A public forum of candidates for the offices of Michigan’s U.S. Congressional, and state Senate and House, answered a number of questions during a luncheon sponsored by the Michigan Association of Retired School Personal (MARSP) on Wednesday Oct. 17 at the Boyne City Educational Center.
Candidates who attended were 37th District Michigan State Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City); 105th District Michigan State House Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona); First Congressional District Democrat Matt Morgan; Democrat Melissa Fruge of Boyne City, who is challenging Cole for his House seat; and Jim Page, who is challenging Schmidt for his Senate seat.
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“What made me think that I was qualified to be a state representative?” She said. “I don’t have the public policy or legal expertise that many people associate with elected officials. But, experience comes in a lot of different forms.”
Fruge added, “I know what it takes to look at an issue objectively before forming an opinion.”
Page is a retired school teacher from the U.P. He is a veteran of the Marines, and an avid hunter and fisherman as well as an environmentalist.
“I want to make sure that our public education system is the best and safest place for our children to learn,” he said. “I want to make sure that we have early childhood development, all the way through college, supported by our public education system but I also think we need to have career centers and vocational education.”
Page also wants to protect the environment as well as Michigan workers, and the minimum wage should be a livable wage, and there needs to be better access to healthcare.
“Our government has been more focused on big business and corporations and not on the people,” Page said… “We should put the people first.”
Morgan said he also comes from a family of educators and education is important to him.
“One of the things I learned as a Marine officer … is called walking the lines—it’s that responsibility a leader has to be out looking at the terrain, looking at your position … but it also gives you an ability to stop by those fighting holes and talk to each of those Marines and sailors,” Morgan said.
He added, “And, really, that’s what leadership is all about. It’s about serving those people that you lead.”
Morgan said he wants to represent all the constituents in the First District.
Longtime lawmaker Schmidt’s mother is also a retired educator.
He discussed some issues he is focused on, including education funding, infrastructure, and workforce housing.
Cole has been the Charlevoix State Rep for the last five years.
He said he has worked to get more education funding to Northern Michigan.
One of the top issues, he said is auto insurance, roads and infrastructure.
“I recently had some legislation signed into law that helped develop a better asset management plan for our local communities so that taxpayer dollars are being handled appropriately and that we’re fixing and making sure that we’re maintaining our existing infrastructure,” Cole said.
He also said broadband is critical to rural Michigan property values, education, and business.
Schmidt was asked if he will continue to support various healthcare changes including the defined benefit. He said he has supported the measure despite increases in costs for public pensions.
“Do we need to look at continued reforms? Of course we should,” he said.
Fruge was asked how higher education can be made more affordable.
She said when she left college she had $25,000 in student debt so she understands the issue personally.
She also said she would like to see debt forgiveness for people who work in jobs which benefit society—similar to the debt forgiveness teachers qualify for when they work in underserved communities.
Page was asked how he will ensure adequate funding for the public school system—especially equitable funding for lower funded school districts.
Page said both budgets and the costs to each district need to be assessed to make sure they are properly funded.
“We have to sit down and work with both sides—Republicans and Democrats,” he said.
Cole was asked how communities deal with school boards which outsource certain work like bus driving, food service, custodial.
“That’s an easy question—that’s a local decision,” Cole said… “And I don’t think that you want state officials, necessarily, messing with and telling the local school board how to operate.”
Morgan was asked about a bill which would authorize the HHS to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for better prices.
“Based on your description of it, yes, it sounds like an act I would be willing to consider supporting but without having the opportunity to fully read it and understand the consequences I wouldn’t commit to it here,” said. Morgan did say drug prices are one of the biggest issues in healthcare overall.