Voters in Michigan’s 10th Congressional District have four candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot. WDET’s Pat Batcheller interviewed each of them. Click on the audio player to hear his conversation with Jeremy Peruski, an independent candidate. He is a financial advisor for the technology industry. Here’s a transcript of the interview:
Pat Batcheller: Why are you running?
Jeremy Peruski: I’m running because I don’t believe that our representative represents our community anymore. They represent either talking points, special interest demands, or in some cases, just themselves and their own gratification.
Pat Batcheller: Have you ever run for office before?
Jeremy Peruski: I have never run before, but having seen how our politics are today, I believe that right now, looking at the situation we have in terms of just the constant arguing and bickering between the two parties, and America not moving forward—we’re just spinning our wheels here in the mud. I believe we need people that are not tied to these two parties, not tied to the special interests, to be able to, first of all, represent the community, and second of all, be able to get things going again and move past these divisive talking points and stuff that isn’t helping move us forward.
Pat Batcheller: Is that what led you to run as an independent?
Jeremy Peruski: Exactly. It’s a situation where you need to stop complaining and do something about it. Growing up on a small dairy farm, that’s kind of how things always were. If things broke down, you had to fix it, you couldn’t sit there and whine about it. You have to get something done. And it’s the same thing coming to this. So many of us find ourselves complaining about what’s happening and what we’re hearing. And a lot of it is driven by what’s happening in our politics, that we need to be able to fix this. And I believe that stepping into this and being able to be a voice for the community—not for the talking points being pushed by the parties and special interests—but listening to the community, hearing what the needs of the community are, and being able to come up with common sense solutions that address those needs. And that’s the basis of what we need in our community.
Pat Batcheller: When you meet voters in the district, what do they say to you? What is their top issue, and how would you address it if elected?
Jeremy Peruski: There are two ways I would look at this. The first is directly what your question was. The answer is unequivocally that we’ve seen the American Dream has become unaffordable. The middle class has become unaffordable. When you talk to families making $100,000 and they’re worried that one unexpected health care bill could drive them into bankruptcy, we know that we’re not in a stable situation. Even though we have an economy that’s at all-time highs, we have unemployment lows, when you have low unemployment, those jobs are low-paying jobs and people can still barely put food on the table. I don’t consider them high-quality employment kind of jobs. We need to be able to address that and fix it and make the American Dream affordable again. With a lot of the big issues, one is looking at health care costs that are just absolutely rampant. Being an independent, I try to figure out what are the simple solutions that everybody can agree upon. Whether people want to say give health care to everybody or take it away from everybody, it doesn’t make sense. These extremes don’t make sense. But when you look at it from a very practical solution, how do we fix what we have here? The one thing that 90 percent of the people agree with—pharmaceutical costs are way too high. Just like every developed country in the world, we need to be able to put caps on our pharmaceutical prices. We can’t allow these pharmaceutical companies to have monopolies on drugs to be able to just set their own prices. I find it ridiculous that Medicare, the largest buyer of drugs in the world, cannot negotiate drug prices. It’s written into law, that was pushed by lobbyists, obviously. It makes absolutely zero sense. And so a situation like that, where we can start addressing the cost, not gutting the services that we’re getting from health care, but being able to address the cost side. Education is a huge one. Insurance costs across the board, whether it’s health care, auto insurance, any insurance that you’re looking at, all of these issues, we’ve seen the prices going up dramatically over the last 10-15 years. But at the same time, the average wage growth in the United States just got back to the level that it was in 2008. So, essentially it’s down to flat over the last ten years. But we know those costs have not remained flat, they’ve gone up astronomically. So we need to be able to address that.
Pat Batcheller: Our listeners have identified four issues they say matter most to them in this election cycle—education, water quality, transportation, and gerrymandering. First, how would you improve our schools?
Jeremy Peruski: First and foremost, looking at the schools, we’ve got to stop teaching to a test. Every single educator, administrator I talk to says this is the most frustrating part of the entire process. Because you have teachers who are educated to teach in different areas can’t do that because they have to teach to the test. We know that not everybody is meant to go to college. There’s nothing wrong with going to college and there’s nothing wrong with NOT going to college. We need to able to help our kids identify what they’re good at, what they want to do, and then what’s affordable. We can’t be saying that kids should be going to college from kindergarten or first grade, because if they don’t they’ll be a failure in life. We need to let them know that there are other options. We’re facing a huge shortage of skilled labor jobs in our area for welders, carpenters, electricians, plumbers across the board. And these are jobs that kids could come out with skills right after high school and be making $35,000 or more per year with no debt. And if you look at our district, only 23 percent of the people have a college education. When you look at that other portion, are we giving them the skills for the jobs of tomorrow? And we need to make sure we are giving them the skills for the jobs of tomorrow. Right now, we have an imbalance on that side. We have a shortage of skilled labor because we have a lot of people who don’t have the skills. We need to be able to train these people, whether they’re high school students or unemployed, we need to be able to help give them the skills to be able to get these jobs that give them a good middle class lifestyle.
Pat Batcheller: How would you protect our water?
Jeremy Peruski: There are several issues we’re looking at. One is the Great Lakes. This is the Great Lakes state. By default, anybody that lives here should be defending this with everything they’ve got. There’s absolutely no question. It doesn’t matter what your party affiliation is. This is a nonpartisan issue. We need to be protecting that. The other side of it is looking at water source quality. When you’re talking about the issue that you had in Flint with the lead pipes, we need to make sure that everyone has access to clean water. We need to be able to make sure that everybody can test their own water. I believe in individual independence. We need to make sure everybody can test their own water, make sure the quality is good, and that their kids are safe, that they’re safe, and if not, be able to rectify that. It’s a very basic thing having safe drinking water and access to water and making sure we’re protecting the Great Lakes.
