On Monday at Grand Valley State University, Democratic Party candidate David LaGrand and Libertarian Party candidate Bill Gelineau debated incumbent Republican State Senator Bill Hardiman. The 29th Senate District includes the cities of Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Lowell and Cascade and the townships of Lowell, Vergennes and Grattan. As part of Media Mouse’s ongoing effort to provide as much substantive election coverage as possible, the questions and candidate responses have been summarized:
David LaGrand (DL): He lives in Grand Rapids and believes that the major issue is the economy and that there needs to be someone in office to help businesses. Police and fire service have been cut as tax cuts have been seen as the solution to economic problems. However, good services are essential and many businesses look for services when making the decision where to locate.
Bill Hardiman (BH): It has been an honor to serve for four years. During that time, he has sponsored 17 bills—ranging from healthcare to seniors—that have made it into law. He has brought dollars back into the community while believing in integrity and representing West Michigan values. He has one of the best attendance records in the Senate while also being active in his home community.
Bill Gelineau (BG): He said that he is an advocate of small government and wants a different and improved system for elections. He sees major problems with voting and family cohesion. He urged attendees to go to his website since his positions are dramatically different from those of the major party candidates.
Q: The Single Business Tax (SBT) will soon become history, did you support eliminating it and would you replace it dollar for dollar?
BH: He supported it as it is a horrible tax and Michigan is the only state with it. He supports replacing the whole $1.9 billion with business taxes instead of taxes on residents.
BG: He was an advocate for getting rid of it. He would replace half of the revenue while extending state taxes (such as the gas tax) to fund special education. He would also cut waste and fraud to make up for lost revenue.
DL: The tax was eliminated in an act of “political Russian roulette” where a huge hole was put in the budget as a means of issuing a challenge and seeing if the difference could be made up. It should have been a bipartisan effort.
Q: DeVos has suggested the repeal of the Personal Property Tax, do you support the proposal?
BG: He supports it in principle but it is the wrong time for it. Democrats raise taxes while Republicans protect the wealthy, resulting in a system where ordinary citizens are forced to pay.
DL: As a business owner, he has paid the tax and it does act as a disincentive to reinvest as the tax lessens over time. He would support getting rid of it but not on the backs of the poor or residents living on fixed incomes.
BH: The Senate was looking at the SBT and its repeal was passed because it would be phased out in 2009 and because of the ballot initiative that was going to eliminate it. As part of that process, all taxes, including the Personal Property Tax, should be looked at in a bipartisan fashion.
Q: Granholm has proposed doubling the number of 4-year college graduates, do you support this measure and how would you pay for it?
BG: We still need the same number of people to work in less qualified jobs while simply promising this number of graduates will not make it happen. A problem is that college costs are too little as state subsidizes artificially lower the price.
BH: He supports the effort but sees trade schools as an option. The economy must be improved to fund it.
DL: He says that such aspirational statements can be a problem but this should be a priority as he agrees with Granholm. Good jobs come with good education and it could be funded through tax credits.
Q: Do you support Proposal 5 and if it passes how would you fund it?
DL: He does not want it to pass but he understands the impetus behind it, but it is dangerous to earmark funds in the budget because it will mean cuts elsewhere.
BG: It is a bad proposal but neither party will take on the educational bureaucracy that demands so much public funding. Private schools are able to provide the same education at 60% of the cost.
BH: He is opposed to the proposal and he worked hard to protect K-12 funding (which grew while others cut). He also increased funding for Grand Valley State University and for at-risk programs at the Grand Rapids Public Schools.
Q: In the past few years state social services for the poor and low income have been cut, do you agree with these cuts and would you change the funding on any programs?
DL: There is a major difference between him and Bill Hardiman on this issue as Bill Hardiman authored a bill setting a lifetime limit on aid to the poor. When you cut people from aid they turn to crime and there needs to be a safety net to support the poor. He favored a minimum wage increase while Hardiman opposed it.
BH: He was poor coming up and he believes in helping those that can get off welfare. The limit was not in the Senate proposal until after the Democrats (Granholm wanted it) asked for it.
BG: Welfare money should not be the focus of the discussion, but the Homestead Tax Credit and tax incentives for the poor should be expand. Corporations should not be subsidized with tax welfare.
DL: Bill Hardiman authored the bill and it put 40,000 children at risk.
BH: He worked with the 48-month time limit to allow for several exceptions.
BG: Everyone wants to help children but the real issue is cutting corporate welfare.
Q: Michigan is ranked 43rd out of 50 states with one of the highest infant mortality rates, what would you do to address this problem?
BH: He has supported programs such as the African American Health Institute and the Minority Health Institute to help African-American awareness of the problem. He funds parent education and provides parenting dollars for lower income people.
BG: A young lady without a father is more likely to have an abortion or be in poverty, many problems are eliminated with two parent homes.
DL: He is an advocate of two-parent homes, but we need to be serious about universal access to health care and realizing that mortality and malnutrition are linked and that therefore we must address poverty and hunger.
BH: He addressed fatherhood and parenting with the DHS and pushed for Earned Income Credits in the Senate.
BG: He supports not removing young couples from their parents insurance as a way of partially addressing the problem.
DL: According to Hardiman, the Earned Income Credit was an argument for not raising the minimum wage.
