Candidates Debate at 75th District Michigan House of Representatives Forum

Last night at the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids, three candidates participated in a forum for the 75th District Michigan House of Representatives seat in advance of the August 8 primary election.

Last night at the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids, three candidates for the 75th District Michigan House of Representatives (the district covers much of Grand Rapids) seat participated in a candidate forum sponsored by the Men’s Alliance for Progress. The three candidates—Republican Sue Devries, Republican Chris Meyer, and Democrat Robert Dean—fielded a variety of questions developed by both the Men’s Alliance for Progress and the audience. Before beginning the questioning by former Grand Valley State University president Don Lubbers, a representative from the Men’s Alliance for Progress shared with the audience that the questions reflected the priorities of the organization. He identified these priorities as the environment as it relates to pollution and global warming, the war in Iraq, healthcare, and election reform. In the spirit of providing substantive coverage of elections in light of the corporate media’s failure to do so, questions and the candidates’ responses have been summarized:

Opening Statement
Sue Devries (SD): She described herself as a strong grassroots candidate and leader and cited her experience as the West Michigan Protection Manager at the Nature Conservancy where she does conservation and environmental protection work. She previously was the head of the Garfield Neighborhood Development Corporation which involved work to help people of different backgrounds in improving their lives, encouraging development and the economy, and establishing partnerships with the federal government (HUD) and Calvin College. She also served on the Grand Rapids Public Library board for 12 years and worked to protect first amendment rights and to limit how the USA PATRIOT Act affects patrons. She cited major problems facing the state as the economy (state is in a recession, the need to educate workers, improve tax policies, and diversify the economy), healthcare (there needs to be a better benefit structure and increased transparency), education (need to increasing funding for K-12 and college), and the environment (encourage green building, sustainable forest policy, protection measures). She said that there is a lack of dialog in politics and that she is willing to work together with people of a variety of political persuasions.
Robert Dean (RD): He has a background in community development and was born and raised in Grand Rapids. His entire life’s work has been focused on giving back to the community because he believes that the problems of the world are such that one simply “can’t do enough” to address them. He is concerned about the lack of affordable healthcare and said that he worked to limit these costs when serving on the Grand Rapids Public Schools board and the Grand Rapids City Commission. He said that he offers visionary and proactive leadership with a proven record as he wrote the city’s business plan that encouraged business and improved the cities relationship with the school system. He also cited work he did creating healing racism workshops in Grand Rapids and said that he is a progressive who will deviate from the “party line” when it is needed.
Chris Meyer (CM): He said that politics are how people plan the future and told the audience that he first got involved working with former Representative Paul Henry. He lived in Grand Rapids as a youth and models his political approach after the bipartisanship of Paul Henry. He cited his work on the board of The Rapid and how the Rapid has increased the number of riders while addressing the suburban/urban divide in transit as examples of his achievements. He said that he was concerned with the cost of healthcare and told the audience that he accepts no PAC money. He has been going door-to-door since April and identifies his major issues as the economy, education, healthcare, and revenue sharing. He said that incomes in the states have fallen since the 1950s and that Michigan needs to look at other states are doing and to adopt proven bipartisan solutions from other states.
Question: The environment is the number one issue of the Men’s Alliance for Progress, what role can the state play?
RD: The state has to be the first line of defense and offense when it comes to the environment. Trash dumping fees need to be increased in the state to stop the state from becoming a dumping ground and he cited the fact that by 2011 the state’s landfills will reach capacity. He also told the audience that while serving on the City Commission he worked on cleaning up the Butterworth dump and as such has experience dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). He said that his work in on the City Commission was also a reason why 99% of the wastewater entering the Grand River is pollution free.
CM: The state can participate in a regional collaboration to limit emissions. He also said that there should be a regional plan to limit sprawl and that a portion of this plan could be removing the dependency of localities on property taxes for funding as this encourages development. He also believes that the state can promote mass transit, conservation, and alternative energy sources such as nuclear power.
SD: The state needs to maintain laws protecting wetlands. She also supports setting standards that require utilities to generate a portion of their energy from renewable resources, increased standards of efficiency for high-use appliances such as walk-in freezers, development and encouragement of alternative fuel sources beyond ethanol, research and funding for Great Lakes protections, and improved growth plans and the development of walkable communities.
Question: There are numerous issues with healthcare in the state, especially with regard to access and cost, what are some state solutions?
CM: For many, healthcare premiums are equal to their family’s mortgage payments. Out of this context, he argued that it is necessary to look at a national approach to healthcare and one idea is to put information on paychecks to inform the public about how much of their wages are going to pay for healthcare. Meyer believes that this would encourage the population to ask questions about why healthcare costs in the United States are more than double what they are in other countries.
SD: She said that before addressing the issue we need to define what adequate and good care is and proceed from there. She would educated about costs and enter into a dialog about fairness and costs between business and labor. She wants to maintain care for poor people and would look for new models of care.
RD: When he was on the City Commission they did many things such as looking at the healthcare costs and then switching providers (saved $15 million), persuading the City Commission to take a 5% cut in benefits to lead by examples, and negotiating with unions in order to save taxpayers money. He said that this was also addressed while he was on the Grand Rapids Public Schools board.
Question: In the last election there were reports of voter access problems and intimidation, how can this be addressed?
SD: She would pay poll workers more for their time and get more even representation from the two parties (Republicans are currently over represented). She would also request additional election observers, improve communication about changing polling places, and would oppose identification requirements for voting.
