Candidates that will appear on ballots in Monroe County this November had a chance this week to appear before local voters and answer questions about some of the issues they will face if elected.
Monroe County Community College held candidate forums on Wednesday and Thursday at the La-Z-Boy Center, Meyer Theater, located on the campus at 1555 S. Raisinville Rd. The candidates answered a mixture of pre-selected and audience-provided questions.
Those who participated Wednesday included State Senate, District 16 candidates Katybeth Davis (Democrat) and Joseph Bellino Jr. (Republican); State Representative, District 29 candidates Alex Garza (Democrat) and James DeSana (Republican); State Representative, District 31 candidates Reggie Miller (Democrat) and Dale Biniecki (Republican); First District Court Judge candidates Christian Horkey of Dundee, and Steven Hyder of Monroe; and Monroe County Community College Board of Trustees candidates Julie Edwards and Gary Kiebler.
Those who participated Thursday included U.S. Representative, District 5 candidates Bart Goldberg (Democrat) and Tim Walberg (Republican); State Representative, District 28 candidates Robert Kull (Democrat) and Jamie Thompson (Republican); State Representative, District 30 candidate William Bruck (Republican); Monroe County Board of Commissioners, District 6 candidates Jerry Oley (Democrat) and David P. Vensel (Republican); and Monroe County Community College Board of Trustees candidates Bruce Diven, Candace Ferrell, Michael LaHote and Jason Matthews.
Monroe County Commissioners Dave Hoffman and Dawn Asper also participated in the forums, but they are running unopposed and as such their answers were not included in this story. District 30 candidate Suzanne Jennens did not participate.
Following are the answers to the questions posed to the candidates Wednesday and Thursday:
The U.S. Representative, District 5; State Representative, Districts 28 and 30; State Senate, District 16; and county commissioner candidates were asked: What are the most important challenges facing our country, the State of Michigan, Monroe County, etc., and how do you propose to address them?
Walberg: “The most important challenge we face right now is economic. You just have to see what the polls are saying that people are concerned with. It’s their own personal economy. Cost of living increases and inflation that has gone on as the result of wrong-headed solutions that masquerade as helping the country, but it’s taken us behind. We’ve fallen behind on energy. We were once independent from the rest of the world to the point that we could export.”
Goldberg: “Protecting our democracy is the greatest threat that we have to face. Due to the partisan divide, our democracy is just hanging on by a thread. Protecting democracy is exactly why I am running. This had been clear for quite some time, well before January 6, when people of the opposing parties were no longer friends, when they couldn’t agree on what a fact was, or they couldn’t agree with what a valid institution was. We’ve got to move on, and a good start I believe would be to elect moderates such as myself that will work to bring people back together and make it clear that they put their nation over their political party.”
Bruck: “Our economy is not doing well. Every time you fill your gas tank, I hope you realize that. We (also) deal with the crisis of education. Michigan is ranked 38th in the nation in education and it’s estimated that we’ll be at the bottom five. I as a common citizen have chosen to run for District 30 to be a representative for my state, my community, my county, and my district.”
Thompson: “The challenges that are facing my community and District 28 has to do with economic struggles, with inflation and how that’s affecting our families. Crime is on the rise. Many families don’t feel safe in their homes or sending their children to schools. My focus will be doing things that affect my community. That will include making sure that the retirement tax is repealed.”
Kull: “If we want to tackle inflation, unions are the answer — make it easier for people to organize and join unions. During the last decade, we’ve seen declines in unions, and on the opposite of that fact, we’ve seen companies make record profits. Education is a big issue. Our schools are underfunded. We need to increase base funding and have people stop taking away from education funding every time there is a bill up there (in Lansing).”
Oley: “Of the most important challenges we face are economic stability and jobs. We need to continue to grow jobs in our county and we need to continue to market Monroe County. I believe in staying within your means and with what the community gives you, and making it work.”
Vensel: “I do think economic development is extremely important. I like what the county has done recently initiating a merger between the Monroe Business Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce, so that they can pool their resources and try to recruit new industry to come to Monroe County try to recruit new businesses try and create more jobs. I think we (also) have to pay attention to mental health and the addiction crisis. It’s a major problem.”
Davis: “I think one of the most important issues facing Monroe County is an issue that’s been facing us for years and years and years, and that is the opioid, heroin, fentanyl epidemic. There’s also a lack of oversight when it comes to racial disparities and inequities in this county… Another important issue is affordable housing. Prices are going up on everything and we want to bring in good jobs, well we need to have places where people can live and higher wages for the jobs we do have… There’s also a lack of accountability and oversight with our criminal justice system here in Monroe County. Right now there is already an internal investigation into the (Monroe County Sheriff’s Office), and we’ve had some issues with jails and it’s just something that an internal, independent investigation is needed and warranted in this area. (Also the) lack of mental health resources – that is one of the independent investigations currently going on right now, was it was found that African Americans were not getting access to mental health (services) and support in our community…”
Bellino: “We need more good-paying jobs to start, (paying) $20 an hour and over. Some of these warehouses coming in might help with that. We have a huge inflation problem, but what can the state do about inflation that’s (occurring) across the whole country? Here’s one thing we can do: We can stop raising taxes. We did that with the 45-cent gas tax. We can cut some taxes. That will help people in their pocket books, that makes sense to me, to cut some taxes. We have over $7 billion in the bank right now for the state. We lack in helping out public safety, I’ve got to be honest with you. We’ve had over 250 officers murdered in the last four years, and there’s been no uproar about that. No uproar at all. That shocks me; that makes me sad. So what we did at the state level is put together a couple hundred million dollars to train officers better, to recruit officers and to pay officers better, because we need that. Would you live in a place with no public safety? I wouldn’t. I’d be skedaddling out of Chicago if I was there right now; I wouldn’t stay there. They’ve some of the most severe gun laws in the country and it’s a very dangerous place to live… Also, as Katybeth mentioned, mental health services. Our state sucks when it comes to mental health services. We’ve got plenty of money, and a huge department, but we stink at it. If I call up with a mental health problem at 4 p.m., they tell me to call back at 9 a.m. the next day. That’s bull crap. We need to change that, and there’s people with the power to do that, but nothing is happening.”
