SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — Three Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to represent Michigan’s 61st House District in the August primary election.
Corey Kendal, Alberta Griffin and Thomas Whitener will appear on the Aug. 7 ballot. The winner will face incumbent Republican Rep. Brandt Iden in November.
The 61st District contains the city of Portage, Oshtemo, Texas, Prairie Ronde and Schoolcraft townships and the villages of Schoolcraft and Vicksburg in Kalamazoo County.
This year, MLive Media Group partnered with the League of Women Voters of Michigan to provide candidate information and other voting resources to our readers. Each candidate was asked to answer a series of questions about their policy stances.
Information on all state and federal races and many of Michigan’s county and local races will be available at Vote411.org – the election-information website run by the League of Women Voters.
Kendal, 23, is a Western Michigan University student working as a youth development professional at the Boys and Girls Club of Kalamazoo.
Griffin, 38, is a professor at WMU and president of AGS Data Analytic Consulting. She has a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and biology, a master’s degree in family education and nutrition education and a doctorate in health sciences and statistics.
Whitener, 32, is a self-employed game designer. He graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a bachelor’s degree in interactive design and gave development.
Answers were lightly edited for grammar and readability.
What are your top three state legislative priorities and how would you address them?
The foundation to success is education. We send our children to school at an early age in hope to kick start their minds in the direction of accomplishment and goals.
For these establishments and opportunities to be available we need funding for our schools.
Financial assistance should be easily available to anyone also.
Next, environment is one of the most valuable resources we have available to us in Michigan. It is severely important to maintain and enhance our great lakes and the environment around us to sustain healthy and efficient living.
Let’s make Michigan a desirable location to settle down and call home.
Education: Making sure we are not only investing in our children, but also making long-term investments in our schools and staff.
Equality: We are facing a trying time in our nation’s history.
The current administration is leading attack after attack on our American values. We need to be prepared to have open and honest discussions at all levels of government.
Choice: The potential new make-up of the courts can create a pre-Roe v. Wade set of circumstances.
In that scenario the number of abortions, deaths and infections goes up dramatically. As a data scientist, I want to study these issues.
Education: I want to rework how education is funded in Michigan, prioritizing public schools and helping struggling districts.
Environment: I want to address the loopholes and lack of oversight in the management of our environment, so we can preserve the beautiful Michigan that we all enjoy.
Infrastructure: I want the roads in Michigan to reflect the investment that we make into them.
A focus on long-term solutions and investment in the future will help stem the bleeding of the infrastructure in the state and begin bringing our transportation and utility infrastructure up to an acceptable level.
What measures do you support/propose to achieve improved educational outcomes and accessibility for Michigan students from early childhood through post-secondary education?
We need to build education from the ground up.
Our K-12 schools need more funding. If we do not have the resources in school for our teachers to do their job then how can we expect them all to do exceedingly well?
A child’s education should not be based upon their parents income, something they can not control.
Equal opportunity in schools is a must for our future generations to be able to be an active asset to society. This also includes post high school education, college aid should easily accessible to all walks of life.
We should be able to have affordable college that better understands non-traditional situations.
I believe reliance on input from the educators as professionals is the first step.
Next is funding, Prop A changed the make up of general funds education dollars in the 90’s, since then the funding formula has been off balance, and created a separation of resources to the districts who need it most.
This then spirals into so many other places of our society, and then costs us as taxpayers more.
The last step is utilizing metric based performance reviews to generate quality assessments of process, protocols, and professionals over time to determine what is working and what is not.
Regarding public schools, I believe our education system should adopt a model that bases funding on possible enrollment, not actual enrollment. This way, struggling schools would have more money per student to ensure a quality education, while schools that are doing well are able to continue being successful.
I would also increase investment into public post-secondary education such as community colleges and trade schools, to make them more affordable and attractive as an option for students.
What policies do you support to increase jobs and help Michigan residents improve their economic positions?
Michigan is a desirable location due to our natural resources, but we need a competitive business tax that helps encourage more businesses to settle down here.
This would not only help improve Michigan’s economy as a whole but individually also. It would bring more job opportunities, making Michigan a desirable location for anyone.
The fair wage and the time to care ballot initiatives are great examples of ways we can fight wage disparity without crippling business.
People at those income levels are spenders, they spend to zero almost monthly.
I know, I’ve been there.
That will generate economic growth in our small businesses and retail communities.
