Mid-term Election Features Local Races

By Sue Moore

Candidates for the November mid-term election are being featured in this issue. This should help to inform voters early enough to be able to mark their absentee ballot which will be available by mid- October.

There are two local area non-partisan races especially important to our communities. The Vicksburg Village Council race features two incumbents and three challengers for three seats on the council. The Schoolcraft School Board race features two incumbents and two challengers for two available seats.

Voters will need to be sure to go to the very end of the ballot to exercise a vote in these elections, ones which often see a low turnout but are very important to the future of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft.

Each candidate has been given 400 words or less to answer questions the newspaper’s elections board has posed to them. The questions are listed in each candidate’s answer, whether for Congress, the state legislature, village council or school board, along with contact information for each candidate.

Three candidates did not respond to the offer to have a statement in the South County News; Matt Longjohn (Democrat) who is running for Congress against Fred Upton, Alberta Griffin (Democrat) running against Brandt Iden for 61st state representative, and Cody Dekker (Democrat) running for county commissioner against John Gisler. The newspaper did not reach out to two third party candidates, Lorence Wenke running in the 20th state senate district and John Anthony La Pietra in the 61st state representative district.

Fred Upton for Congress (Republican)

What is your position on gun laws at the Federal level?

I have a strong record on the Second Amendment and oppose taking guns away from law-abiding citizens. I also believe there are common-sense steps we can take to prevent dangerous individuals from using firearms to harm themselves or others. I have long supported more comprehensive background checks and banning dangerous modifications. I will continue to pursue solutions that protect our families and the constitutional rights of all gun owners.

What is your position on tax credits for Historic buildings?

I support historic tax credits to stimulate economic development while preserving our heritage. I fought to retain the federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC) in the 2017 tax bill, and support expanding and simplifying the credit. In Michigan, the HTC has helped leverage over $2 billion in investments in the last decade. The $50 million paper mill redevelopment in Vicksburg is one example of the HTC at work.

How can area farmers get workers through immigration reform?

Our farmers have struggled to access a legal workforce for years. The current H-2A visa program is burdensome and inefficient. I have supported overhauling the program as part of comprehensive immigration reform. Congress must reform our broken immigration system, and a functioning agricultural guest worker program should be part of the solution.

What would you recommend for veterans to get their full benefits through the VA?
We must take care of our veterans. Period. I’m pleased to report Congress just appropriated the highest funding level ever for veterans. Specifically, it includes $98.1 billion to provide care for our veterans. If you or a veteran you know ever has a problem getting their full benefits through the VA, please contact my office and we will help get what is deserved.

Rick Holmes for Vicksburg Village Council

How can the downtown adapt to the changing environment with so many shoppers using online capabilities for buying things?

How do you feel about the forthcoming increases in water and sewer rates?

These questions were not answered.

Rick Holmes, 53, married 20 years to Jennie Holmes. Children: Olivia and Josh, recent VHS graduates. VHS and Ferris State grad (bachelor’s in marketing and associate’s in biology). Lived in Vicksburg School District for over 30 years, 25 years business development experience in the medical device industry, current employer Hill-Rom.

Volunteerism is a core value for my family. I served on the Rocket football board and as a volunteer in Rocket football, Little League softball and elementary basketball coach. My children are now in college which gives me more time to serve our community.

Do you support the Mill revitalization project as presented?

I support the Mill redevelopment with what I know today and look forward to the release of their proposal. An economic impact study being reviewed by the state of Michigan projects the mill development will result in 220 construction jobs over 3 years and 1,800 jobs in the initial five years of operation. The total impact on the Kalamazoo County economy during the three years of construction and first five years of operation will be $214 million in new wages, $399 million in new property value added, and $60 million in new state and local taxes. It’s not just about the money; it’s also about cleaning up the mill and turning the eyesore into something Vicksburg can be proud of. The Mill’s goals include global artist residencies, unique learning opportunities for VCS students, giving to local food banks, walking paths, becoming a Smithsonian-affiliated museum, developing a blue heron rookery, a bike trail and cleaning up the adjacent stream.

I understand reservations concerning noise and traffic for the large concerts that were included in the proposal. The Mill’s plan is to start with small concerts and in 8-10 years POSSIBLY build to a larger audience of up to 40,000, while using the lessons learned for a positive experience for attendees and the village. My understanding is these large concerts will be two weekends a year – 6 days out of 365. We live in a community where we accommodate one another and a neighbor is simply asking we work with them for 6 days in return for numerous benefits to the village and surrounding areas.