The State Representative, Districts 29 and 31, and Monroe County Board of Commissioners candidates were asked: “What actions will you take to address the threat facing the Great Lakes? What is your opinion on climate change and the environment, and what will you do to address these issues?“
Garza: “I haven’t had the honor yet of serving Monroe County in the Michigan Legislature. I think it’s important that we’re looking at grants and other revenue streams that are available in terms of how we’re addressing climate change as a whole, and for county-wide initiatives we should be focused on. One of our bills that I worked on as state rep has to do with looking at cumulative impact, and cumulative impact as it pertains to air pollution, ambient air monitoring, things of that nature. A lot of what we’ve seen on the Detroit riverfront is there are many different companies with lots of air pollution, particularly (in the) Detroit area. There’s a lot of cumulative impact, and many businesses polluting over the federal standards for air pollution. I think it’s very important, and the bill I’ve introduced as a state legislator addresses the effects of air pollution. We also need to look at different water sources as well, and what we are doing to protect our Great Lakes. I think one of the biggest errors we’ve seen in many, many years in our state is the Nestle Waters situation that we’ve seen in the state, and how we are doing our part to protect our water sources, whether that be Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, you name it, make sure we’re protecting this beautiful natural resource that we have here in the State of Michigan that nowhere else has. I think it’s very important to have that conversation about how we’re actually protecting those water sources here. Also I’d say research into eco-friendly ways to build and manufacture. I think a lot of businesses across this great state are doing this already, but we can be doing a better job as legislators and elected officials in this state to helping these businesses do what they can in order to do things in a very economic and eco-friendly way. There are many, many ways; it’s not just one solution to these issues.”
DeSana: “Our water is our greatest resource, I really, truly do believe that. Our Great Lakes, we’re surrounded by it, we’re a peninsula obviously. One of the biggest problems I think with water and protecting our Great Lakes is our combined sewers. One of the biggest challenges we have downriver is when we get a big rain and the sewer system can’t handle the rainfall, they have to open up the floodgates and that sewage floods into the Detroit River and (then) into Lake Erie. That’s been a problem my entire lifetime. The challenge is how to afford to separate these sewers. Communities have had difficulties being able to afford this infrastructure, and this kind of hits on my theme, which is I believe we really have to hit on our infrastructure. We really have to help communities afford to separate their sewage and to have more retention. There has been a lot done downriver… (but) when all that water flows into the river, it is solution by dilution and it is not a good solution. You know that is going into our river eventually… My opinion on climate change? We were all standing on glaciers at some point in our history here. Climate is always changing, that’s my opinion.”
Miller: “We need to tackle the ones that are polluting the lakes. Polluters should pay, plain and simple. Not only polluting our (Great Lakes), but our local lakes as well. We need education along with infrastructure, educating our residents about why it’s important not to over-fertilize so we can reduce and eliminate those algae blooms poisoning our water system. It’s (harming) our local economy, because boaters are limited to where they can use the lakes and how much they can be on water, so we need to tackle that. Climate change: we need to tackle it now, because if we don’t, this environment will be destroyed. Look at what is going on in Texas: they’ve got fires and floods and freezes going on in areas they shouldn’t have those. Michigan is getting flooded more and more due to climate change. It isn’t just one area; it’s across the board more and more… I will work across the board to address some of these issues. Our Great Lakes are our greatest asset, they’re where we get our drinking water, and if we don’t protect it now it wont be around for our children and for generations to come.”
Dale Biniecki: “In this county, homeowners are equally guilty of putting too much fertilizer and too much waste into the lakes. I agree with Jim (DeSana): the sewer systems are not proper for protecting our lakes. Storm sewers are ar eal problem, and we can’t put the whole blame on agriculture. As far as global warming goes: the government says yes, but I’m not entirely convinced. We need better studies, because all of the studies I’ve seen kind of got roblems one way or another, so I think we need to have some really intelligent people from both (sides) to work together to figure this out. Right now we need to punish the polluters and reward the cleanest manufacturers and oil drillers, and thsoe are the people in the United States, they’re the cleanest manufacturing in the world and the cleanest oil producers in the world, we we punish them like they were third-world countries. I propose a 10-year moratorium on EPA regulations for the cleanest producers, oil drillers and manufactures, and increasing tariffs on imports from countries that are the biggest polluters until they bring up their standards to ours for a cleaner world…”
Oley: I believe in protecting our Great Lakes by holding our polluters accountable. I think they also need to change and address these issues with our communities. I think we need to prevent stealing our Great Lakes water. I think we need to keep it for our farmers. They feed us every day.”
Vensel: “I think water is probably our most important resource. I think we do need to improve our infrastructure and our wastewater treatment facilities. Our sewage facilities need to be upgraded. We need to rely on the help of our scientists and have the help from our neighboring states to control the quality of our water.”
The 1st District Court Judge candidates were asked “Please describe one instance in which you faced an ethical dilemma and how you resolved it?”
Horkey: “…Many years ago, I had a client who reached a settlement agreement in her divorce case. The opposing party took months to get a signed judgement back to us, and by the time we got it back to us the client said that she and her soon-to-be-ex-husband reached another agreement in which she did quite a bit better. He denied that, and so we were arguing over what the judgement should say, and the other side submitted a judgement that complied with what was put on record. I told her that she needed to file an objection or the judge would sign that, but I couldn’t object to it because that’s what she had told the judge she had wanted to settle for. I helped her draft the objection, but I told her I couldn’t sign it, but she signed it and I filed a motion to withdraw from the case.”
Hyder – “We face ethical questions almost on a daily basis. So what you really have to do is look at case law there, look at what the state bar says, there is an ethical hotline we can call for advice. Just examine what you’re faced with and talk it out with possibly other colleagues, talk it out with your clients if it’s an ethical issue with your clients or what they want to do. If it is a case that comes to you that you don’t think is ethical to begin, with just don’t take the case, so deal with it that way. Probably most of the way I work it out is research it and talk with other attorneys, and definitely call the 1-800 number (available) for attorneys.”
