Nolan Finley, Ingrid Jacques and Daniel Howes discuss issues at the policy conference such as mobility, education and Mark Hackel's probable run for governor. Detroit Public TV
Mackinac Island — Mark Hackel says there’s a better than a 50-50 chance he’ll enter the 2018 gubernatorial race by midsummer, but he sure sounds like a guy who’s already 100 percent in.
“If I get in, I’m pretty sure I can win the Democratic primary,” the Macomb County executive said in an exclusive interview Tuesday night at the start of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.
But the Democratic primary is not his only option. Hackel says he’s also open to running as an independent, saying today’s political environment has turned off people to partisan politics.
“I’m fiscally conservative, and I agree with a lot of Republican positions,” says Hackel, who would have to give up his current post to run for governor, since the elections fall in the same cycle.
“I think voters just see me as a guy who can get things done. But I’m a Democrat, and that’s how I’d probably run.”
What would draw him into the race? He says if the current field of candidates offered by both parties — namely Gretchen Whitmer and Mark Bernstein on the Democratic side, and Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley on the Republican side — doesn’t improve, he would feel compelled to make a bid.
“A lot of people are in this race because they’re term limited or they think it’s their time, but they don’t really know what they’d do if they won,” he says.
“I look at this the same way I did when I decided to run for (Macomb County) sheriff and county executive — I don’t necessarily want to run, but I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t. There are problems that need to be solved — infrastructure, mental health, for example — that I believe I can solve.”
Hackel is not universally loved by his fellow Democrats. He has called out Democratic Macomb County officials for what he sees as mismanagement and malfeasance, and he endorsed Republican Candice Miller, the former congresswoman, for drain commissioner over the longstanding Democratic incumbent. He’s also enjoyed a cordial relationship with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
Still, Hackel says he can get the support of the Democratic Party because he has across-the-aisle appeal.
“Every day, I run into someone who says, ‘I’m a Republican, but I want you to run for governor,” he says. “I always win the most votes of anyone the Macomb County ballot. They like what I’m doing.”
His decision, Hackel says, will rest heavily on whether he thinks he can successfully do the job.
“I’ve never been afraid of losing,” he says. “But I have been afraid of winning. I always want to be sure I can get it done. And I believe I can.”
At this point, former state Sen. Whitmer is considered the Democratic frontrunner, but Hackel says he isn’t impressed with what he’s heard so far.
“I’m tired of hearing politicians say how much they hate Republicans or how much they hate Democrats. All that does is make you ineffective if you do win office. You can’t work with the other side.
“I’ve always been able to work with Republicans.”
And if Democrats don’t rush to his candidacy, Hackel says it is not impossible for an independent to win in the current political environment.
“(President Donald) Trump broke all the assumptions,” he says. “Party identification is not as strong. I believe I could put together a coalition from across the political spectrum.”
Hackel’s entry into the race would turn it upside down.
Macomb County remains Michigan’s electoral powerhouse, as was evidenced in the recent presidential election when its swing voters tipped the scales toward Trump.
The county’s blue collar, union voters have an affinity for GOP candidates in statewide and federal races.
But that base, though, is loyal to Hackel, and would provide him with a solid foundation for a statewide run.
Again, Hackel says he hasn’t made up his mind. But in the Tuesday night conversation, he was animated and energized when talking about the race, and there are clearly a lot of people in his ear urging him to run.
He’s talking to potential backers on the island this week, and if he hears what he’s hoping to hear, an announcement could be forthcoming in a matter of weeks.