I have no financial gain if the Mill is redeveloped and if elected I am donating my Council salary to local charities. Request to join “Rick Holmes for Village Council” on Facebook to learn more about me and my platform.

Carl Keller for Vicksburg Village Council

Carl Keller qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in public Administration from CMU. Currently serving as Chairperson on Vicksburg’s Planning Commission, Career in Electrical Industry, Current Member and former President of Vicksburg Lions Club.
Community Involvement: Little League – former Board Member, Rocket Football – developed and former President on the Board, Rotary Showboat – participant, Lions Club – participant with Community Clean Up and Salvation Army.

I appreciate the opportunity respond to your questionnaire. However, since I don’t have any final documentation pertaining to the mill, I can’t offer an informed and thoughtful response at this time.

Regarding the downtown area versus online buying, I believe that our village has some great venues to show off the downtown proper. We still can do more via social media to make sure our downtown is highlighted to perspective customers.

Finally, regarding the increases in the water/sewer rates, it is unfortunately the nature of the beast. When you are relying on another entity to provide your service, you are beholden to whatever rates they wish to impose. I would want to make sure we are getting our best value based on the rates that are being charged. I would also like to explore the feasibility of a possible joint venture with Schoolcraft on a Water Treatment Facility, that would serve the needs of both entities.

My wife Kerissa and I have lived in Vicksburg for 28 years. We chose Vicksburg, as it reminded us both of our childhood communities. We proudly raised our two children (Bobby and Brooke) in Vicksburg and now they are out in the world writing their own stories.

I became a member of the Vicksburg Lions Club over 15 years ago, as I wanted to give back to the community. The club worked with me for the betterment of the Rocket and Little League programs. While serving as President of the Lions Club, I made Generous Hands one of the main local organizations we support.

Over 4 years ago, I was appointed to the Planning Commission and began working with other members on the Village’s Master Plan. We reviewed our Zoning and Ordinances to make them more simplified and workable. Since 2016, with the support of the other members, I have served as the Chairperson.

I am running for Village Trustee to bring my experiences and background as a resident of this Village to the council. If honored, with your support and vote, I will always keep the Village and residents my number one priority.

Julie Merrill for Vicksburg Village Council

I have considered it an honor to serve the people of Vicksburg on the village council. I support the planning commission, village council, village manager and all advisors by adding the checks and balances needed to revise and draft a working planned urban development (PUD) for our village and for Paper City. Major efforts are being made by all parties involved to move forward for the current and future residents of Vicksburg.

Please be informed, a revised plan will be forthcoming to the public for their consideration. Look for updates c/o the village office and local media. Respectfully submitted, Julie Merrill- Trustee, Vicksburg Village Council.

Denny Olson for Vicksburg Village Council

My name is Denny Olson. I am a 1972 Vicksburg graduate and I and my wife Karen moved back to Vicksburg 10 years ago. I am self-employed as a rare book and antique dealer.

Over four years ago I got involved in local affairs when some $50,000 in Vicksburg property tax money went missing from our Village coffers. Because of our involvement, WWMT TV3 investigated, the missing money was tracked down and two village employees were fired.

I ran for village council president two years ago by using our “Sell the Golf Course” campaign and I forced the Village to reveal that the Angel’s Crossing Golf Course is some $2 Million in debt.

The course is now self-sustaining.

In turn I unveiled misuse of public funds and out-and-out lying by people within the village and I held those people publicly accountable. Because of our actions, Fire Chief Tracy McMillan is still the chief and we averted a disaster that kept our firefighters from walking out.

Do you support the Mill revitalization project as presented?

As for the Paper Mill… I have attended eight of the info meetings to get information and listen to our residents concerns. YES, I do support the Project… But I too feel it can be done without huge 40,000-people concerts. I feel what has been put forward is more of a “Wish List” instead of an actual plan and that too many questions have still gone unanswered and until those concerns are fully addressed I would have to vote NO!

How can the downtown adapt to the changing environment with so many shoppers using online capabilities for buying things?

In order to bring in new business we could see about subsidized rent programs and grants like those in Benton Harbor and Grand Rapids to help young businesses get going. A new bakery, a clothing store or a credit union have been talked about, but yet we see no recruiting to bring in those types of business.