Candidates for positions on the Monroe County Community College Board of Trustees were asked: “The MCCC Board is a policy board; can you please explain what that means?“
Edwards: “There are lots of issues that face MCCC on a regular basis, and the responsibility of the board is more of an oversight and to bring issues to (the attention of) administration here at the college. I’m not going to be directly addressing those issues, but I can bring them to light. I think that the (goal of) the policy board in itself is just being aware of what’s facing MCCC, being able to speak about it to help people bringing those issues to me, but ultimately just allowing the administration of the college to do exactly what it is they’re supposed to be doing, which is being good steward of all things MCCC.”
Kiebler: “I see a policy board as that you have to decide on policies. I’m not going to be too in depth on this because it could be a learning-on-the-job type thing, being as I’ve not been on a board before. There are important issues that the college faces, and whether it is policy or other things, the primary responsibility, from my understanding, of the board is to – I don’t want to use the word oversight – but to work with the (college) president on budgeting and some of these important issues. so that’s kind of my view of it. I don’t really want to overdo it. It’s a policy board, so we will focus on policy…”
Diven: “A policy board oversees and approves finances, approves general policies, and dismisses and hires employees under the advisement of the college administration. It approves policies and procedures for the general operations of the college. The policy board or the trustees should not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the college. With that said, trustees are more than just a policy board. Trustees are elected officials who, by Michigan law, are responsible to the voting citizens of Monroe County.”
Ferrell: “A policy board is a group of elected individuals who serve as a link between the wishes of the community and the operational organization of the college. The policy board directs the overall direction of the college, so the administration and the president are accountable. We ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely and that the policies of the college reflect the desires of the community. One policy that I would love to see added would be lower tuition costs or scholarship opportunities for dual-enrolled students.”
LaHote: “I helped develop a curriculum, wrote a dress code and a code of conduct, and worked closely with teachers and administrators, and state and local officials and politicians as well. Above and beyond all the things we’ve just heard, you have to be able to have experience in implementing those things.”
Matthews: “The board sets the policy for the college. We determine the long-term direction for the college. One of the key roles of the board is to provide strategic planning and vision. It also means that you need to work with administration, and implement and execute that strategy. I’d work to expand education programs, establish a construction-readiness program, support college staff and faculty, partner with industry, and connect students with well-paying careers.”
The State Senate, District 16, and Monroe County Board of Trustees candidates were asked: “Explain how you will collaborate with individuals from different political parties to pass legislation which is beneficial to the people you represent?“
Bellino: “I’ve worked across the aisle in many, many, many issues. I worked with (Democratic State Senator) Stephanie Chang, she came to me four years ago with a problem with something called whippets. Whippets are these little canisters that have got nitrous oxide in them and bakers use them… but in the City of Detroit you can buy a 12-pack of them for $8, and kids go back and suck it up and after about three of them they get high. It was a serious problem, so we started a law that said you couldn’t sell them to someone unless they’re (at least) 18 years old. We did that, but the problem is now nobody in the southwest side of the City of Detroit is paying attention to the law. So Stephanie Chang and I have another law we have drafted to ban whippets from gas stations and party stores, and sell them only in places that sell bakery goods. We’ll see what happens there… I’ve worked with many, many other Democrats…”
Davis: “I haven’t had too many chances to work across the aisle, but I’ve had to survive across the aisle by reaching across the aisle. The number one thing I do is I always listen. It’s known that I talk a lot, but the reason why I do is because I listen to all of you. I’ve worked within communities across the aisle on issues that are bipartisan, such as issues with the Monroe County Animal Shelter and with the Monroe Township Marijuana Advisory Board. The other thing I would say is there is a commitment to get things done. I have lived here 38 years, and I feel like a lot of the issues we have right now are a lot of the same issues we’ve always had. It’s just a matter of finding common ground in how we are able to work together…”
Oley: “I’ve had 20 years of working in a bipartisan format on the county commissioner board. I’ve served in leadership with Republicans and Democrats. We are probably the example that should be used on all levels of how we can work together and get the job done. We are respectful of listening to each other’s difference of opinions, then we draw conclusions about what’s best for Monroe County. Fighting doesn’t get the job done, working together does.”
Vensel: “I served on Monroe Public Schools Board of Education for 17 years, and although it was a nonpartisan office, clearly there were members of the board that belonged to one party or the other. But we decided to work in a pragmatic, thoughtful manner in which all we wanted to really do was solve problems so that we could put out a better product for our kids. I think that’s the same think that happens with the Monroe County Board of Commissioners. They put the needs of the county ahead of everyone else.”
The State Representative candidates were asked: “Over the past couple of years, the pandemic, economic and racism crises deeply hurt many communities you represent. How do you plan to lead our region to recovery and growth? What do we need to do, and who do we need to focus on?”
