The debate was put on by the Lapeer County Tea Party, and they let you know it from the second you walked in the door, with a large poster diagramming President Obama's alleged ties to socialism and Marxism on display by the entrance. Not exactly the kind of place I feel particularly welcome, but in the interest of saving you three hours of your Friday night, I ventured out to the Lapeer County Sportsman's Club to see if I could get a question or two in. 12 of the 14 candidates showed up for the debate; all the Republicans, naturally, including disgraced ex-rep Todd Courser, who showed up at the last possible second; and Democrat Margaret Guererro DeLuca. If you missed it, you can watch the whole thing here, but if you don't have three hours to dedicate to that, here's the Cliff Notes version.
The first topic of the evening was gun control, as you'd expect given the shootings in Oregon that had just happened. Courser, of course, wants absolutely zero restrictions on guns whatsoever, while Jake Davison and Rick Guererro blamed the Oregon shooting on gun-free zones, despite the fact that the Oregon shooting didn't take place in one. DeLuca posed an interesting question regarding the bill that expanded open-carry zones: "why did this bill not include the Michigan legislative chambers or courthouses?" She went on to defend her Second Amendement bona-fides: "I'm married to a police officer. We have many guns in our home. I probably have the most guns in my home than anyone on this panel." Jim Dewilde was far more moderate on this than his fellow Republicans: "Close the loopholes at gun shows where they don't require background checks. Let's make sure if we're selling someone a gun, that we're not selling it to a loony toon. Let's make sure we're not selling it to a domestic abuser, or a criminal." Gary Howell touched on getting guns "out of the hands of the nutcases." Ian Kempf proposed that more school liason officers, of which DeLuca's husband is one, would be helpful. Al Landosky proposes enforcing the laws already in place. Jan Peabody mentioned mental illness, but then went on an off-topic tangent about "sanctuary cities." Not to be outdone, Russell Adams went on an odd tangent about drunk driving, going so far as to claim that "we don't legislate that anymore!" That's so wrong on several different levels, I don't even know where to start.
From there, the discussion moved to term limits, which only DeLuca and Landoski came out against. After that, it was on to marijuana. DeLuca's position hasn't changed from the last campaign: put it to the voters to decide. Jim Dewilde supported legalizing medicinal, with mixed feelings towards recreational and the caveat that "I'm not one of those that drinks or smokes marijuana; I'm just naturally this way!" Guererro, as a libertarian, supports it, based in part on the increased tax revenue in other states that have done so, and a decrease in painkiller deaths in those states. Howell, Peabody, and Tuski were completely against legalization. Kempf, Landosky, and Smith are against recreational use, but would be in favor of sentencing reform. Peabody ended up going on an unrelated tangent about heroin; not to be outdone, Adams went on an even more bizarre tangent about banking laws. Then there was the irony of Courser saying "it's not my business to decide what other people do with themselves," when he's done exactly that quite frequently, while riding the fence on the actual issue, though tending towards the libertarian "government shouldn't be involved" stance. Then, Davison came out 100% in support of legalization, likening the issue to Prohibition: "we learned in the 20's, banning it is worse than regulating it."
Then the discussion came to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, or as most know it, the agency behind the "Pure Michigan" campaign, which just laid off 65 staffers and has been a favorite target of Courser and his ilk, claiming that it's no more than political favoritism, For starters, I was rather disappointed that very few of the candidates actually know what the MEDC actually does, or why it might possibly be important to not shut down an agency that attempts to connect startup businesses with capital providers and increase the amount of capital available for business in general, helps to find federal grants for startup tech companies, promotes increased visibility and funding for the arts and arts education, and otherwise offers incentives for business to come to Michigan and stay here.
Courser, of course, supports abolishing it altogether, Dewilde claimed that the MEDC "is an organization that we sorely need", and having served with the Tuscola County Economic Development Corporation, said "it's just not good business sense" to eliminate an organization dedicated to bringing better jobs to the state. Guererro started off with "Not to avoid the question," then proceeded to avoid the question entirely, going off on the film industry and education. Howell also went on about Vo-Tech and didn't even mention the MEDC in his response. Kempf mentioned the lack of communication between the MEDC and similar local organizations. Landoski also admitted to not knowing what the MEDC does. Peabody said it "wasn't a bad thing" that they just laid off 65 people and that she "wasn't upset about it," while Tuski said they "probably weren't value added" and that "this is a good time to actually lose your job." Adams went on yet another digression about DHS layoffs; a fair point, but one that had absolutely nothing to do with the question asked. admit that they do serve a necessary purpose. Davison wants to get rid of most of the MEDC, but concedes that can't be done without losing high-paying jobs to neighboring states willing to give the tax breaks. DeLuca also pointed out that the MEDC needs more transparency, and that much of that money should be passed down to local agencies.
For some reason, mandatory vaccinations were the next topic. Most of the field were completely against, though Davison suggested he'd reconsider that stance if an outbreak were to occur in Michigan, and DeLuca and Dewilde were in favor. Dewilde: "How many of ya'd like to see a repeat of the black plague?"
Next, candidates were asked if they knew what the minimum wage was, and whether it should be raised or lowered. Only DeLuca correctly answered the first part of that question, and the field save for DeLuca and Dewilde were against increasing it, with the usual platitudes of "making minimum wage a lifestyle" and "making a career out of a menial job," while Davison said he'd like to get rid of it entirely. DeLuca made the point that if we want people off state aid, "give them a wage they can live on!" She went on to blow out the "high school jobs" narrative with a few choice stats: 80% of minimum wage earners are over 21, and 70% of those are women with one or more dependents. Dewilde took it even further, claiming it should be raised to "between $11 and $12 an hour by the middle of next year, and by 2020 it should be $15 an hour."
