Matt Erard

Matt Erard
Socialist Party Candidate, Michigan State House General Election, 53rd District, November 2006

Tottered on: 1 September 2006
Temperature: 68 F
Ceiling: gloomy
Ground: past overgrown
Wind: ENE at 10 mph

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TT with HD: Matt Erard

[Ed. note: Details of Matt Erard's platform are available on his campaign website.]

HD: Well, Happy September 1st!

ME: Thank you!

HD: Labor Day weekend coming up, is that going to be a big weekend for the campaign?

ME: Actually, I don't imagine it's going to be a big campaign weekend, because I haven't heard of anything going on in Ann Arbor for Labor Day. I'm personally planning on going to the Labor Day parade in Detroit and handing out some Socialist Party general literature.

HD: But not for your campaign specifically.

ME: Not for the campaign.

HD: There's probably not going to be a lot of 53rd District people over there anyway.

ME: Personally, I'm much more fond of May Day anyway.

HD: What did you do for May Day?

ME: On May Day I participated in the very, very small May Day celebration on the Diag in Ann Arbor. It was a bit of a disappointment, actually. We had probably 20 people at most the entire day. I wish I had gone to the very large demonstration in Detroit, but I wanted to stay local if I could.

HD: So that was disappointing. How many were you hoping for?

ME: At least 50 or 60.

HD: So what was the event? Was there music provided? Refreshments? Free stuff?

ME: May Day this year was tied in with the immigrants' rights movement. It was national coordinated demonstrations, primarily focussed on the immigrant issue.

HD: But I guess congratulations are in order? You achieved enough signatures to actually be on the ballot [for the 53rd District State House, Michigan]!

ME: I did. It took many, many months from about late February to late July of constant petitioning whenever I had free time. It's really amazing: the vast majority of people around here are not eligible to sign the petitions. About one in every 60 to 70 people you ask is probably registered to vote in Ann Arbor.

HD: Really!

ME: It took a very long time.

HD: So was that a door-to-door strategy?

ME: Some of it was door-to-door. Some of it was on the streets, just asking people if they were registered, before trying to solicit them to sign. I found that you can get more signatures on the streets. However, they're more likely to be valid if you go door-to-door. So it's a bit of a trade-off.

HD: Did you do most of that work solo, or do you have a reliable crew of people you can rely on?

ME: I certainly didn't have anything resembling a 'crew'. I had a couple of people who helped me out for an afternoon. But primarily it was pretty much solo.

HD: So how many signatures was it, close to a thousand?

ME: It was just under a thousand signatures that I turned in, and about seven-hundred of them were found to be valid.

HD: And how many did you actually need?

ME: Six-hundred.

HD: Okay, so it sounds like it was wise to overshoot!

ME: Certainly. Always is.

HD: So that's the County Clerk's office that did the validation?

ME: Yes, because the 53rd District is entirely within Washtenaw County. When the District is in more than one county, then you do it with the State.

HD: Did you hear directly from Larry Kestenabaum, or was it just one of his staff members?

ME: Just one of his staff members, several of them in fact.

HD: Okay. So did they explain specifically why they disallowed any of the signatures? Did they go through and say line-by-line say, Okay, this guy John Smith living at 324 Crestwood Court, he's not eligible because blah blah blah, or ...

ME: ... no, since I had a sufficient number to get on the ballot, we didn't really worry about that. I think it took them an entire day anyway, just to count the signatures that I had. The end result was all that really mattered. Had they determined that I had an insufficient number of signatures, or if the signatures were challenged by, say, the Democrats as they have been in some other districts with Socialist candidates, then we could have gone through them individually.

HD: So it's the typically the Democrats that challenge the signatures for the Socialists as opposed to the Republicans?

ME: Oh, yes, absolutely.

HD: Republicans just don't care?

ME: Well, the Republicans are probably pleased to have Socialists on the ballot ...

HD: ... because they just figure they're just draining votes off the Democratic side?

ME: Right. Yeah, the Democrats have consistently done that in other states. They've been doing that a lot with the Socialist Equality Party, which is actually a separate socialist organization.