DeSana: “We have a son who was on the No. 2 rowing team in the nation and was not able to row his senior year. It was just canceled because of our governor’s edicts – illegal edicts, I might mention. A lot of people have suffered. In Carleton, we have a little restaurant that is very popular called Farmer’s Cafe. It’s an American success story: two Albanian brothers came (here) and it’s a wildly successful, busy all the time. One of them told me ‘Jim, I survived COVID, and now all this.’ And I said ‘Right?’ Inflation, hyper inflation brought to you by the Democratic party. People like to tell you that inflation is a global thing, but inflation has been caused by our federal government. When you give away this much money, the basic laws of supply and demand always apply. He is struggling to keep his business open because people are not going to pay $30-40 dollars for a breakfeast for two people. We have got to address inflation; to me, that’s our number one job, is how can we deregulate and help small businesses avoid the burdens of government. Government is a burden to business, and I mean that very sincerely…”
Garza: “One of the things I’ll say about this is we need bipartisan leadership in Lansing that is going to address many of these issues. We’ve seen a lot of these issues come to a head during the pandemic, and we really have to focus on bringing opportunities in the short, medium and long term to our region, bringing businesses not just into Monroe, but also downriver. Together, we’ll really see the results we’re looking to have for our businesses to be successful. Recently, we were successful in bringing a vehicle battery plant to Van Buren Charter Township that’s going to bring over 2,000 good-paying jobs to the region. Things like that are only possible by working together in a bipartisan fashion…”
Biniecki: “In order to achieve economic recovery, we have to fix our labor pool. We have to invest in our skilled workforce by investing in career training and education. Right now, there’s a real shortage of every kind of skilled worker in Southeast Michigan. I propose to make Monroe County the skilled training and education center of the country; at least the Midwest. We could work with our CTE programs to teach truck driving, auto technology education, welding, fiber optic technology, and a lot of these educations can be co-opted with unions like the lumber union and electric union… We also need to re-purpose our old factories, old industrial centers, modernize them and make it more efficient and more pollution free to attract more businesses into Southeast Michigan. We also need plenty of energy; electrical power is a must. Steel is made with electricity nowadays, cars are built using a lot of electricity. We have to make sure the power grid is strong enough…”
Miller: “…I do agree with all of what the candidates are saying: manufacturing is important. We do have that new facility coming to Van Buren Township which, as Rep. Garza said, will bring over 2,000 jobs. And it’s clean energy, that’s what we need. But we also need to address affordable housing. When we have $15 an hour wages and an apartment costs almost $1,200 a month, $15 an hour just isn’t enough. Our kids will live at home forever…”
The candidates for First District Court Judge were asked: “What do you believe to be the root causes for the high number of juvenile offenders in Monroe County? What changes can the court system make to reduce these numbers?”
Hyder: “I believe the root cause actually begins at home. I think parents don’t have the resources necesary, that they need to support their family, to educate their children and to be with their kids. Lot of them are working two jobs, and the kids are in daycare. I believe that where it needs to start is in the home with juvenile offenders. One of the things the court system allows us to do as judges is to get out in the community and talk with parents, see what resources that they need and don’t just hide up in the courthouse but be (out) there with programs and talk with them, educate and help them with what their going through at that time, educate the youth on what not to do, and so on and so forth. I think if we can get with parents and help them out, I think that would solve a lot of the problems with youth and with juvenile delinquency.”
Horkey: “The number of juvenile offenders has actually fallen in Monroe in the 22 years that I’ve been practicing. I spoke with Probate Court Judge Frank Arnold last night, and he said when he took the bench 12 years ago there were 1,200 petitions filed that year, juvenile delinquency petitions. This year, they’re on track to have 200 petitions filed. So those numbers are coming down. Some of the reasons that they’ve come down is there are restorative justice programs that have been put in place, both through the courts and in schools. The schools aren’t immediately calling the police to make a report when something happens in school; they will mediate, they will put a restorative justice program in place, instead of making the problem the court’s problem. The other thing is the biggest root cause (that) was true 22 years ago is still true today, and that’s that the juvenile offenders are coming out of failing families. Anything the court can do to strengthen that family unit, the better…”
Candidates for positions on the Monroe County Community College Board of Trustees were asked: “As a trustee, if a community member or college employee comes to you with a complaint or concern about the college, how would you handle that situation?”
Kiebler: “First I would try find out more information from them regarding what their concern is. My role as a board member would not be to solve that particular question or concern, but refer them. If they’re an employee of the college, (I would refer them) to their immediate supervisor, and if they don’t get their desired result from that, (I’d suggest that they) take the next step to their (superior’s) superior, and follow the chain of command. That’s how I was taught in my years as a manager; you don’t go over the chain of command and step on someone’s toes. You basically have to let it follow the course up the chain… Basically that would be my role: to listen to the concern, talk about it and then refer them to the proper channel.”
Edwards: “The first step in this is making sure the person bringing the concern to me is heard. What we fail a lot at just as humans is we don’t listen enough; we listen to respond and not listening to a person really doesn’t get us anywhere… Bringing that concern to the (attention of the) administration of the college is important. Let the people hired into positions that they are very capable of doing, let them do the work they were hired to do. The largest part of this question when I read this initially was to follow through. I’m a very big proponent of if you say you’re going to do something, then do what you say… Following through with the person who brought the concern to light, as well as making sure I’m kept in the loop of what that issue is… that follow-up and follow-through is very important.”
The U.S. Representative, District 5; State Senate, District 16; and State Representative, Districts 28 and 30, candidates were asked: “What are your thoughts regarding the legitimacy of the 2020 election?
Walberg: “I think the most important thing is not what I consider, but what the people of the state of Michigan believe the elections to be. 2020 has passed. We had great difficulty in people believing that it was done fairly, accurately, and legally. I don’t think any of us want to see that again. So, I think what’s going on now in preparation for 2022 is most important. That means that we all have to participate in it, vote ourselves, and make sure that if we get to be part of the election security process… we can have a fair election in 2022.”
Goldberg: “Unfortunately, our prior president was able to convince a good portion of this country, even before the votes were counted, that the election was fraudulent. Certainly, it was not fraudulent. Since then, there have been efforts to elect people who are willing to come out and say that the election was fraudulent and that the coming election was fraudulent, so I am concerned that some of those people are now in positions of authority, but I still have confidence that our system will hold, and that the election results in 2022 will be fair.”
Bruck: “I left in April 2020, went to Iraq and Syria, and came back in March 2021, so I missed all the excitement. I voted from overseas with an absentee ballot. I served six Commanders-in-Chief, and currently Joe Biden is my Commander-in-Chief. I don’t question the 2020 election. I believe we need to abide by our laws. I believe in (voter) identification. Our elections are only as secure as people believe and view them, so we need to be above reproach.”
Thompson: “It’s nothing new that presidents claim that the election was stolen. It did get out of hand, I will say that. We heard Hillary Clinton (challenge) the results of her (election). I think that we need safeguards in our elections. First and foremost, I think that we need to get past it. We need to move on. Donald Trump is not going to save the people of Michigan. People of Michigan are going to save Michiganders. I think we need to check IDs, and I think we need precautions in place so that we can trust our elections.”
Kull: “The 2020 election was a legit election. One side got angry because they lost. We followed the rules…all across the country. One candidate was preaching the whole time that if he lost, it was rigged. Voting is a constitutional right. A lot of people here in the state want to take that away from people. That’s not right.”
