Renee Richer's ties to Michigan's Upper Peninsula run deep. So deep in fact that The Farmhouse, the building that today serves as Richer's Gladstone-based bed-and-breakfast of the same name, has been in her family for more than a century. With connections to her community that run five generations strong, it makes sense that Richer would feel a sense of obligation to give back to her Upper Peninsula roots. In fact, she said that much of her interest in running for Michigan's 108th House district stems from conversations with travelers right at The Farmhouse's kitchen table.
"I've had hundreds and hundreds of people come through my house. Every political persuasion, every religion and yet, everybody wants the same thing: We all want to live in a safe and secure community, we all want our children and our parents to be able to have affordable access to health care, we all want to have a living wage and work hard and be respected in our jobs," Richer said.
And beyond connecting with constituents on a personal level, Richer says she wants her campaign to serve "as the voice of science in policy." Richer earned her bachelor's degree in biology from The University of Chicago and holds a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University. She has spent much of her career studying environmental science and climate change both in the U.S. and around the world, and over the last 12 years, Richer has focused on human exposures to environmental neurotoxins — like Michigan's harmful algal blooms. She currently commutes regularly to her teaching job at The University of Wisconsin – Green Bay in Marinette. She said that her scientific background coupled with her social connection to Michiganders has made her a well-rounded candidate.
"I think I bring a wealth of experience and a wide variety of experience that helps to shape my views and my understanding and helps to shape policy. And also as a scientist, particularly with water quality and health issues, I think [that's] a very unique strength to the legislature. So many of our policies simply aren't being based on our understanding of the science and that's become even more apparent in the last few years," Richer said. "It's very disappointing to watch policies being introduced and supported, which we know will not be effective."
Priorities in Policy
For Richer, efficiency is vital to create effective policy. She said that some of her first goals will be to ease part of the tax burden on Michigan's senior citizens and direct as many funds as possible into education — Michigan's "best investment."
"Michigan currently has the lowest corporate tax rate in the nation, but that hasn't prevented massive losses from the state of Michigan. What it has done is it's damaged our abilities to continue to be a competitive state," she said.
"As corporate tax rates have dropped, tax rates on the middle class have increased, and when we look at the large corporate tax cuts … that's when we saw the implementation of the pension tax," Richer continued. "We cut corporate taxes at the expense of seniors, and the result is that the schools have lost $2 billion and that money has never come back into the funds to support our schools."
Richer made sure to emphasize that her focus on funding education wouldn't be exclusive to institutions of higher learning and that K-12 and trade schools would be included.
"We know some of the best jobs are in the trades … [and] I'm looking at providing all students with the best opportunities for advancement," Richer said. "Looking at K-12, in particular, we know that that is where our best investment comes from. For every dollar we put into 0- to 5-year-olds we get on average $17 back. That is the best investment our state could make in young people. And then when it comes to higher education, I think students really need to be aware of the opportunities that are available to them, whether they choose to go to college or whether they choose to go to a trade school."
Finally, Richer wants to expand upon those connections she makes regularly with guests at her B&B by creating both an inclusive and transparent campaign.
"When decisions and policies are made in the dark people just aren't aware of what are the driving forces, and if we can bring into the light these processes of how policy is being made, who is influencing policy, and in many times that process is leaving out the local community. … It's damaging to all communities," Richer said. "… So, I hope to be unique in the way that I interact with constituents and being very open about how our policies are being designed and where our weaknesses are. And where we can come together to actually improve policy."
An openly lesbian candidate, Richer has a personal stake in expanding LGBTQ rights protections across Michigan. She's paying close attention to efforts like Fair and Equal Michigan's petition to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections.
"I'm watching that very closely," she said. "I think it's very difficult when basic rights like your ability to hold a job are at risk. And I'm very well aware of the fact that I can lose my job being married to Shane, and that's scary."
Scary realities like those for minorities come from misunderstandings about them. That's why for Richer, developing clear-cut and efficient policy is the only path toward changing them for the better.
"And if we develop good policy from the beginning we're going to be much more efficient," she said. "We'll be saving a tremendous amount of money and then we can have funds to support fantastic schools and what we need to build the Michigan economy."
To find out more about Richer's campaign visit richerin2020.com.