Then if we couple that with real tax reform to allow our large employers to find incentives to create jobs and take risks for growth.
Starting with a $15 minimum wage will give working Michiganders more money to spend, and will help the wheels of the economy start to turn, while decreasing income inequality.
This minimum wage needs to be tied to inflation, so that an hour of work does not decrease its value simply due to the passing of time.
Affordable healthcare and childcare will also make workers more efficient, healthier, and better able to engage in the workforce, which will boost Michigan’s economy and provide better security for our workers.
What state policies do you support regarding campaign funding and voting rights?
Campaign funding in Michigan needs a major reform.
Currently, individual political action committees are over-priced ways to buy a position. Yes, funding a campaign is necessary but there should be a limit.
Our government is already based on money. You should not be able to win a campaign because you have more money; there should be a cap.
The security of our democracy is key to all we hold dear.
We need to audit our security, build programs that will promise its security in future elections.
Election hacking is the number one threat to our democracy.
Campaign funding has been a very tough issue to address, we need to provide a space for open forum and debate while not limiting the freedom of speech that the Supreme Court has determined the law of the land regarding Super PAC funds.
I believe that if there is to be free speech attached to money and politics, all contributions should be disclosed and made public.
I support no-reason absentee voting, expanded early voting, and anti-gerrymandering policies.
These measures ensure that everyone has the chance to vote, and that their vote isn’t improperly de-valued due to district maps drawn by self-interested parties.
I also support limits to campaign finance contributions, required disclosures by PAC’s and Super PACs, and other measures intended to remove corporate money from politics.
What actions or policies do you support to protect Michigan’s water, air and land for current and future generations, while meeting the state’s energy needs? Explain how those actions or policies would affect the future of Enbridge Pipeline 5.
To protect Michigan’s land, air, and water for current and future generations we need tougher regulations on energy companies and their green use.
We need assured protection of the great lakes from waste disposal and any possible chance of oil spills. We have seen the detrimental effects of oil spills on the ocean, deteriorating the land and water around it. We need to protect our environment at all costs.
Energy companies need incentives to further green energy conversions
Along with green energy we do not need Enbridge Line 5. We cannot risk tainting our greatest resource; The Great Lakes.
We deserve responsible leadership in Lansing that understands that Michigan’s access to clean, fresh water is one of its greatest assets.
It has made us unique throughout history. We seem to be the only state in the Midwest that has no comprehensive plan for wind and solar energy.
The pipeline needs maintenance, waiting any longer could be dire. The long term environmental implications need to be reviewed.
As a member of the House, I will review those items and work to build plans where everyone can benefit and our assets are protected.
I support expanded focus on the renewable energy sector and a transition away from fossil fuels.
This needs to be a gradual transition to give the workers here in Michigan that rely on those industries to re-train for the new, renewable economy.
I also support increased oversight and funding for our regulatory bodies, so that aging oil and gas infrastructure like Line 5 can be properly regulated and companies like Enbridge can be made to maintain or remove the lines when they are past their safe operating lifespan.
What policies will you pursue to promote social and racial justice in our state?
Promoting social and racial justice in our society today is one of the most important social aspects to everyone’s daily life.
We need to promote and continue assurance of equal opportunity.
The workplace and schools need to promote racial sensitivity training to ensure everyone that goes to work or school feels like an equal and not discriminated against.
Along with that, the police should be held more accountable to make sure even the simplest day-to-day activities in a community are being held to a higher level of social and racial justice.
As the mother of three African-American children, I am scared.
When my kids leave the house I have to remind them how to respond and act when approached by any person of authority.
This is something I learned as a child. I had hoped we would live in a world by the time I was a parent where those conversations were obsolete. Sadly, they are not.
As for specific policies, I can tell you that I believe that fairness and justice should be a key part of our governing policies.
Police should be allowed to protect themselves, citizens should not live in fear of police, we cannot govern from fear and expect just outcomes.
First, I would include the LGBTQ+ community in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, ensuring the protections already offered to other minority communities.
I would also promote policies to end racial profiling, require racial and implicit bias training for our law-enforcement officers and move to legalize Marijuana in Michigan.
In tandem with legalization, I would advocate for amnesty for non-violent offenders currently being punished, as well as addiction and rehabilitation funding to help those hit by the opioid epidemic, the spread of fentanyl, and other, less publicized drug epidemics to recover.