Davis: “The election wasn’t stolen; Joe Biden is our president. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. In fact, we have our own people in Michigan who are under investigation for tampering with the election process. So again, just in case anybody wasn’t aware, Joe Biden is the president.”
Bellino: “I did sign on to the amicus brief out of Texas. Seventeen of us in the (Michigan House of Representatives) did. Why did I do that? Because I didn’t know what was going on in Georgia and Pennsylvania. I knew Joe Biden won Michigan, but I wasn’t sure about the other states. A few days later, the (U.S.) Supreme Court came back and said everything was legit. So I shut my mouth about it. Yeah, he’s the legit president, but we’ve got some problems here in Michigan when it comes to voting. When you have a city that turns their ballots in when only 28 percent of the precincts are correct, you’ve got a problem. That doesn’t happen in Monroe County. The lady in Bedford, she’ll be there until six in the morning checking ballots to make sure they’re all okie dokie, and everything is correct, then she’ll go to the courthouse with the ballots. Why doesn’t every precinct, or every county in the state do that? We drafted some bills to make them do that, but (Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer) vetoed those bills. Why send out absentee ballot (applications) to everybody whose voted in the last 40 years? My daughter Meg (hasn’t lived in Michigan for the) last nine years, and she got six applications for absentee ballots, while living in California, that came to my address. And right before the election – remember this, because the courts said the Secretary of State screwed up big time, she broke the law – she said to clerks ‘Let’s assume all the signatures are correct.’ That makes people worried. Did we have a legit election? Yeah, he won Michigan. But we have some laws that we have to clean up. If we don’t clean them up, no one is ever going to be happy. You can’t tell people to assume the signatures are correct when you have a system to check signatures on absentee ballots. Why did they do that? Why did that happen? Are we lazy? We’re not dumb. Why did we do that? Why do we let this continually happen? It doesn’t happen in Monroe County, but it happens all over the state.”
The State Representative candidates were asked: “Community college is an affordable option for students. What will you do to support increased money for community college and its students?”
Garza: “…One of the things I’m very proud of as a legislator who has been in office the past four years is the increased funding we were able to do through the legislature in order to supp our community colleges, in order to supp our educational facilities. I think that we have got to give resources to places like where we are standing at currently in order to educate those who are looking to better their lives and to move forward. One of the things I’m also proud of as legislator has been to support the Michigan Reconnect Program, which has connected thousands people here in this great state into community colleges to be able to go back to colleges and finish what they may have started before. I’m very, very in tune to issues that our community colleges are facing, and we’ve got to do a better job to make sure we are listening to our administrators and making sure we’re doing our best to put our foot forward as a state into investing back into the people that live here…”
DeSana: “I have two daughters that attended MCCC, my daughter Emily and my daughter Kate. I think community college serves a very valuable purpose to the counties, and to the community, for vocational training especially and for a lot of the two-year degrees (such as) dental hygiene, and things like that that really fuel our economy. I’m a big believer in the community college education, and I will support fully funding community colleges…”
Miller: “I graduated with two degrees from community colleges. My first degree was an associate’s degree from Purdue North Central. Because of my mother being ill when I was very young, I couldn’t finish. But I did finish when I moved to Michigan and I got a bachelor’s degree from Cleary University, and I’m very proud of that. I graduated at the top of my class. I know the importance of community college; my kids have gone to community college. But we also need to open up the possibilities for vocational schools and trade. When I was in high schoool, we had DECA, we had auto shop, we had mechanical drawing shop… We had many many programs… We that need career placement (training), so when these students walk out of high school they have a bright future. We need to go back to vocational trade schools and fund those, and I will work across the aisle to make sure that happens, because not everyone can go to traditional college, and I’m aware of that.”
Biniecki: “No one more than me appreciates community college – “I’m a graduate of this school. Working full-time and still being able to get a degree in three years is a monumental task. There are a lot of hours involved… We need to keep funding community college not just for students who want a degree, but it’s for life enrichment for a lot of other people. There are a lot of classes, a lot of life-enriching classes that a lot of seniors, older adults and even younger people take advantage of… I know money is a big issue with colleges. We can partner with trade unions to set up schools to perhaps get the programs, electricians, plumbers, especially new emerging tech things like fiber optics… I’m very happy funding the community college system when I become a representative.”
The candidates for First District Court Judge were asked: In the area of hate crimes, what are some of the issues in balancing free speech rights against the need to control offensive activity?
Horkey: “As judicial candidates, the tenants of the judicial ethics apply to us. So there are some things that we are limited in being able to answer. In light of that, my answer to this question is that the line is when speech becomes action.”
Hyder: “I guess the diff between free speech and hate crime is a hate crime is when a physical act or an injury based upon race related, or if you don’t agree with a person’s lifestyle, where free speech is just that: free speech. There’s a big difference between free speech and a hate crime, but I do agree with Mr. Horkey that the fact is there’s a lot we can’t get into. So I’ll just give you that piece of advice: There’s a difference between a hate crime and free speech.”
Candidates for positions on the Monroe County Community College Board of Trustees were asked: “What role do you see MCCC playing in addressing local employee shortages?
Kiebler: “Something near and dear to my heart here is the auto program, which I was a graduate of. The technology and difficulty of working on vehicles nowadays is so much greater than it was when I graduated from here. That’s probably why I never went on to be an auto mechanic, I thought I was going to be and life had other plans for me. But I know we have a very new, wonderful auto shop out here and I’d like to see it better utilized. I don’t know what we can do at this point; it would take some looking into. But certainly with all the changes that are constantly going on in the auto industry, with electric vehicles coming into play I know that will require a whole different new set of technical skills to repair those vehicles, so that would be the first thing. Also, there’s just so many other trades out here. There’s shortages of electricians, plumbers, builders, the whole construction trade… There’s a whole wide range of opportunities for employment here that we need to be in the forefront of providing skills to the community and to the employers in Southeast Michigan. I think we can be at the forefront of that leadership, and that’s what I’d like to do if elected to the board.”
