Virg Bernero likes Peanut M&Ms. Rick Snyder likes plain.
If you’re looking for differences between the Democrat and Republican gubernatorial candidates, you can start there. It doesn’t end there. Not by far.
Bernero, 46, made his career in the public sector — legislative staffer, county commissioner, state representative, state senator and Lansing mayor since ’03.
Snyder made millions in the private sector — CPA at now-PricewaterhouseCoopers, president of Gateway Computers, founder of high-tech venture capital firm Ardesta.
Bernero wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s excitable. He has a sharp tongue when his buttons are pushed. He’s genuinely loose-lipped, impulsive. He says what comes into his head. Consultants be damned.
Snyder is even-keeled. He’s amazingly positive about everything, but in a calculated way — as if no decision is made without a degree of input. His last campaign finance report listed payments to 12 political consultants.
Then there’s this gubernatorial thing. Snyder’s been at it for a while. The 52-year-old announced his "exploratory committee" in March 2009, but admittedly was laying the groundwork long before that.
Six weeks later, Bernero filed for … re-election as Lansing mayor. His appearances on cable news in defense of Michigan’s besieged auto industry lifted his profile. It raised the question. Was he interested in governor?
For months, it was no, no and no. Bernero signed the nominating petition of Lt. Gov. John Cherry around Labor Day ’09. He won re-election. Again the answer was no. Four weeks later when it was "maybe," Cherry got out. Bernero got in.
Snyder, a Battle Creek native, didn’t have much support from GOP activists in the primary. No Right to Life. No chamber. Few elected officials. He dug into his healthy bank account for $6 million. Bought some slick TV ads from Hollywood. Created the loveable nerd schtick.
Bernero, a Pontiac native, enjoyed practically unanimous support of the Democratic establishment in the primary. UAW. AFL-CIO. Planned Parenthood.
The environmental groups. Bernero had no money. Still doesn’t. He needed organized labor to body-slam opponent House Speaker Andy Dillon with $2 million in TV ads funneled through the Genesee County Democratic Party to win.
The differences haven’t stopped in the general election. Bernero went up with negative ads almost immediately. Snyder watched the Republican Governors’ Association soften up his opponent until last week, when he finally went back up.
People are telling pollsters they like Snyder. More people don’t like Bernero than like him, explaining Snyder’s large and solid lead in the polls.
Bernero takes the gloves off. To him, Snyder made his bucks with a company that used overseas grunt work. He cashed in millions in stock options months before the company’s value plummeted. Stockholders were peeved. They sued. Snyder settled.
"He’s been part of the problem," Bernero said. "It’s part of the Wall Street mentality that says, ’sell it off, offshore it, outsource it, do whatever to give the shareholders the money, keep the money at the top, lay people off, step on the little people, do whatever you have to do to enrich the shareholders.’" Snyder rarely mentions Bernero.
That’s probably a good thing. Snyder played political attack dog against Mike Cox at two separate primary debates. He wasn’t good at it. He stopped.
Snyder isn’t big on debates. He skipped two GOP-sponsored primary debates. He nearly got out of debating Bernero, the 1982 state high school debate champion. Bernero would debate Snyder every day.
They have differences on issues. Snyder is left of his party on some social issues and speaks in terms of "working together" as opposed to hugging the party flag.
Some Democrats like him. Two are on his campaign payroll.
"We need to make this work. It’s just not about partisanship. It’s about people working and winning together," Snyder said. "It’s about not running against other people as much as saying, ’Here are some basic values and principles that we believe in. Here is a vision. Here is a plan.’"
Bernero’s views are in line with the average Democrat. Few Republicans are crossing over.
"Look, I’m a proud Democrat, not a rigid partisan. But I’m a Democrat for a reason," Bernero said. "I believe everybody should have the chance to pull themselves up and have a middle-class lifestyle."
Snyder is pro-life except in cases of rape or incest, but he’s OK with stem cell research. Bernero is pro-choice. Snyder is against gay marriage but supports civil unions. Bernero doesn’t have a problem with gay marriage.
Snyder wants to ditch the Michigan Business Tax. His replacement is a 6 percent income tax on "C-corporations," costing the state $1.5 billion in lost revenue.
Snyder envisions government efficiencies and his "value for money" budgeting, a re-creation of the legislature’s 2005 "Price of Government" experiment. Budget items are ranked by importance by the public. Those at the bottom risk being cut.
Snyder, a married (to Sue) father of three, wants immediate public employee compensation discussions. Future school employees pensions just end in favor of 401(ks). A Mackinac Bridge sale was discussed up until recently. He’s given up the idea. A "balance sheet" written in plain English would find savings, he said.
Bernero, married (to Teri) father of two, wants to eliminate the MBT surcharge. He called the rest of Snyder’s MBT plan "insane."
"He believes the Wall Street strategy, which is to help the people on top and something may trickle down," Bernero said. "Personally, I’m tired of being trickled on."
To save money, he’s looking at state government performance audits, a sentencing guidelines review, employee compensation and administrative school district consolidations.
Bernero wants to entice new manufacturers to set up shop in decrepit industrial sites by giving the company everything for free. The land. The environmental cleanup. The new offering. The fixed roads, parking lots, sidewalks and outside lights. No taxes for 12 years and the possibility of a state-sponsored, tax-free loan for the equipment.
Snyder didn’t use the word "insane," but might as well have. Snyder doesn’t think much of Bernero’s foreclosure moratorium or his plan to open a state bank, like North Dakota did, to free up capital for small businesses.
Proposal A, the state’s sales tax-based method that funds K-12 education, needs to be "relooked" at, Bernero said. Snyder replied, "I wouldn’t mess with it, to be blunt."
Decisions on Snyder’s envisioned "K-20" educational system would be based on a "longitudinal data warehouse." Bernero wants full-day kindergarten and pre-k education for all 4-year-olds.
Environmentally speaking, Bernero likes energy conservation, alternative energy, getting government into renewables and pushing walkable/bikeable cities.
"Smart growth" policies, private partnerships on conservation issues/environmental protection and mass transit tops Snyder’s Enviro list.
On health care, Bernero wants the public to have access to it. Mental health and nutrition in schools are big for him, too. Snyder wants special medical facilities pushing preventative and supportive care for the sickest and the poorest.
He wants Medicaid recipients to lead healthier lives. The state also should look high-deductible insurance product to be a lifesaver for families without health insurance.
Snyder lives in Ann Arbor. He roots for the University of Michigan. Bernero lives in Lansing. He roots for the Spartans.
Do they have anything in common?
Yes. They both could be Michigan’s 48th governor.