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Kalamazoo — Gov. Rick Snyder kicked off a series of re-election campaign town hall meetings Monday by calling Democratic claims that he cut education funding to give big businesses tax breaks "hogwash."

Snyder continued to counter Democratic criticism of his public school funding policies that have redirected millions to teacher pensions away from classrooms by noting overall education spending is up $1 billion since 2011.

"They're lying to you," Snyder said about Democratic TV ads while appearing before a mostly friendly crowd of 100 voters at the event at Western Michigan University.

Snyder said claims by Democrats that his $1.8 billion business tax reduction aided large corporations is "more hogwash" because the tax cut largely eliminated state income taxes for small and medium-sized companies.

The Republican governor, who faces a tough re-election battle against Democrat Mark Schauer, spent most of hour-long event touting his accomplishments in office and defending controversial decisions, such as signing a "right-to-work" law and levying the income tax on thousands of retirees' pensions.

"I've made some tough decisions," Snyder said during the first of 10 campaign town hall meetings.

The Snyder campaign screened the voters allowed into the event, and attendees included his former state health director, local elected officials and state Reps. Aric Nesbitt and Margaret O'Brien, both southwest Michigan Republicans.

Sturgis resident Tammy Chupp, 45, and her 19-year-old son, Chris, said they were sold on Snyder before and after the event. "I feel like he's just a normal person doing what's right for the people," said Chris Chupp, a junior at WMU.

Independent voter Steve Patterson questioned the governor about his administration's commitment to transparency, noting a series of controversies involving "dark money" from corporations to Snyder's now-disbanded NERD Fund and a "skunk works" education reform project he shut down. "Why would any voter believe you?" Patterson asked. Snyder did not address the Kalamazoo County man's questions head on, but noted his administration has instituted dashboards tracking spending and economic data.

Prior to the event, Schauer's allies cried foul over the Snyder campaign shunning Schauer allies who tried to get a ticket to attend.

The head of the liberal organization Progress Michigan and other Democrats complained on social media that Snyder's campaign canceled their tickets for the Bernhard Center event.

The Republican governor's campaign has said Schauer is welcome to join Snyder at any of the town hall events before the Nov. 4 election. Schauer did not attend Monday's event.

Schauer's supporters interpreted that as an invitation to attend, noting the Snyder campaign suggested the event would be open to the public and media.

"If Snyder is handpicking attendees, that's a rally not a town hall," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan.

Snyder spokeswoman Emily Benavides said the forums are meant for undecided voters to ask the governor questions. "Mark Schauer wants to send his underlings because he's afraid to show up himself," Benavides said.

Snyder's campaign is holding its second forum at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy. An event website said it is "sold out."

The Snyder campaign said initially announced a third town hall meeting that was to be held Saturday in Detroit. But that event has been postponed for a later date, Benavides said.

"Rick Snyder's town hall stops are nothing more than political stunts," Schauer spokeswoman Cathy Bacile Cunningham said.

Snyder and Schauer will square off Oct. 12 in a televised town hall meeting co-sponsored by The Detroit News.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

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