Edwards: “… There are a lot of great programs here, but if we’re trying to educate people on things we don’t have a need for… we should be able to focus those resources on things we know are not going away. Shortages in healthcare is one. I work in healthcare every single day, and I struggle to be able to staff the building I manage to appropriately care for the people that live there. Alumni play a key role in being able to kind of bridge the gap. I’ve worked with the alumni association here to try to get off ground an internship program to be able to address some of those shortages and connect current students to people who are in an industry that they are interested in going into. Being able to anticipate the needs of what is coming instead of reacting to what has already happened is key to being able to address some of those shortages…”
The State Senate, District 16, candidates were asked: “What do you think about solar farms?”
Bellino: “My question to you is: if we’re not going to have solar farms, and we started this renewable kick back in 2008, where are we going to get the power? The coal burner generates 3,200 megawatts a day, and the new plant generates about 1,600. That’s about 54,000 acres of solar just to make up for those two. That’s not happening in Monroe County. But the second question should be what rights do a farmer have? Does a farmer have the right to sell their property to DTE for development, or are we going to tell him he doesn’t have that right? It’s his own personal property, what if he’s 82 years old and no kids want to be farmer? You’re going to tell him he cant sell it for $15,000 an acre? We have to have a commonsense solution here. There are a couple bills going around Lansing right now, because we need power but we don’t want to be like California or Texas. We don’t want to have happen (here) like what happened in Texas two years ago because the renewables are screwed up and gas couldn’t get there. We don’t want to be like California two years ago, where they had rolling blackouts all the time. We’ve got to have a commonsense solution; we need solar and we need some backup power too. DTE said the coal burner is going to shut down by 2040. They’re going to move that up, I think. They’re going to move that up, and I think they want to make that a gas plant, and that may make some people here upset. But we’ve got to have power to push the renewable power through… solar power, wind power doesn’t make enough power right now to push it through the lines to our house. We’ve got to have base power do that. I don’t have a proble with solar farms; I don’t have a problem at all. But like most of us here, we don’t want it in our back yard and we don’t want to upset our agriculture history we have here. But there’s got to be a commonsense solution and it probably has got to come from Lansing, because we can’t have 5,000-foot setbacks in a township for solar and say that’s legit.”
Davis: “I completely support solar farms. I was actually admiring the (college’s) solar panels on the drive in. One of the things that has come up over last couple of years in Monroe Charter Township specifically, is we we had some farmers that do have acres and acres of land, 100 acres of land that they to want be able to turn that into a solar farm. But because of zoning and other regulations, they’re not able to do that. I just want to mention that there were two bipartisan house bills that would have supported the development of solar, they would have created jobs and would have given us just energy freedom, especially from DTE… These bipartisan bills would have started allowing customers who might not be able to afford high prices. I attended a meeting in Detroit of the public services committee, because DTE was wanting to raise our rates up nine percent. I went as an advocate for Monroe County, and Lenawee and Hillsdale, to tell them no, especially right now when inflation in the economy and gas prices are so high. We need alternatives to lower costs… Out in Hillsdale they have beautiful wind turbines, and I’ve never really experienced that many acres of it. It’s just a beautiful sight to see. I completely support solar farms, and all green and clean energy.”
The State Senate, District 16, and State Representative candidates were asked: What are your thoughts on what took place on January 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol?
Bellino: “January 6 was a tragedy. People died. It shouldn’t have happened. Ninety-nine percent of the people out there were just decent people. My question is the FBI and CIA knew what was going to happen, they knew all the chatter was there; why wasn’t something done? Who controls security for the capitol? In Michigan, it’s the Speaker of the House. In D.C., it’s the Speaker of the House. Why didn’t they have 200 people out there? We’re the most powerful nation in the world, and nobody was out there but 12 guys? Why was that? Did somebody want this to happen? I can’t believe we’re the most powerful nation in the world and we let 300 idiots storm the place. Can’t believe it.”
Davis: “I believe the saying is the buck stops here? Let’s not forget who was the president at the time when January 6 happened. Let not forget who was inciting all the violence on Twitter. Let’s not forget the Proud Boys, who actually showed up in Monroe and I was one of the people who helped drive them out… It stops with the president. Lot of you may not think that this happened, but it really did. There are investigations. I don’t know if anybody watched the January 6 hearings, but Trump is (the focus of) a lot of investigations and it’s not even for just January 6. Let’s not forget the secret service texts that just got dumped. What led up to January 6 was years of minorities trying to survive racism and the extreme rhetoric, people marching and people dying at the hands of law enforcement; don’t get it twisted. January 6 was one of the worst days that’s ever happened in our country, and I hope to God it never happens again.”
DeSana: “I wasn’t at January 6, so I can’t tell you exactly all that happened. I know some of the things from the footage; obviously the capitol was damaged, I know there was a protest, ninety-nine percent of the people, when they went there, were going there with good intentions, to protest what they thought were election irregularities. There’s no doubt that there were hoodlums there, and damage was done. The legal process is following through on that. That’s really all I can say on that, I just can say what I saw. Obviously, I wasn’t there. Myself personally, I’m a peaceful person; I don;t involve myself in violent protests. I have been in marches in Washington that have been very peaceful.”
Garza: “I want to be very clear: what we witnessed on January 6 was an insurrection on our U.S. Capitol. We shouldn’t mince words on exactly what we observed on television as we have seen it broadcast throughout this country, not just in Michigan. One of the things I want to go back to is just talking about civility in politics. We also know that over the years, our politics have become more violent. Our politics have become more divisive. We’ve seen it come a very horrible way, especially over the last few years. I think we have to call it what it is. We have to try to move forward, and we have to talk about how we come together to get things done. That’s what I’ve done as a state legislator over the last four years in the Michigan House. It isn’t about one party versus the other; it’s actually about delivering results to people. I just want to be very clear that we have got to get away from that type of politics that we saw on January 6. We have to be more cordial, and we have to work together if we are going to get things done as a state and as a country. What we saw was a very sad event, a very somber event in our country’s history. I think we have to continue to promote civility in our politics in order to make sure we are doing what we can in order to move our state forward.”
