Last night Democratic candidate Robert Dean, a former Grand Rapids Public Schools board member and City Commissioner, debated Republican candidate and assistant prosecutor Tim Doyle at a candidate forum held at Grand Valley State University. The 75th Michigan House of Representative covers areas of Grand Rapids east of Fuller Avenue and east of Eastern Avenue. In keeping with Media Mouse’s commitment to provide substantive election coverage, we have summarized the questions and candidate responses:
Tim Doyle (TD): It is important to have leadership in Lansing. He is running on three main issues that people have brought up as he has gone door to door. These issues are the economy (get back on track with a competitive economy), education (make sure Michigan has the education and skills for the jobs of tomorrow), and neighborhoods (make them safe and with a high quality of life).
Robert Dean (RD): He has experience in the community and a long history of involvement and solutions as a results-oriented leader. He has served as a pastor, school board member, and city commissioner. He places service above self, wants to go to Lansing to restore revenue sharing, and does not want to see any cuts to police and fire service.
Q: The Single Business Tax (SBT) will be eliminated in 2007, what would you replace it with and would you replace all the money?
RD: He would replace it dollar for dollar and while he is in favor of eliminating it, there must be something in place. He says that you cannot wait until after the election to say what you want to do, and as such, he advocates a broad-based tax that will not punish companies as the SBT does.
TD: Make sure the economic environment retains and attracts employers. He does not think a plan is needed for “the bad tax” before elected as the tax cost jobs and prevented companies from coming to Michigan.
Q: Do you support eliminating and replacing the personal Property Tax?
TD: You do not need to replace it dollar for dollar, but replace most of the money. It is good to give businesses tax breaks for creating jobs but there must be an overall competitive tax policy.
RD: The legislature should look at eliminating this onerous tax but it cannot be done on the backs of programs for seniors and education.
Q: With the state general fund at its current levels, cuts would need to be made if revenue sharing increased – what would you cut?
RD: He advocates growing the state out of the current budget situation by looking at how to generate revenue. He wrote the city of Grand Rapids’ business plan that helped to do this. He says it is over regulation and the perception that the tax climate is preventing business more so than taxes themselves preventing businesses from investing in Michigan. He told people to look at “Health Hill” on Michigan Street for an example of his successes.
TD: We need to get the state back on track and he agrees with Dean that revenue sharing needs to be increased.
Q: Granholm wants to double the number of four-year college graduates, do you support this and how would you fund it?
TD: It is a good goal and he supports it, but people he has conversed with going door-to-door are looking for jobs more than degrees. He thinks that it would be a better use of money to focus on 2-year programs at community colleges that provide people with the skills for the factory jobs of today.
RD: He supports the proposal and says that it can be done if the state is creative in its funding.
Q: Should charter schools be allowed to expand?
RD: No, the experiment to create competition has failed, as standards have not gone up. They are taking money from the same Michigan general fund but are not regulated by the state.
TD: He supports an increase in the cap if there is priority funding for urban schools. He says that it is important to give parents a choice and that charter schools make public schools accountable through competition.
Q: Do you support Proposal 5’s increase of state money for education based on inflation, and if it passes, how would you fund it?
TD: The Grand Rapids Public Schools oppose it, as does he because it ties the budget to inflation. Education is one of the only areas that has seen an increased budget over the past few years and it would be devastating for other programs if the legislators hands were tied by this proposal.
RD: He does not support it because people elect legislators to make budget decisions and if there is a problem with school funding legislators need to be held accountable.
Q: If Proposal 5 passes, what would be cut to pay for it?
RD: The money could be found by reforming the penal system, as rates of prisoner reentry are “crazy.” He would like to see people going to prison and being trained for when they reenter society.
TD: The penal system and Department of Human Services, but it would be difficult to fund each year. He supports programs to help prisoners adjust to society as a means of reducing prison expenses.
Q: Services have been cut for poor and low income Michigan residents over the past few years, do these cuts match your priorities and are there any such programs that you would cut increase funding for?
TD: You have to represent everyone and all programs are on the table. He would like to consolidate programs as was done with seniors and the “single point of entry” in order to make it easier for people to get signed up.
RD: He is a “compassionate conservative” and he initiated the “single point of entry” approach with Area Agency on Aging and others. He stressed that it is essential to understand that lives are being dealt with when cuts are made.
Q: Would you have voted to increase the minimum wage had you been in office?
RD: He was one of those involved in the campaign to increase it. One reason he was involved is that those taking care of seniors—as his mother did for many years—are paid low wages with 42% of senior caregivers living below the poverty line.
TD: He would have voted for it, as the alternative of tying it to inflation would have been disastrous. That proposal, according to business owners he spoke with, would have required them to eliminate jobs. He said it is more important to fund education for higher-ranking jobs as there are not that many minimum wage jobs.
Q: Michigan is a prevailing wage state for construction projects; do you support waivers for school systems to avoid this?
TD: There should be a waiver for schools, especially with schools in Grand Rapids falling apart as it makes it hard to learn. He says that the prevailing wage is up for debate but if it stifles building, he is opposed to it.
RD: He supports local control and supported in previous jobs. There must be a local decision to do prevailing wage.
Q: Most highway construction is funded with the gas tax—is the tax at the right rate and are roads in good shape?