HD: I noticed on your website that you dog on Rebekah Warren about her campaign contributions, but you don't mention the Republican candidate. In fact, to read your website, you wouldn't even realize there was a Republican running.

ME: Well, you know, for all practical purposes, there really isn't a Republican running, I don't think [laugh]. I would have listed [Republican candidate] Erik Sheagran's contributions as well, if he had any. But he, like myself, has applied for a reporting waiver, which you can get if you ...

HD: ... it's less than a thousand, is that right? ...

ME: ... if you spend or take in less than a thousand dollars. I don't think that Erik Sheagran is really campaigning at all. He's just trying to give Republican voters an option.

HD: So he'll get a certain number of votes just because there's an 'R' beside his name.

ME: Right.

HD: Alright, so on your website you say you honestly think this is a campaign you can win?! Do you really think this campaign has a chance?

ME: I think it has a chance. If a Socialist candidate has a chance anywhere in the United States, I think Ann Arbor would be one of those places. I've gotten very consistent support from people all around the city whenever I talk about my campaign. I'm getting lots of emails, lots of visits to my website. I think there really is a possibility that there's enough voters in Ann Arbor who have become disillusioned enough with Democratic politics-as-usual that they'd be ready to go for an alternative.

HD: Well, certainly based on the platform you present on your website, this is by no means a Socialist-Lite platform, where you're trying to sort of get as close to the middle as possible, while still being a Socialist. Right there on the front page, we got the standard discussion of the ownership of the means of production.

ME: Absolutely!

HD: So you're pulling no punches. Do you worry even a little bit that this radically different world that you present as a goal might--even for people who are a bit disillusioned with the Democrats--that they might say, Oh for heaven sakes, this is just nuts! I mean, you talk about confiscating the property of landlords who don't keep their apartments up to code. I think people might get on board with the idea that, yeah, we've got to enforce codes and make sure that landlords are doing what they're supposed to, but when you go as far as to say, We're going to confiscate their property with no compensation! suddenly I think a lot of people will say, Wait a second, is this guy nuts?!

ME: I'll answer the second part of your question first on that issue specifically. Confiscating the property of landlords who don't keep their property up to code is just a transitional demand. Ultimately, we'd like to confiscate it, whether they keep it up to code or not.

HD: [laugh] Okay.

ME: Landlords, just like the rest of the capitalist class, are deriving their income exclusively through ownership and exploitation rather than labor. I don't believe that that's legitimate. I believe that housing is a fundamental right. Homes should be either owned by the people who live in them or they should be publicly owned, one or the other. Now, going to the first part of your question about whether I'm going to turn people off with the radicalism in my campaign, that really isn't much of a concern. Because my primary goal in this campaign is not simply getting elected. I would certainly like to get elected. But the primary goal is to raise the issues. That's what it's really all about. I'm not one who believes that socialism can just be legislated through the ballot box, with nothing else happening. It's primarily mass movements of working people that are going to lead socialist transformation. And what happens at the ballot box is really just a reflection of what happens at the workplace and on the streets.

HD: So your core constituency, I would think, is based on and around campus among students? Or am I wrong about that?

ME: If we're judging in terms of whose interests I represent, I would say my core constituency is the working class, which is the vast majority of the population of Ann Arbor, and the United States, and everywhere else in the world. Now, in terms of who's actually going to vote for me? It might be students, I don't know. It's hard to say. It's been a long time since we've had a Socialist candidate in Ann Arbor.

HD: Do you know how long it's been?

ME: Well, I don't know when the last time we had a Socialist candidate was. I know that Ann Arbor, I believe, elected some candidates of the Human Rights Party in the 1970's, which was affiliated with the Socialist Party of Michigan. That was during the very short period when Ann Arbor had instant-runoff voting. It was quickly abolished afterward.

HD: You know, Matt Lassiter, a professor of history over at the University was on the teeter totter recently, and back in 2003, I think, he together with Rick Hill, who's at the Law School, wrote an op-ed piece where they called among other things for the passage of an ordinance that would allow Accessory Dwelling Units. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that notion, or the proposal that came before City Council in some form or other ...