Pat Batcheller: How would you improve transportation or transit in the 10th District?
Jeremy Peruski: That’s another big issue. The Republican incumbent (Paul Mitchell), his number one speaking point in 2016 when he ran for office was that he defeated a (ballot proposal) that would have fixed out roads and bridges, our core infrastructure. We know that if we’re not fixing this, the longer we go without fixing it, the more expensive it becomes to fix it. Also, all the damage. I heard a number that in Michigan, in the district, we spend $600 to $800 a year on average fixing our cars because of how bad our roads are. And our current congressman bragged about the fact that he was the one that made sure we didn’t get funding for that. And oddly enough, now that there’s funding for Mound Road, he’s trying to take credit for it, even though we know that was in the works by previous legislators, not by him. This is the motor capital of the world. Honestly, we should have the autobahn here. We should have beautiful roads, we have to make sure they’re good, but they have to be paid for. We need to make sure we have the money we need to put into our infrastructure. Whether it’s coming from the state Legislature or the federal level, it’s going to take a combination of all of the above to be able to fix the roads, fix the bridges, get them up to par because right now we have some of the worst roads in the United States. One thing I would add, when we’re talking about infrastructure, looking at broadband. A huge percentage of our district has no or very limited access to broadband. When you look at the largest growth driver of our global economy is going to be technology. And the vast majority of our district doesn’t have access to broadband technology. At a foundational level, we’re not even positioned for those jobs that are being created today. We need to be able to address this. This is a huge issue. If we want to see our district and our area thriving and jobs coming back, we need to make sure at a fundamental level—just like electricity—we have access to broadband.
Pat Batcheller: Do you support or oppose Proposal 2, which establishes an independent redistricting committee to set state political boundaries?
Jeremy Peruski: I support it 100 percent. I think gerrymandering is at the core of the dysfunction we have in society. Between that and Citizens United, which has allowed unlimited corporate spending in our politics, those are the two areas that at a foundational level have skewed things against the voters. They skewed it in favor of the money, in favor of the politicians and not the voters. We need to fix that. We need to make sure that we do have independent commissions that are doing the redistricting. And this is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is both parties’ issue, because it depends on who’s in charge. They’ve both tried to redistrict it in their own favor. We need to stop that. We need to take it out of their hands and make it an independent commission.
Pat Batcheller: What concerns, if any, do you have about tariffs and how they might affect farmers in the 10th District?
Jeremy Peruski: It’s a huge issue. As you know, I’ve been doing business internationally for over 15 years. Tariffs are horrible weapons of trade. At the end of the day, the consumer—us—we’re the ones that end up paying for it. When we’re looking at the tariffs right now, we needed to go after China. We needed to be able to stop them from having this forced technology transfer, stealing our IT. From a tariff perspective, it has a very low impact on them. We see it right now, they’re not even coming to the table to negotiate. There are other ways to be able to do that. When we’re looking specifically at farmers, they’re taking it on the chin right now because prices have gone down dramatically. I’ve spoken to several farmers. They know that soybeans are being rerouted through South America, through Brazil, and being labeled as Brazilian and sent to China. And so Brazil now is taking a percentage of what should be our profit. Because of the global economy, there are all these work-arounds. Whether it’s steel coming from China, China owns a lot of different steel companies around the world. So they just pick a different country and start exporting the steel from those countries and rerouting it through there. There’s a lot of loopholes here. The clear impact is the fact that they’re not even coming to the table to negotiate. I think it’s a horrible choice of ways to be able to negotiate with China. But we need to be able to go after them. The best way we went after China was at the beginning. We went after the second-largest communications company in China, ZTE. We stopped selling chips to them. That got China to stand up. They came to the table immediately. But what they ended up doing was agreeing to pay a $1 billion fine, and then it was all OK. That was where we actually got their attention. We need to be able to look at issues like that to be able to more effectively push for change at the global trading level with them.
Pat Batcheller: What makes you the best candidate to serve the 10th District?
Jeremy Peruski: Very simply, I’m not tied to party talking points and trying to ram that down people’s throats and dividing our community. And I’m not forced to push the agenda of the special interests that pay for our politicians to be there. I’m running independent of what the two parties want to do. I’m running independent of the special interest demands. I’m the only candidate out there that’s 100 percent dependent on the community, the voters. I want to make sure I’m able to represent my community and the needs of our community and be able to come up with common sense solutions that address our needs.
Pat Batcheller: What haven’t we talked about that you want to add?
Jeremy Peruski: The old rhetoric that people are used to hearing, that if you don’t vote for the two parties you’re wasting your vote, I think it’s marketing by the two parties to push down any sort of competition in our politics. And I say that if we’re voting for the same two parties again and again, aren’t we wasting our vote expecting that something is going to change? These two parties have created this mess. And again, it doesn’t matter which side you pick, but the two parties are the ones that got us into this mess. They’re not going to get us out. They benefit from the stagnation that we see in our politics. If we really want to elicit change in our politics, it starts by bringing in people with common sense solutions, that care about the community, and want to do what’s best for the community—not what’s best for the parties or the talking points.