Harris lauds teachers as ‘superheroes’ in 2-day Wayne County campaign swing

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris at Miller Elementary in Dearborn, May 6, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) toured three Wayne County public schools on the second day of her Michigan swing, touting her plan to give the average Michigan teacher a $13,500 raise.

“Your teachers are superheroes,” she told a group of Miller Elementary School students in Dearborn. “… I want to pay your teachers more money.”

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris reads to kids at Miller Elementary in Dearborn | Susan J. Demas

Harris said her plan would help 85,000 Michigan teachers. She made the case on Monday that teachers are paid 11 percent less than other professionals.

She stressed that teachers make a difference in kids’ lives and twice noted that her first-grade teacher, Frances Wilson, attended her law school graduation.

“And I think many of us have a story of those teachers who, you know, convinced us we were special,” she told reporters after reading to students.

Harris, who would be the first African American and Indian American female president, won rave reviews for her speech to a 10,000-person crowd on Sunday at the Detroit NAACP dinner, where she took on the skeptical punditry about female and candidates of color being able to win.

“Too often, their definition of the Midwest leaves people out. It leaves out people in this room who helped build cities like Detroit. It leaves out working women who are on their feet all day, many of them working without equal pay,” Harris said. “And the conversation too often suggests certain voters will only vote for certain candidates regardless of whether their ideas will lift up all our families. It’s shortsighted. It’s wrong. And voters deserve better.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten | Susan J. Demas

That point was backed up at a Detroit stop on Monday by national American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten.

“I don’t buy into this, ‘Women are not electable’ [idea],” Weingarten declared.

Harris also toured the Academy of Americas in Detroit and held a town hall with teachers in conjunction with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) at Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit.

She was introduced by Miller Elementary Principal Radewin Awada. U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) also attended the event.

During National Teacher Appreciation Week, Harris read a book, “Each Kindness,” to kids in the media center of the Dearborn school, which has a large population of Muslim students.

Miller Elementary Principal Radewin Awada | Susan J. Demas

“It’s more fun to be kind than not to be kind,” Harris said.

She talked about the importance of empathy, a quality former President Barack Obama often emphasized.

“We should never judge people based on how they’re dressed,” she said.

At an AFT town hall with teachers later that day in Detroit, Harris mentioned the book in reference to President Donald Trump.

“Let me tell you how much our president could learn from a fourth-grader,” she said.

She was asked by a Miller Elementary student: “If you could change any law, what would it be?”

Harris played to the topic at hand and said she would change how we fund school districts. She acknowledged “that’s kind of complicated.”

“Every child in our country deserves an equal amount of paper, crayons and teachers,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris at Miller Elementary in Dearborn, May 6, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Harris was asked by another student what motivated her to run for president.

“Part of what motivated me was you guys,” she said. “You should grow up in a place, in a country, in a world, where you’ll be safe … and have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe.”

She added that opportunities shouldn’t depend on “whether you’re a girl or a boy” or “who you make pray to.”

When Harris asked students who wanted to run for president, dozens of hands shot up.

Wayne County campaign

Where presidential contenders decide to campaign usually reflects their campaigns’ strategy.

Harris spent all her time in Wayne County during four campaign stops on Sunday and Monday, which would seem to indicate that Detroit and the state’s largest county are at the heart of her plan to win Michigan’s primary next March.

Beto O’Rourke with Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters President Tom Lutz in Ferndale, March 18, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

For presidential candidates who did recent multiple stops in Michigan, only long-shot Anderew Yang spent all his time in Wayne.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) parked herself in Oakland County, where Dems scored big gains in 2018, and did an event with Fems for Dems. Her campaign is said to be focused on suburban women.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) held a rally in swing Macomb County and did a union event in deep red Ottawa County, which would seem to appeal to white, blue-county workers. And former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) split the difference and went to all the three biggest metro Detroit counties: Wayne, Oakland and Macomb.

As for candidates who have done recent single events in Michigan, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) both appeared at a conference in Detroit. And U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) keynoted a Kent County Democrats’ fundraiser in Grand Rapids. Trump kicked off his campaign in Grand Rapids.