ME: ... no, I'm not familiar with that ...

HD: ... well, City Council more or less dropped it from consideration when various neighborhood groups were quite vocal in saying, We don't want that in our neighborhood! But he was suggesting that out in Oregon, they had passed something on the state level [Ed. note: HD gets this wrong; it was Washington that Lassiter mentioned.] that would have allowed Accessory Dwelling Units across the state, so they did it the state level instead of at the local level. I was thinking maybe that was something I should take up with the folks who are running for State House. So for Accessory Dwelling Units, my selfish motive is I would like to be able to rent out my garage loft to someone. Thinking ahead to my old age, that someone could be a nurse, or somebody who could look after me and take care of me, but given what you said about what your ultimate goals are, maybe you're not the right person to pitch this idea to?

ME: Well, actually that would be supportable to me! When I'm talking about landlords, I'm not talking about people who are renting out a room in their house. I'm talking about people who own apartment buildings and several different places all around town at the very least. I don't think someone who rents out a little section of their house is really part of that class any more than a mom-and-pop business owner is a capitalist!

HD: Okay, but where would you draw the line? I mean what I've just described sounds very innocuous, but what if I then say, Gosh, this is working out very well, and my nurse up there in the loft, she's taking care of me--and in this scenario, by the way, it's always a female nurse, which is something my wife has noticed and asked me, Dave, why does it have to be a female nurse that takes care of us, maybe it could be a guy, don't you think?--but say I decide I want to rent out one of the bedrooms, and then a second bedroom? So it seems to me that you're a landlord, in that you're renting out a property, or you're not, right?

ME: You have to make a distinction between, as I said, people who are renting out a little part of their home and an actual landlord, just like you make a distinction between major industries and small industries when you're talking about socializing industry.

HD: So the key distinction here might be whether the owner of the property is actually living on the property as well?

ME: That would be a major component of it. But altogether, issues like housing should be based on human need, not private profit. You look at many major cities, where you have gigantic spiraling homeless populations, yet so many vacant places to live, because landlords need to make a profit. I think that's completely unjust.

HD: Speaking of housing, are you living in the [Eugene V.] Debs House now?

ME: I am.

HD: I noticed that your campaign address had changed, but it wasn't clear to me whether that was because you had actually moved.

ME: I got gentrified.

HD: You got gentrified? What do you mean by that?

ME: They raised the rent at University Towers.

HD: Ah, so you moved out because they raised the rent.

ME: Right.

HD: Okay. Well, there's a quote on your website that I didn't quite follow. "Cool Cities is gentrification. Two words, not one."

ME: That was actually a typo that I fixed this morning! Interesting that you mentioned that!

HD: Well, I didn't get it, what was the typo?

ME: It should be: "Gentrification, one word, not two."

HD: Ah! Okay, so one word, 'gentrification' as opposed to two words, ...

ME: ... 'cool cities' ...

HD: ... okay, all clear now. Got it.

ME: If you check my website now, you'll see that it is correct.

HD: Do you do all the web programming yourself?

ME: I do. I can't take that much credit for it, because I'm using a website builder from the hosting service that I have. So I'm not doing a lot of advanced coding or anything. But I do it all myself.

HD: Just sort of a stray question then, when I go to your website and I try to highlight text and copy it from the website, it doesn't seem to be possible?

ME: Really?!

HD: Is that my end or is it intentional on your end?

ME: I would think that would be your end. I don't know why that would be. I would certainly look into that.

HD: I thought maybe it was by design that you didn't want people taking big chunks of your writing and pasting them into other documents.

ME: No, I would enthusiastically encourage people to copy and paste my writing and spread it everywhere possible!

HD: Okay. I'll check that with a different browser. I was using Firefox. Sometimes Firefox shows some odd quirks. Could also just be my very old computer, one of it's quirks. So to live in Debs House, which is an Inter-Cooperative Council housing facility, do you have to be a full-time student at the U of M?

ME: You don't have to be, but I believe that there's they give priority to full-time students.

HD: So are you a full-time student?

ME: I am.

HD: The time management issue of courses and a campaign, that's going to be pretty tough I imagine?

