Mark Zacharda has lived a lot of his life on a farm. He grew up in Shiawassee County, waking up early to do farm chores, helping out his dad and uncle. Then, in 2012, after working as a teacher in Virginia, he decided to return. He bought his uncle’s share of the land and became partners with his dad.
It is in this job, that Zacharda said he has first-hand experience with the effects of climate change. Weather patterns, he said, have become unpredictable and different than normal.
Zacharda said that despite Michigan's more moderate climate, he is worried every season he will have to deal with a flood or face a drought.
“I’d say at least five of the last seven years, we’ve had drought periods in the summer that hurt the crops,” Zacharda said. “So, we’ve had like four, six weeks or more where we just couldn’t get a drop of rain, and these are all signatures of global climate change. More extreme and shifting weather patterns, where moderations are gone.”
That is why Zacharda has put climate change as one of his top priorities for his campaign for the Michigan State House of Representatives. Zacharda is running for the 71st Michigan State House District as a Democrat.
The 71st district is made up of Zacharda’s native Shiawassee County, along with southern Saginaw County and western Genesee County.
Zacharda did not necessarily always see politics as a part of his life. Zacharda was the first in his family to attend a four-year university, obtaining his bachelor’s in agricultural science and went to work for a John Deere seller.
After working there for a while, Zacharda decided to get his teaching certificate. However, he got his right before the Great Recession started to disrupt the nation. He said since jobs were scarce, he worked at a friend’s construction company for a while before he found a job teaching biology in Virginia.
After about four years of teaching, Zacharda said he felt like he pulled to Michigan again and decided to return to farming.
Zacharda has been involved in the Shiawassee County Democratic Party for many years and now serves as its co-vice chair. Zacharda recognizes that farmers are not the traditional type to run for office, but he thinks it is important for not every politician to be a lawyer.
Zacharda considers himself to be a moderate Democrat because he believes in making sure change happens in a way that is measured so people are able to adjust accordingly.
Zacharda has a handful of priorities, among them is helping revive organized labor, which he sees as integral to creating a middle class. He said that he wants to bring back manufacturing to Michigan, particularly to his district.
“Labor unions and our state government have played a huge role improving our quality of life, providing the skilled labor and incentives for companies to establish themselves in this district,” Zacharda said later in a prepared statement.
He points to the Reagan Administration as being the initial period that brought a concentrated attack on organized labor, which has allowed for workers' wages to shrink and executive salaries to become extremely large. According to an August 2021 report from the Economic Policy Institute, CEO compensation has risen 1,322% since the 1980s, while worker compensation has grown 18%. The report also estimates that a CEO makes about 351 times more than an average worker.
“Right when you see the degradation of organized labor, we see the stagnation of the middle-class income,” Zacharda said. “Basically, it's in my lifetime.”
Zacharda also said that for college students, he believes in restoring some of the funds that have been taken away from public education funding. He would also like to see debt-free community college become a possibility.
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Zacharda sees his background as one of the reasons why conservative voters in the 71st should pay him attention. Being in agriculture means that he can connect with them and relate to their struggles. He believes mid-Michigan is somewhere where people can cast a split-ticket ballot, voting for both Democrats and Republicans.
“I think mid-Michigan may be one of the last handful of places where there are a substantial amount of people who will considering doing that,” Zacharda said. “Who might be like, ‘I usually vote Republican, but this guy seems like a straight shooter.’”
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