Complete repeal of Trump’s tax cuts

While Harris’ bread-and-butter issues of education, criminal justice reform and income inequality were central in her Michigan campaign jag, Harris also took on U.S. Attorney General William Barr and President Trump’s tax cuts.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris speaks to reporters at Miller Elementary in Dearborn | Susan J. Demas

That was of particular interest to the large contingent of national reporters who accompanied her on the trip.

Harris and other Democrats have bashed the 2017 GOP tax law that has primarily benefited the wealthiest individuals and big corporations.

“Get rid of the whole thing,” Harris told reporters at her last campaign stop in Detroit.

The senator said that repealing the tax law would help pay for her priorities, like her $315 billion plan to hike public school teacher pay. This also would fund Harris her plan to offer refundable tax credits to lower- and middle-class families, which could be as much as $6,000 annually.

“On Day One,” she said, “we’re going to repeal that tax bill that benefited the top 1 percent and corporations.”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report, April 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

Harris, a former prosecutor and California attorney general, received kudos for filleting Barr during his Capitol Hill testimony last week. At the NAACP dinner on Sunday, she accused Trump’s AG of lying.

“We had just recently a United States attorney general who lied to Congress and lied to you and is clearly more interested in representing the president than the American people,” she said.

Weingarten called Harris “smart as a whip” and noted she “took apart” both Barr and a “future Supreme Court justice,” likely referring to Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing.

Harris also noted she was a proponent of the progressive Green New Deal and said we’re in a “climate emergency.” She ripped “leaders in Washington who are spewing science fiction instead of science fact.”

And she said she does not support the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), which is supposed to take the place of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and hasn’t been ratified by Congress. Last month, Vice President Mike Pence held an event in Southeast Michigan with auto executives to push for the USMCA.

Teacher town hall

Harris’ last Michigan stop on Monday was a town hall at Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris in Detroit, May 6, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, told the Michigan Advance that it was important that Harris is making education front-and-center in her campaign.

“We have had a number of presidential candidates who have come here, on either side, who were reluctant to talk about education and attach it to their platform,” Martin said. “Well, she’s [Harris] really being courageous and really coming out and addressing some of the issues. And she’s certainly speaking the language of not only professionals who work in classrooms with students, but also for our paraprofessionals, who are support staff for what happens in the classroom.”

AFT Michigan President David Hecker | Susan J. Demas

She was accompanied by Weingarten and AFT Michigan President David Hecker. Kathleen Strauss, former State Board of Education chair, also was in the audience.

Weingarten said the last time she was in Michigan was the day before the last general election on Nov. 5, 2018, when she campaigned for candidates including now-U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester).

The union head also praised Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $507 million increase for K-12 schools in her fiscal year 2020 budget proposal. Weingarten said it would help Michigan, which is “digging out of how many years” of cuts.

Weingarten said it’s important that we “elect someone who shares our values” and that “our members feel empowered and involved in this process.” That’s why the AFT is doing town halls with different presidential candidates, she said, including Ryan, Sanders, Klobuchar and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris in Detroit, May 6, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

While introducing Harris, Weingarten said “there are exceptional people in life” like Harris, who is “as caring and compassionate is as deep as a summer day,” noting she “melted” while reading to kids earlier in the day.

Harris started out by making the pitch for her teacher pay plan, as well as higher pay for staff like teacher aides and school bus drivers.

“As a candidate for president of the United States — and I fully intend to win this election — one of my major areas of focus will be on reinforcing and putting the resources that we need to put into our public education system,” Harris said.

She added that eliminating the teacher pay gap was critical because “I believe that you can judge a society based on how it treats its children.”

Harris also said that living in poverty is traumatic for children, noting many go to sleep hearing gunfire. She said she wants to boost mental health services, as well.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, May 6, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

She also criticized bias in the criminal justice system and said juveniles should not be prosecuted as adults. Michigan is one of four states that does, although there is a bipartisan push to change that.

Harris addressed increasing funding for special education, universal pre-kindergarten, affordable childcare and family leave.

Donald Trump | Tia Dufour, Flickr

The senator also drew a sharp contrast with Trump, saying we “can’t have a president who sows hate and division” and “vilifies whole populations” with policies like building a wall with Mexico.

Harris said that Trump tries to “scapegoat” immigrants and others because he “doesn’t have a plan” to help people who are struggling and can’t afford a $400 emergency expense.

Harris twice used a version of the line: “When we have a president of the United States of America who takes her job seriously.” That earned her resounding applause from the audience.

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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