ME: It is tough, yeah. I'm not sure that my opponent is working right now. I think she might be dedicating full time to the campaign. That's one of the many advantages she has in this race.

HD: Who knows, my guess is she's taking reduced time or something, but as far as I understand, she's still officially the Executive Director of MARAL.

ME: I'm not sure. Just something I'll have to manage with school, like I've managed with work all summer.

HD: So what are you taking this semester?

ME: I should have brought my schedule with me! Political science and sociology courses. I wouldn't be able to list them off without double checking. I believe it's 16 credit hours.

HD: You mentioned Rebekah, and you talked about going door-to-door. I was just wondering, have you accidentally, or perhaps by design, knocked on the doors of either of your opponents in this race?

ME: I haven't. But I did unintentionally knock on Rebekah Warren's neighbors' doors petitioning on 8th Street.

HD: And what was the reception like?

ME: Most of the people on her street who I actually spoke to, were happy to sign the petition. A couple of them said that they were supporting Rebekah. But even a couple of her campaign volunteers signed. I mean, regardless of whether you support my candidacy, I think if you support democracy, you should sign a petition for anyone. I'd sign for a fanatical right-winger even to get on the ballot.

HD: So it wasn't an awkward sort of weird dynamic?

ME: No, not for the most part.

HD: Well, listen is there anything else on your mind today?

ME: [laugh] That's a pretty open question.

HD: Absolutely. We believe in freedom of expression here on the teeter totter. You're free to steer things in whatever direction you'd like.

ME: Nothing's coming to mind right at the mind. I'd be happy to talk about socialism if you have any questions about that?

HD: Actually, if you could scoot back just a little ...

ME: ... oh, I'm sorry, I'm not a very experienced teeter totterer [laugh] ...

HD: ... that's quite alright [laugh], it's just that I'm finding that I'm not able to get full leg extension here, which is causing my quadriceps to complain just a bit. So if we're going to go much longer, I need to attend to my own comfort, is all I'm saying. So what I'm a bit surprised by is that you don't have firmly fixed in your head the slate of courses you're going to be taking next semester. I mean, when I was an undergrad, I remember knowing exactly, I've got this course, that course, the other course. And right about this time, I was starting to get really geeked about what I was going to learn in those courses. The first day of classes is coming right up, Tuesday, right?

ME: I think so.

HD: It is Tuesday, I'll just tell you. When do you sign up for courses, is it back in the spring?

ME: Yeah.

HD: So it's just so long ago that you don't remember?

ME: Oh, I'm sure I could remember. Let's see. I'm taking a class on Detroit community organizing, because one of my political science courses got cancelled. I'm taking Intro to Research Methods in Sociology. I'm taking Psychological Perspectives on Politics. And the Sociology of Sexuality.

HD: Well that's sounds like you'll be busy.

ME: I usually am.

HD: One question that might become almost a standard question is, Can you think of anybody in this town, who you'd like to teeter totter with? If you could teeter totter with anybody in Ann Arbor, or even the general Detroit metro area.

ME: Oh! You had T.C. Brennan already, didn't you?

HD: Yeah, but my question is, who would you like to teeter totter with? Is T. Casey somebody you think you'd like to teeter totter with?

ME: I think it'd be interesting. He's an interesting guy. I don't know, I'd have to give that some thought.

HD: Well, if you figure somebody out, and you can talk them into it, you're welcome to use the backyard.

ME: Okay, excellent!

HD: A standard invitation extended to teeter tottering guests. If they want to come back and teeter totter with somebody else, they know where it is obviously, so they can use the backyard. If I'm not here, though, you have to bring your own tottering partner, because you can't teeter totter by yourself.

ME: Hmm, can you? You'd have to stand up?

HD: Oh, well, I guess you might be able to balance in the middle, but would you say that's really teeter tottering?

ME: I don't know. I don't know what the precise definition of teeter tottering would be.

HD: I would tend to want to say that that wouldn't qualify. And since it's my teeter totter ...

ME: ... you make the rules.

HD: Well, I own the means of my own amusement.

ME: Just like socialism.