Miller: “As a township trustee, I know that the media can make you believe whatever they want. But what I saw that day was not civil; it was instigated by our president. Violence is never accepted. Ever. That could have been stopped and it was not. People died that day; police officers died that day, let alone the deaths after that. Violence should never be normalized. That’s not the example we want to set for generations. Again, we need to work across aisles. Violence should not be normalized. We need leaders who have a higher standard, a higher moral. We set examples; what example were we setting that day?…”
Biniecki: “January 6 was the result of people not believing (in) the (result of the) election. We’re still talking about election integrity even today… (On) January 6, a person didn’t believe that they had lost. That’s not unusual. (Many) Democrats have also said in previous years that they hadn’t lost their elections… They still say they didn’t lose, that there was something wrong with the vote count. Granted, this was the wrong way to go, but there were a lot of issues that could have been resolved earlier, such as not having a proper amount of security, not having the National Guard as was requested by people. It was a sad day, yes, but the previous two years before that had riots in every city with far more destruction and very few arrests, and all we focus on is January 6. We don’t focus on the things that happened the previous (two) years. It’s not (right) for anybody in this country to have riots in their cities. I don’t believe in it, and it’s not right that it happened…”
The candidates for First District Court Judge were asked: “How will you prepare yourself to handle cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law?”
Hyder: “Just doing a lot of research, obviously talking to colleagues, talking to other judges, talking to some other council. If it’s an unfamiliar source, or motion of some sort, the attorneys brief the idea, brief their positions and supply case laws for us to review and for us to do our own research.”
Horkey: “I’ve always enjoyed being a general practice attorney, because it has allowed me to handle many different types of cases. I look forward to learning new areas of the law, and have in my 22 years of practice. As a judge, I’d use the resources available through organizations like the Michigan District Judges Association, as well as do my own research. I know many judges across the state, and I would not hesitate to call them if, in my research, I saw that they handled a case similar, to ask how they feel on this issue or that issue, that sort of thing.”
Candidates for positions on the Monroe County Community College Board of Trustees were asked: “What are your thoughts on addressing the student loan debt crisis?”
Edwards: “Our current plan to just wipe it out, while a very kind gesture, is not a sustainable plan. I’m well-versed in alternatives to traditional education. I worked for Siena Heights University right here in Monroe, ( which is one of several schools with satellite campuses at MCCC) providing a lower cost to our students… We have to work on continuing to provide those lower costs options to students until we come up with a better plan on how to lower the cost overall…”
Kiebler: “When I first looked at that question, I thought to myself ‘It’s probably more important to figure out ways to make college more affordable.’ I really don’t have those answers, but being as we are here representing MCCC, this is like the first step to affordable education right here on this campus. I don’t think there’s probably an institution in this state that has lower tuition and as (high) quality education as you can get here. The student loan crisis, there’s not a simple solution to it. When we talk about fair and equity, there are hundreds of thousands of students that went and took out loans and paid their debt and are still continuing to pay, and I don’t see the fairness in just selecting a few to just have their debts wiped out. To me, it also sets a bad life example. You can’t afford your bills, can’t pay them? Oh well, someone will just take care of it for (you). There’s a life lesson here: you took out the loans and went to college, you need to pay them back.”
U.S. Representative, District 5, and State Representative, Districts 28 and 30, were asked: “With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, what is your opinion of how this will affect women’s reproductive healthcare?”
Goldberg: “This is an issue where no one should ever play politics. I’m strongly pro-choice and always have been. Many people are so dug in on this issue that it’s just a one-issue election for them, and I respect those people as well, but for me, to not allow women to make their own reproductive health care decisions is to essentially relegate them to second-class status. I’ve got every confidence that a woman will make the best decisions for her own pregnancy, and will do so with her doctor and her family. I think a woman should be able to decide for herself if her pregnancy is too risky, so of course I support Proposal 3 here in Michigan.”
Walberg: “I certainly concur and believe that women should make decisions about their reproductive health. But that begins before another life comes into being. In years gone by, there could be an argument made that we don’t know when life begins. But with the advent of science and ultrasounds, we know when life begins. We understand that life is precious. Once that life is started in the womb, it is a unique and separate life. In the case of abortion, in every case, at least one individual dies. That’s not reproductive health. I’m proud to say that I will oppose Proposal 3 – that isn’t reinstating Roe v. Wade; it’s putting us in the same place as China and North Korea.”
Bruck: “When I think of abortion, I think of human rights. You can tell the morals of a country on their value of life. I’m not here to make a choice for you, and you’re not here to make a choice for me. In human rights, all life should be protected. We protect our elderly. People are going to stand stalwart on each side, but I believe life is precious. It’s not necessarily a religious issue; it’s a human rights issue.”
Thompson: “I believe that Roe v. Wade being overturned was exactly what should have happened, and should have brought the power back to the states where it should have stayed. I’m a woman. I’m a grandmother. I understand the struggles a woman can face, and the fear of an unplanned pregnancy. This is a conversation that our state deserves to have and should have. I do not support Proposal 3, not because of any religious creed or personal beliefs of my own — I don’t agree with the verbiage. I think that we need to be educated, I think that we need to thoroughly read the proposal. For me, I am pro-life. I can’t make that decision for other women. That decision will be decided by (the voters).”
Kull: “Life is precious. (There is a) difference between being pro-life and pro-birth. I do consider myself pro-life, but we have to look beyond. I’m going to vote yes on Proposal 3, and I think some (people) will mislead you on this. What they haven’t talked about is after birth, education that they’ve cut, voting no for kids lunches at schools. Those are pro-life values. When you’re saying no to healthcare for people, you’re not pro-life. Men and women should have the choices of what to do with their bodies, between them and their doctor.”
Monroe County Community College Board of Trustees candidates who participated in Thursday’s forum were asked: “What actions will you take to eliminate racism and promote diversity, equity and inclusion in our community? What can be done to ensure equal treatment of people in the LGBTQ community?”
Matthews: “I believe our community should make diversity, equality, and inclusion a priority. The college should be open and welcome to everyone. I plan to encourage, expand, and attend events at the college that have these goals in mind. I would like to attend many of those events to learn more about the needs of our community. It is critical to be available to the public and open to conversations.”
