Could Betsy DeVos Cost Trump the Election? - 2019-10-22
In 2016, Darrin Camilleri was 24 and teaching at a Detroit charter school 20 miles from where he grew up, when Michigan lawmakers took up a measure to implement more rigorous oversight of the city's charter schools. Seemingly anyone could open a charter in Detroit, and the schools closed just as suddenly as they opened. From his classroom on the city's southwest side, Camilleri watched the reform effort fail. "Watching that play out really showed me the downside of deregulation," he told me. "No one is holding anyone accountable." That year, he decided to run for state representative in southern Wayne County, a largely blue-collar area that shades rural at its edges. Rather than hewing to standard Democratic talking points—health care, for instance, or Donald Trump's erratic comments—Camilleri made charter school oversight and school funding his central issues, and in 2016, he became the only Democrat to flip a Republican state house seat in Michigan.
Trump would win the state by the slimmest of margins—just 10,704 votes. Today, his political advisers are determined to court the same coalition of suburban, rural, and blue-collar voters that sent him to the White House three years ago, but the president will have a serious liability during this cycle: Betsy DeVos. When Camilleri ran for reelection in 2018, he lost count of the number of people he met who still supported Trump but had come to loathe DeVos. "She is the most polarizing figure in Michigan," Camilleri told me. "People can't stomach the fact that Trump picked her. They care about good schools."
In the three years since Trump turned Michigan red, education has emerged as a potent political issue in the state, thanks to a steady stream of grim studies and embarrassing news stories. Between 2003 and 2015, the state ranked last out of all 50 for improvement in math and reading. According to a recent study, Michigan now spends less on its schools than it did in 1994. Republicans have slashed funding to give tax cuts to big businesses. And the number of people who choose to become teachers has fallen dramatically.