Q: What is your position on Proposal 2 and what would the outcome be if it passes?
BG: He supports Proposal 2 as its opponents have distorted the outcome. Title IX and federal programs would not be affected and it is time that the government stop treating people differently.
DL: Anyone who thinks that racism is not alive is not looking. One of the issues on which he and Hardiman agree, although Hardiman agrees with the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. We need to keep it from being passed to protect women and people of color.
BH: He opposed it and believes the Supreme Court decision is good as it disallows quotas while allowing race to be considered in law school for its positive benefits.
BG: Many folks are insulted by the idea that women and people of color cannot make it, the government should not pick and chose whom to support.
BH: There has not been a level playing field.
DL: The American Dream will not function if there is no equal opportunity because power is held by white men only.
Q: Is the state gas tax enough to fund highways and are area roads at the right level of quality?
BH: The gas tax is about right but it might have to be looked at sometime, although he supports looking at the whole tax structure. He would focus on infrastructure and reminded the audience that he blocked a Granholm attempt to cut area road projects.
DL: It is rash to talk about increasing the gas tax in an era of high prices. There needs to be more effective advocacy to get money here.
BG: He would prioritize repair and maintenance over construction and would raise the gas tax while looking at toll roads to prevent poor from funding road projects.
BH: The governor’s “Fix it First” program would have taken money to the other side of the state.
DL: Agrees with looking at toll roads, as it does not penalize the urban core areas.
BG: New roads provide direct subsidies to developers.
Q: Television ads in other races have raised the issue of imported trash and the fact that it cannot be banned under NAFTA – what would you do to address the issue?
DL: He would reduce out of state trash by raising fees and rebating money to municipalities. No changes need to be made to trade agreements to solve the issue using a Democratic proposal.
BG: Likes the idea of raising fees but the problem was created 40 years ago when it was demanded that each county have their own landfill capacity. The issue shows that there is too much partisanship to work together on it.
BH: Does not support a fee increase, as we would pay for it. He is intrigued by LaGrand’s proposal, but we have done what we can do on the issue for now. There was a 2004 bill requiring Canadian trash to meet Michigan standards and there is a law ready to turn back Canadian trash if it becomes a possibility due to federal changes.
BG: Nobody has discussed recycling as means of reducing waste.
Q: What are your views on current regulations governing the privatization of the state’s waters?
BH: Water is important; the Senate passed SB 850 to put into effect the annex 2001 agreement for water withdrawal standards and to allow for public comment.
DL: We must retain the state waters and not allow them to go out of the state. Water needs to be cleaned, especially Lansing. He is opposed to factory farms and their sewage run-off while Bill Hardiman supports them.
BG: The Great Lakes Compact is sufficient. Pollution is not focused on now and one change he would make is allowing individuals to sue polluters.
BH: He likes farms and says that he can work with all farmers.
DL: At the last debate that Hardiman attended he said that he favored increasing the number of factory farms. Factory farms are unregulated.
Q: Would you do anything to promote alternative energy?
DL: He would like to pass a law that allows people to sell energy back to Consumers Energy. Michigan has a great potential for wind energy but now people can stop windmills as “nuisances,” so he would like to address that issue. He says that the state must have a renewable energy portfolio.
DL: It is imperative to work on alternative fuels. He has supported tax breaks for ethanol and said that ethanol will help farmers.
BG: He would raise the gas tax and is concerned that there are not many places to access alternative fuels. He is worried that incentives for alternative energy will go to corporations.
DL: Ethanol is a shell game in which oil-based fertilizer goes onto corn meaning that you are essentially turning oil into oil. He says that instead we must work on truly clean wind and solar energy.
Q: Does the content and tone of advertisements produced by the Michigan GOP reflect how you are campaigning?
BH: No, he contacted Michigan GOP chair Anuzis about the extreme negativity. He runs a positive campaign and does not want such negativity in his campaign.
BG: Negative campaigning will be with us unless we change the electoral system to get rid of gerrymandering and make serious electoral reforms.
DL: He presented a pledge for no “robo-calls” in the election and urged Hardiman to sign it. He will pass a law requiring all literature to say who paid, authored, and authorized it.
BH: He has sponsored legislation getting rid of robo-calls. He already has done it on his own and does not do them as he runs a clean campaign.
BG: Government is good at exempting political parties from rules that govern businesses, so political parties do not have to follow the Do-not Call Registry.
DL: Bill Hardiman made Robo-calls in the last election.
BH: The calls were made on his behalf but he did not authorize them and could not stop them.
BG: We need more discussion, not less. It is not negative to talk about corruption in society and democracy. We need proportional representation because with a corrupt political process, people drop out when they feel that their vote does not count.
DL: Hardiman said that part of integrity is showing up, but it needs to be much more than that. There has been a failure of leadership on Hardiman’s half and he is ready to take Hardiman’s spot and bring funding back to the community and to improve the economy.
BH: It is good to discuss the issues. He grew up in this community in a poor area and went from Grand Rapids Community College, to Grand Valley State University, and on to Western Michigan University. He realizes how lucky he is to represent the community. He worked with businesses as mayor of Kentwood. He faced obstacles and tough issues as a Senator, but he brought money into the community.