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Who is Mark Schauer, really?

We can say two things about the race for governor today: Mark Schauer and Rick Snyder are essentially tied in the polls. And it looks like we may not have a single televised debate.

The last time that happened was 16 years ago, when John Engler refused to debate Geoffrey Fieger. There was a certain logic to that.

Fieger was going around saying that the governor was a “corn-fed bowser,” and declared he would not accept that Engler was the father of his triplets unless they had corkscrew tails.

That was not a normal campaign. But this one is, and the voters have a lot at stake. This time, the challenger wants debates and the incumbent doesn’t.

Conventional wisdom says that’s because the governor doesn’t want to make it seem like his opponent is his equal, or because it is always harder to defend a record than attack one.

That may be. But it is also possible that Republicans are wasting a golden opportunity to put the challenger on the defensive. Here’s why.

Mark Schauer, a longtime legislator and former congressman from Battle Creek, has been running mostly as the anti-Snyder. But who is Schauer, really?

We essentially don’t know where and how he stands on a lot of issues.

For example, fixing the roads. The governor has put forward a fairly straightforward plan, a combination of gas tax increases and vehicle registration fees.

True, his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have refused to do anything about it. But the governor did put forward a plan.

However, his Democratic challenger has refused to say just where he would get the money to fix the roads, an issue many voters think is Michigan’s No. 1 problem.

Schauer has talked about eliminating waste, and finding a “dedicated revenue stream” for the roads, but hasn’t said what this would be. Why won’t he say?

Probably because fixing the roads has to involve raising taxes on somebody, and he is unwilling to risk losing anybody’s vote.

But the public deserves to know, and if there was a debate, both the governor and the news media would have a golden opportunity to hold the Democratic nominee’s feet to the fire.

Take another issue: Taxing pensions. The Democratic nominee says he would repeal the tax on some pensions that Gov. Snyder pushed through the Legislature. Well, OK.

That tax is unpopular. But how would Mark Schauer replace the millions it generates? He wants government to do more, not less. Where would the money come from?

Finally, you don’t hear Schauer promise he would repeal right to work and here’s why: No matter what happens in the governor’s race, he knows Republicans will still control the state Senate.

They may well have the House, too. So – how would Schauer get anything done? Would electing him risk returning Michigan to the gridlock we had when Jennifer Granholm was governor?

The Democratic candidate may have answers to all these questions. But we need to hear them before we vote.

And there’s also a lot the governor should answer for. Televised debates would be our best way to find out who they both are and what each of them might really do.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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