LaHote: “It’s very important that we work closely with all these groups to understand what their needs are, what they feel, and how they feel we can better serve them and address any issues they have. It’s important that we understand what they’re going through.”
Ferrell: “America has always been a melting pot of different people and cultures. We should treat people with kindness and respect. I would love to see this college embracing the concept of loving their neighbor as themselves. I think that the focus for the student should be education, but I also know that building community is also important. I would like to see groups and clubs being focused on areas of interest to bring people together. If we focus on things we have in common, then we will be spending less time focusing on other things that divide us.”
Diven: “We need to treat people as people, knowing that each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses, abilities and disabilities, and hopes and dreams. It is not my right to judge other people, or ask them to believe what I believe. We need to uphold the laws that are on the books now to protect all people in our society.”
U.S. Representative, District 5; State Representative, Districts 28 and 30; and Monroe County Board of Commissioners candidates were asked: What actions will you take to reduce gun violence in our country?
Walberg: “The best solution to that is to follow the law. There are laws right now that would take criminal behavior using guns and lock people up. There are police officers right now who are frustrated with the fact that they have arrested people for gun violence, they sent them to a holding center, and relatively soon, they’re put back on the street only to commit gun violence again. The people that aren’t registering their guns and not following the law are the ones committing the violence. Use the law fully; take them off the streets.”
Goldberg: “While I don’t want to take anyone’s guns, I do support universal background checks. Currently, under federal law, that applies to sales at a retailer, but not a private sale, not at a gun show. You cannot buy a handgun until you’re 21, but you can buy a rifle, including an assault rifle, at the age of 18. To me, that’s really a mistake. We need much better mental health care, particularly in our schools. Lastly, I’m in favor of the decriminalization of many drug offenses and expungement of their records. If we would do that, it would remove incentives to join gangs, which obviously creates gun violence, and it would allow people that have convictions on their records to rejoin the workforce, which benefits all of us.”
Bruck: “I’ve been to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is something in common that they have, and that is that common citizens are not allowed to own weapons outside a very few makes and models that they can use to shoot coyotes and things of that nature. We look at our country, some of the worst places that have the worst gun violence have the strictest laws. I am for background checks that take in (account) the minors’ records. I think that’s common sense.”
Thompson: “It’s no secret that I’m endorsed by the NRA. I do support our second amendment right. What I am concerned about is the gun violence that we’ve seen in our schools. We can make sure that each school in Michigan is properly funded with a resource officer in every school. Why do we not have access to mental health? We need to recognize the signs and the symptoms.”
Kull: “People need to be trained on how to use these weapons, how to store them properly and safely. Expand our background checks to where we buy a gun. Online, at a show, at a dealership, there’s got to be a background check, you’ll have to wait a few days. There’s no reason to need a gun immediately. It’s also a mental health issue, which is why we need to support those services. Let’s get to these root causes.”
Oley: “There needs to be commonsense rules put in place. We do know that the majority of school shootings occur by young males. It does devastation to our families, scares our kids, and creates an environment that’s completely unnecessary. I think training is critical for our young people. We (also) have so many mental health issues across this national and we’re failing to respond to them. Catastrophic issues come from that.”
Vensel: “Public safety is extremely important to me, and law enforcement is extremely important to me. We should work toward some compromise. There are a lot of violent acts taking place in schools by students who should not be in possession of an AR-15. There are some things that we can put into place, that if we follow our Second Amendment all the way, then at least people will be trained to use it.”
Monroe County Community College Board of Trustees candidates who participated in Thursday’s forum were asked: What are the two most important leadership characteristics you will bring (to the board), if elected?
Diven: “First is my ability to listen. It’s so important to listen carefully, give some thought to what you’ve heard, and ask specific questions so you may understand the issue. Second, my ability to get the facts and understand the problem before making a decision. When I’m elected as a trustee, you’ll see me everywhere around campus, talking to administrators, faculty, staff, and students. We all need to get along, share ideas, and build a community so we can move forward together.”
Ferrell: “First, I am analytical. I enjoy looking at ideas and concepts from different angles. I enjoy listening to different perspectives on a topic and believe that people should be respected, even though their opinion may be different than my own. Also, I am a servant. I serve my family, I serve my church, and I serve my community. A good leader is willing to serve the people that they represent.”
LaHote: “I learned early on, as a single father of an 18-month-old daughter, how important education is, not only for her, but for me because I was learning as well. My record speaks for itself. I am so passionate about education. My passion for community, for education and for helping families – that’s what I stand on as my record.
Matthews: “Two of the most important leadership traits that I embody are being a motivator and an active collaborator. As a motivator, I look to inspire and empower the people around me. I listen to the needs of my team, I look for their skills and their talents, and I match them to their projects. I ensure that we have targets to hit and room for personal growth. Collaboration requires engagement and listening, taking a different perspective, and willingness to work as a team.”
Monroe County Community College Board of Trustees candidates who participated in Thursday’s forum were asked: What are your plans to set up community college students for success and prepare them for careers after school?
Diven: “Success in college is a multifaceted approach, and it has to do with both student support from faculty and administration. The process has to be combined to ensure the student obtains the best education they can get. Some of the things the trustees can do to ensure that happens is to get more career-focused and career channels here at the college – expand those. We need to pick up dual enrollment for the high schools and bring more students here to community college.”
Farrell: “First, I would try to recommend that they pick majors (that teach) that skill set to do what they are designed to do in the first place. I think that this school should be giving proper training, so that when they graduate here, they will be all set and ready to go into the workplace. I would definitely make sure that there are professors…that have many years working in that field themselves.”
LaHote: “One of the things that we have to do is work closely with businesses in our community. We want to find out what the projections are for the future and what type of workforce they’re going to need. It’s important that we tailor our education for these students so that we make them successful.”
Matthew: “I’ve mentioned a few times about a construction readiness program. Not everyone thinks they can go to college, but there is a way that we can start a readiness program here and give those students opportunities to go into construction or into the trades. This is a way for us as a college and as a community to get behind a construction readiness program.”