrastructure. You know, you invest in the over-ground. Because when you run over a pothole –– guess what? –– you feel it. But you don’t know what’s underground. But now we see that can definitely impact our quality of life. And that is here in Macomb County, like everywhere else in this country.
And I talk to you about all these sewer overflows. Because we have an inadequate underground system. What happens is, the heavy rains come; we just dump it over. And gosh, it’s not rocket scientry. It can be fixed. But I’m not saying it will be without resources. So I’m hopeful that some of the experiences I’ve had, whether it’s at the state level –– certainly at the federal level –– I do sort of understand where some of these resources are at. And again, although I can’t guarantee anything with the budget, with stuff, I do think people are going to be spending more money on infrastructure. And we want to make sure it’s invested properly.
IMP: What are you most proud of accomplishing in Congress?
Miller: I’ve done a lot of work on the Great Lakes and I feel good about all kinds of things that have happened there. I feel good about some of my work on [the] Homeland Security [Committee]. We have come a long way with a number of different issues to protect our citizens. I sit on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; I’m the only Michigan member. And so people who say I don’t have any experience in infrastructure –– guess what? I do have a little experience on all of these issues, the State Revolving Fund, pipeline issues –– all of these things come through our committee.
And different highway builds that we’ve had. For instance, when I first got to Congress, Michigan was a donor state. Actually I forget what it was –– either 82 or 86 cents on the dollar we got returned. And now, we’re no longer a donor state. Which translates to hundreds of millions of dollars to Michigan for infrastructure investment. So a number of those things, I think, have been very positive.