A New Way to Campaign
A politician's campaigning process is rarely a breeze, but as he vies for reelection for his third and final term in Michigan's House of Representatives, incumbent 50th District Rep. Tim Sneller is, like many of his colleagues, facing the challenge of the novel coronavirus, too.
"It was a different way of campaigning," Sneller said. "I had to do more mailings, more social media than I ever did, because I love that content. That's why I had so many coffee hours, because I love that one-on-one with the constituents."
Last week was an important one for Sneller who, a big proponent of coffee hour discussions with District residents, held an in-person event for the first time since March. Sneller said that social distancing was practiced as well as possible by holding the meeting in a large room that was built to accommodate over 100 people. Of the roughly 20 attendees, each was provided with a take-home hand sanitizer bottle and a mask. For Sneller, he said chats like these are what really excite him about politics.
"Because I think as they're sitting down discussing issues, they're making points and you say, 'Well, I never thought about that.'" Sneller said. "… And the other thing, knocking on doors I really miss, but because of the pandemic I certainly wouldn't do it in the primary. And until we get things under control, which I just don't see it happening between now and November, it'll probably be the same thing in the fall."
But COVID-19 campaign precautions or not, Sneller says he's far from slowing down, and that includes in his daily responsibilities as a representative, too. Much of his work these days is spent answering the concerns of constituents over the phone.
"It's not a 9-to-5, it's seven days a week, because the day you don't answer that phone when the constituent calls, you're the one that doesn't work. [The callers I missed will say], 'They're not doing anything,'" Sneller said. "And they don't care if it's a Saturday or Sunday, but I think that I'm trying and making sure to represent my district well."
Coping with Coronavirus
And representing his district — which contains Burton, Grand Blanc, Grand Blanc Township, and Mundy Township in Genesee County — has involved a lot of COVID-19-related work.
"I have made over 5,200 phone calls since about March 20 when it started, helping people with unemployment, working with small businesses to open in a safe manner, working to get grants and loans so that they could [qualify] under the PPP — you name it," Sneller said.
Sneller has used the past several months to sponsor a series of pandemic-related bills during his time in the House related to mortgage and rent relief, fair employment practices, COVID-19 testing sites and more. What he's learned over the past couple of months is that Michigan's pandemic-related infrastructure needs an overhaul, like the "broken UIA system."
"I've been there since '83 [as a political staffer], so I've worked with five governors and one thing I don't think the system was ever set up for was to have 2.2 million people apply in eight weeks," he said. "Then you have the PUA, the federal stimulus money, that came along in about mid-April, which compounded a system that was already broken because what you did is you expanded the unemployment eligibility to people that normally wouldn't get them like small business owners who had to close, 1099 workers, gig workers. … Then I noticed in about early May, I started getting constituents saying, 'Oh my God, they've put a "stop payment" on it.'"
That "stop payment" message was often, among other things, the result of confusion in the unemployment system related to applicants' identity.
Despite the self-described "whirlwind" of the last several months, Sneller is now realigning his goals to both maintain the forward progress of COVID-19-related legislation and focus on his original priorities like pushing for LGBTQ rights.
"I worked closely with my colleagues Jon Hoadley, who is running for Congress, and Sen. Jeremy Moss. We were the three LGBT Caucus members in 2017. Of course, Jeremy has now moved on to the Senate and we have done a lot of LGBT bills. One I know Jon has prided himself on is amending the Elliott-Larsen Act to include the LGBT community," Sneller said. "Another bill I had that I sponsored was to expand the hate crimes to include the LGBT community, so it's going to be human rights issues, it's going to be making people's lives better when they need their government. So that's what I plan on continuing should I continue through the August primary and should I get reelected in November."
When asked what he feels are the best methods pushing through pro-equality legislation, like amending the Elliott-Larsen Act, Sneller was blunt.
"That's easy, because until we change the makeup or until we convince the majority party, none of that's going to go anywhere, and I'll give you a great example. Rep. Hoadley, he gave me, the first term I was there, the resolution to designate June as Gay Pride Month in Michigan. And I said to Jon, 'Thank you, I appreciate it, but this bill's going to be DOA.' A resolution is either adopted on the floor that day or it's referred to a committee to die a slow death," Sneller said. "And that's what has happened, unfortunately, during the four years that I've been there."
He is optimistic, however, for a chance at "a more balanced playing field" concerning the makeup of the Michigan Legislature in the upcoming election.
"None of it's going to change now until the election now or 2022," he said. "Hopefully, we're going to look for a new makeup of how we reapportion our House districts and Congressional districts because it won't be done by one party, which one party has for the last two cycles."
If he is elected again, Sneller is term-limited to only two more years in the House of Representatives. He said running for Michigan State Senate is not off the table.
"They say this in politics, but I learned this in life: never say never. You take one step at a time, I'm running for my last term in the House, but you never know what's out there in two years," Sneller said. "Two years is sometimes a lifetime in politics and in public service. I just want to be able to get my message out there that I've been with it."
In the meantime, Sneller said he's focusing on appealing to voters in advance of the primary election on Aug. 4.
"Because, at the end of the day, I was just telling a colleague of mine yesterday, they don't count the dollars you bring, they don't count the number of signs you put up, they don't count the number of lit pieces that you mail out, they count votes," Sneller said. "And you've got to earn those votes."