CM: He would address this in part by increasing voter turnout that he would do by allowing “no reason” absentee voting and creating super precincts that would setup early voting centers two weeks before the election. He wants to see electronic poll books with swipable IDs for easier access, appropriate staffing at each polling place, and allowing only registered party poll challengers and keeping all others out.
RD: There were four precincts with problems in his ward and they addressed this by educating poll workers and voters, splitting and balancing precincts, and implementing an electronic voting system. He said this is another example of results as a City Commissioner.
Question: What is the state’s role in providing sustainable employment and living wages?
RD: The state has a responsibility to attract businesses but the state is not actively using that power. He wants the state to be on “the front end” of this issue by avoiding tax breaks and instead working to help corporations with ideas and product innovation. He said that an improved economy guarantees and improvement in the quality of life.
SD: She would focus on training, making cities and neighborhoods strong, creating a strong infrastructure as a way of making Michigan appealing for businesses and would due so these ways instead of using tax breaks.
CM: He described sustainable employment as having businesses to employ workers, educated employees, a strong transportation infrastructure, and a roadmap out of poverty. He would reform the tax system and eliminate the single business tax.
Question: What makes you a Democrat or a Republican?
SD: She grew up as a Republican and the party is open to working with all who have intelligent ideas and is working for the benefit of all.
RD: He is a progressive Democrat although he has now put an emphasis on partisanship while on the Grand Rapids Public Schools board or the City Commission. He looks at all issues and attempts to build consensus in his politics and is pro-business while being compassion in his work on social issues.
CM: He worked for Paul Henry who was part of the Moderate Republican Caucus and supports limited government with the belief that all citizens deserve a government of limited programs, and spending. He also explained that the Republican Party is the only one talking about “life, liberty, and property.”
Question: How will immigration reform affect Michigan’s economy?
RD: He said that the issue is not just with “illegal workers” but also the employers that employ them and he said he thinks a guest worker program for those that contribute is an appropriate solution.
CM: There are currently 11 million humans looking for better lives in the United States without being legal immigrants and that a major problem is that tough citizenship requirements for work are not being enforced. He supports the McCain or Bush approaches to immigration reform.
SD: She wants to make sure the Detroit and Port Huron borders are secure and believes that people need to be treated civilly and become citizens.
Question: Discuss your personal and political principles underlying your position on abortion?
CM: He is pro-life except for in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is threatened. To address the issue of abortion he would look at women and their lives, not just the unborn, and would create better environments for children by addressing homelessness, hunger, and developing a roadmap out of poverty.
SD: She is a pro-choice candidate and would work to make sure there were not unwanted pregnancies by having access to contraceptives, sex education, and a good reproductive health system.
RD: He believes in the sanctity of life and has a pro-life record of counseling in his ministry. He believes people can have a position on the issue but that they need to not be judgmental and not reject people for their decisions.
Question: What is the biggest issue relating to improving education in the state? Do you have any proposals?
RD: Funding and unfunded mandates are the two biggest issues for the education system. He said that the schools are the biggest landlord in the city with substantial unused land and that they could sell this land to developers and make money for the city’s and the school system. He also said that he increased MEAP scores when he was on the board.
CM: Education must be high quality in order to provide for children and as such he would equalize funding among school districts for capital and operating costs, would allow boards more flexibility in deciding how they spend money, would encourage workable performance standards, and would fund college and technical programs.
SD: She supports funding equity, would work on truancy, would improve graduation levels, and improve healthcare for families so that there are less absences due to health.
Question: Are state problems caused by cuts in federal funding and federal mandates?
SD: Unfunded mandates are a big problem and there needs to be an examination of how money is being spent at the state level along with a process of involving citizens in deciding how the money is spent.
CM: Unfunded mandates come up most in Medicare and education and the government needs to look at changing spending if programs are not giving results.
RD: The state cannot balance its budget on the backs of local communities through revenue sharing and in response to such practices he led the City Commission to sue the state over lack of funding for special education and will continue to work to get fair funding.
Question: Do you support legalizing embryonic stem cell research?
RD: He is pro-life and says that research can be done without taking lives.
CM: Michigan has a law that allows stem cell research on existing embryos but does not allow the creation of new embryos. He says that he is unaware of arguments that this law is limiting research and says that currently stem cell research on adult lines is showing the most promise. He has not yet reached a conclusion on the issue.
SD: She supports research on in-vitro fertilized embryos but not when harvested.
Question: Is there a “Bush Factor” in the election?
CM: He does not know as he does not do polling.
SD: The only “Bush Factor” she is aware of are bushes blocking doors.
RD: He is not polling but he has encountered many people frustrated with the war and how money is being spent on that instead of infrastructure.
Question: Have you read “The Price of Government” and, if so, how can its ideas be adopted?
SD: She has read it and would work with citizens to prioritize funding of programs.
RD: He read the book while on the City Commission and incorporated some of the practices into city government.
CM: He has read it and what sticks out most in his mind is a graphic indicating how quickly healthcare costs have risen, food costs have fallen, and housing costs have stayed the same. With a tax base that has stayed roughly the same since World War II they need to look at spending and develop measurable results for programs.
Closing Statements
CM: He has the support of the Grand Rapids Press, former mayor Logie, and the Wyoming mayor. He would like to engage the state as a partner with citizens and sees his work with The Rapid as a good example of how this can be done.
RD: He has a motto of “service before self” and has demonstrated his commitment to this in his adult life and work. He would like to serve the community as he did on the Grand Rapids Public Schools board and the City Commission. He explained that each day he has to face his creator and ask if he did his best. He also said that he has demonstrated results, not just talk.
SD: She is a grassroots leader with leadership experience. She will look out for the needs of people and values diversity.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media //