RD: The roads are not at the right level of quality given the fact that money is there. Dean said that this is an issue where it is clear that wealthy interests are supporting his opponent and urged people to check online for a list of PACs and special interests supporting Doyle.
TD: He said that special interests have made a choice about who is a better leader. The roads are not good and the area consistently comes up short in proportional funding for roads. It is a travesty that the roads are so bad but he will not raise gas taxes.
Q: Is there a state role in public transit? Do you support changes?
TD: The state has a role and there needs to be a focus on the benefits of public transit from an economic and social perspective. It is necessary for urban revitalization and getting people to jobs. It needs to be proportionately funded.
RD: He worked on a regional transportation partnership while a City Commissioner. He thinks funding can be increased by partnering and building alliances.
Q: Imported trash has come up as an issue in other races with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) saying that out of state trash cannot be treated differently. Michigan trash rates are the lowest in the region, would you do anything to make changes on this issue?
RD: He has supported increased rates since the start of his campaign. Michigan could look to the model from Pennsylvania where the raising of rates has almost eliminated the problem. He also supports a moratorium on new landfills.
TD: He is opposed to raising rates, as citizens would pay more. Michigan needs to pressure the national legislature to work on the issue. Much of Michigan’s trash goes to Wisconsin, he would like to see Canadian trash pick up Michigan trash on the way and go to Wisconsin.
Q: The diversion of the state’s waters, especially in light of a bottling plant north of Grand Rapids, has become an issue—what do you think of current regulations?
TD: They are sufficient as there is a cap in place. This environmental issue is more important that Canadian trash—Michigan needs to prevent the Southwestern United States from taking its water. However, if lake levels become affected he supports revisiting current regulations.
RD: You do not want the state to become the “great dry state” instead of the “great lakes state” and it is essential that we look at the selling of water for profit. This issue also connects with the trash issue, as landfills must have filters and protections to prevent run-off into waterways.
Q: How do you feel about live fire exercises in the Great Lakes proposed by the Coast Guard?
RD: They should not be able to do it. You have to look at the lead in the ammunition and the poisoning of the ecosystem as a result. He was also involved in the issue of lead as an environmental issue with homes in the 3rd Ward of Grand Rapids—he got a $5 million grant from the federal government to address that problem.
TD: It is a bad example to relate lead in ammunition to homes, but we do need to look at how it will effect the environment. Some scientists say it will not harm the environment. Environmental concerns must be balanced with national security concerns.
Q: Do you support the repeal of the motorcycle helmet law?
RD: He does not think it is a good idea to repeal it in light of his work as a night Chaplin at area hospitals and the head injuries that he has seen. It becomes a long term cost for society through healthcare costs for those injured.
TD: In his reviewing of traffic deaths he has seen horrific accidents and society will have to pay through healthcare costs that insurance does not cover. When personal decisions affect society, they sometimes have to be regulated.
Q: Does the content and tone of Michigan GOP literature reflect your views?
TD: He said immediately that he is opposed to the ads run by the Michigan GOP and that similar advertisements should not be allowed on either side. These independent expenditures are an issue that he wants to deal with in Lansing.
RD: It is a lack of leadership and experience that produced the ads. He has stood up and said that he would not allow it in his campaign and it has not happened. If Doyle cannot stop it now, how would he in Lansing?
TD: It is a lack of legal knowledge by Dean, nobody can control them and that is why it needs to be addressed.
RD: Doyle is hiding behind legal technicalities.
Q: Incarceration rates are growing, if the incarceration of nonviolent offenders is not the best route, what alternatives do you propose?
RD: He would remove mandatory sentencing guidelines and give judges leeway in sentencing as that goes to the heart of the problem.
TD: Dean is again showing a lack of knowledge, judges have guidelines and they exist for uniformity’s sake. You have to start with education and giving skills and opportunity; focus at the community level.
Q: Do you support limiting abortion in the case of rape and incest?
TD: He is endorsed by Right to Life and their position that it does not matter how a life was created but that we need to focus on that life. There needs to be programs for adoption and support.
RD: He was also endorsed by Right to Life.
Q: What would you do to increase participation in the political process?
RD: He would be a Democrat. In looking at the corruption, it is clear that people are voting with their feet by refusing to vote. He would bring back accountability and honesty.
TD: It has to start in schools where the importance of civics must be stressed. People do not understand the basics or that voting is important.
Q: More and more jobs are full time without benefits, how would you address the healthcare issue and do you support the approach used in Maine?
TD: The Maine approach is interesting and it should be looked at. Healthcare is the biggest long-term issue and we need to figure out how to make it more affordable. Reducing emergency room visits by offering other options would help.
RD: Pharmaceutical corporations are making massive profits while being immune from lawsuits if their drugs cause deaths. We need to look at the state’s bulk buying as a potential means of reducing the cost of drugs.
RD: He served two terms on the City Commission and the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board. The election is crucial in maintaining the status quo or getting change. When on the board, he helped GRPS to get its highest MEAP scores and had success with development with the “Health Hill.” He is running because he has a deep concern for the community and city.
TD: There are three key issues—economy (create an atmosphere for jobs staying), education (workforce development), and quality of neighborhoods (faith-based community and philanthropy has helped with this). Grand Rapids needs someone that can get things done and understands the process, which he does due to working in the Senate while in law school. He reminded the audience that the Grand Rapids Press endorsed him.