School funding and teacher morale were the next order of business; Landosky's solution was more local control, Peabody claimed Republicans have put more money into schools than Democrats, a point which DeLuca and Howell both challenged. Tuski, Dewilde, and Guererro called out Common Core as a reason for declining teacher morale, and Guererro pointed out expanding class sizes, while both Guererro and Howell railed against forcing teachers to continually take classes themselves. Smith pointed out that federal funding has decreased, and along with Adams called to standardize the per-pupil ratio of funding. Davison questioned why teacher pay is based strictly on seniority as opposed to actual performance.
Unfunded mandates were the next topic, and the field was largely emphatically against, though Smith passed on the question entirely, Kempf pointed out that they're already illegal, though the state has ways around it, and DeLuca pointed out exactly how they affected revenue sharing in Imlay City. From there, a question was asked about attending local meetings and keeping in contact with constituents. Courser, naturally, deflected the question, going on about his conservative voting record and how difficult it is to communicate with his constituents, while Davison called him out: "It's not that difficult if you've done it before." DeLuca put Courser on blast immediately following that: "We all know legislators have an exorbitant amount of time on their hands... We've seen representatives who ignore, delete constituents that don't agree with them, have a difference of opinion; that's not how you represent your constituents!"
Finally, the candidates were asked how they would fund state road repairs. Tuski and Adams didn't give any specifics, other than "there's gotta be money there." Courser blamed the road shortfall on Medicaid, welfare, and the MEDC. Davison had the most curious non-answer of all: If you want your roads fixed, "you have to increase the gas tax, and I'm against increasing the gas tax." Which leads one to assume that he wouldn't fix the roads at all. DeLuca claims the current funding formula is flawed, and more of the road money should be given to local municipalities. Dewilde didn't really have any answers either, apart from blaming the roundabout. Guererro blamed overregulation and prevailing wage, while Howell called out misallocation of the current road money on non-road related items. Kempf pointed out a few particular frivolous expenditures, such as Amtrak, bus transit, and traffic control near Michigan International Speedway, and called for the sales tax applied to gas to be directed specifically to roads. Landosky's plan calls for user taxes would cover up to 90% of all road funding, while 10% would come out of the general fund, and he decried subsidies for hybrid vehicles. Peabody's plan calls for 1.5% of the sales tax on gas to go to the roads, repealing prevailing wage (which she claims will save nearly half a billion dollars), dedicating 1% of use tax revenue, redirecting oil and gas royalty revenues to roads, and competitive bidding for state services. Smith called for raising the gas tax, but only if the money were specifically going to roads.
As for the individual candidates themselves:
Ian Kempf and Jake Davison acquitted themselves fairly well, even if Davison didn't have quite all the answers I would have liked. Both possess the political experience and the confidence that would imply; Kempf trumpeted his County Commission and Eastern Michigan Fair experience quite frequently, while Davison made no apologies whatsoever for his status as a Lansing "insider."
Give credit to Margaret Guererro DeLuca; she went up against 11 Republican candidates in a debate hosted by an organization that is pretty well opposed to everything she stands for (and let you know it the second you walked through the door), and she more than held her own, had the facts and numbers to prove her claims, and backed down from nobody. By that same token, I'm extremely disappointed that Eric Johnson and R.D. Bohm, the other Democratic candidates, didn't show.
It's pretty evident that Gary Howell has not a single fuck left to give; he spent much of the evening calling out both sides of the political spectrum for not getting anything done. In response to a question about seniors, he called out Republicans for eliminating the pension exemption and reducing the homestead tax credit. Agree with his views or not, the man gets points for sincerity, if nothing else; one gets the sense that he's not going to BS anybody.
Russell Adams: A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Couldn't answer a direct question to save his life, but what he lacked in that he made up in volume, bluster and off-topic tangents.
Jan Peabody: The train of thought appears to have derailed at the station. Sorry, but there's just no 'there' there, and this debate confirmed it. She too was prone to not answering questions directly and straying entirely off topic on several occasions, and there was really nothing of substance to much of her responses.
Not overly impressed by Al Landosky and Rick Guererro. Two cases in which a lack of political experience is all too evident, and a lack of preparation even more so.
Chris Tuski: Your standard, inoffensive, boilerplate bland, politician type. No shock that he's the one associated with an actual former state rep. And a quote like "This is a good time to actually lose your job" comes across as tone-deaf at best, and utterly callous at worst. Nothing to see here.
Sharna Smith was... there. Though she had a good line about part-time legislature: "What is considered part-time? Because aren't they in session only three days a week; with, like, three times a year they get a vacation for several weeks? That, to me, is already part-time!"
Jim Dewilde actually kind of impressed me; he had some of the most reasonable and moderate answers of the field, and along with Kempf, made it clear he's willing to work with the other side in Lansing to get things done, something the current state rep refused at all costs.
And speaking of... I did finally get the chance to interrogate our boy Todd in person, and it went as well as you could expect. So well that, in the middle of a question about Elliott-Larsen and his marriage bills, he gave me a "god bless" and walked away. Big surprise; he can't handle a direct question from anybody. It was an odd exchange, for sure:
Me: "So, you support employment and housing discrimination against LGBT individuals?"
Todd: "We agree on one thing: LGBT's shouldn't be a protected class."
Me: "We don't agree on that at all!"
Todd: "God bless you." *walks away.*
Really wish I'd had the chance to ask him about the MEDC in detail. Or if he even knows what that organization actually does. Or why he feels he shouldn't have to reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of this special election, given that he's running for a seat he resigned from a week prior. Or even the question I actually asked him above. If any of you manage to get those answers out of him, do pass them along..
Did love this quote from his opening statement, though, presented here without context: "If you want someone in Lansing to continue to expose it, I'm the guy to do it."