How do you feel about the forthcoming increases in water and sewer rates?

As for the water bills, it is a necessary evil that we must all pay. Many of our systems have not been touched since the 1970’s and we are now paying for that neglect.
I have not missed a regular Village Council Meeting in over 4 years, so I knew the increases were coming months ago. I am prepared to represent and protect the residents of the Village of Vicksburg and I will not be a rubber stamp for any person or company that intends to force their will upon this village.

Ron Smith for Vicksburg Village Council

I’m a third generation Vicksburg resident running for a third term on the Village Council. I graduated from VHS in 1961 and retired from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2005.

Do you support the Mill revitalization project as presented?

The Mill revitalization project is an ambitious undertaking unlike any previous venture in the Village of Vicksburg. Details of the project are the subject of intense negotiations between the Village and the developers. As a member of the Village Council it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

What other efforts would you put forth to improve the economic vitality of the village?

Vicksburg has much to offer its residents: K-12 schools, sports, eight public parks including a golf course, a lake, Library, Farmers’ Market, Rotary Showboat, Performing Arts Center, Lions Summerfest, Harvest Festival, Hearty Hustle, Old Car Festival, downtown events, and more.  These are all expressions of the dedication of our citizens, businesses and Village to promoting community spirit and economic vitality and should continue.

People recognize the advantages of small town living, and our population is growing. Consequently, there are very few residential vacancies in the Village. The housing market is brisk. In response to the demand for housing, both Allen Edwin and American Village Builders are actively engaged in new construction.

How can the downtown adapt to the changing environment with so many shoppers using online capabilities for buying things?

An obstacle to downtown development is the failure of owners to renovate vacant buildings and create viable business models. Vicksburg businesses can’t compete with Kalamazoo-area “box stores,” which in turn are having difficulty competing with online retailers. However, there is always a need for businesses that provide essential services to the community. Examples are the local restaurants and take-outs (at least 14 serving Vicksburg), bars, grocery stores, gas stations, hardware, consignment and general stores, health services, churches, library, barbers and hair salons, legal and accounting services, event center, electricians, plumbers, surveyors and more. We have all of these in Vicksburg, and you can’t get them online!

How do you feel about the forthcoming increases in water and sewer rates?

I’m in agreement with the recent letter sent to all residents from Village Manager Jim Mallery explaining the rationale behind the new water and sewer rates and need for infrastructure improvement.

Jen Aniano State Representative 63rd District (Democrat)

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

I am firmly in support of testing for PFAS statewide as a potential public health crisis and environmental catastrophe through legislation such as House Bills Nos. 6320 and 6321. These bills would require a public advisory to be issued when PFAS are discovered in a public water supply or in a well’s aquifer. Property owners would then be notified about the contamination and be provided with resources.

Do you support selling water to the Nestle company at such an inexpensive rate?

I will support all legislation meant to protect our health and safety. Similarly, I do not support selling water to Nestle for pennies so they can profit as a private corporation. This is especially egregious when we are struggling to consistently provide clean water to our own citizens across the state. This issue goes beyond partisanship – it is a matter of the wealthy working together to remain wealthy. Michigan’s natural resources should not be exploited for the interest of a corporation.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

I support our farmers and I believe that marijuana could be an excellent crop for our state so I do support legalizing marijuana. This topic can be controversial, so I am excited to see the decision be brought to voters directly on the November ballot. I will look forward to casting my vote along with everyone else who is passionate about the subject.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

I am a teacher, a mixed martial arts fighter, and I occasionally go shooting. I do not support arming teachers with guns. As someone who is experienced in these areas I feel very strongly that placing guns in the hands of teachers as a response to school shootings is irresponsible and dangerous. I support the Second Amendment but there is a strong line between responsible gun ownership and reckless fanaticism. We owe it to our youth to not politicize their safety and to focus on safe and effective measures to ensure their access to a safe learning environment.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected for the first time?

When I am elected it will be my first time as a publicly elected official. I have held numerous union positions throughout my career and am currently the vice president of my union. During my first term as a representative I would like to decrease classroom sizes, limit the amount of standardized testing in our schools, strengthen our laws protecting workers and unions, and focus on fair and sustainable agricultural practices.

Matt Hall State Representative 63rd District (Republican)

The candidate chose not to answer any of the set questions.

I am running for State Representative to be a strong, principled, common-sense voice for the citizens of southwest Michigan. From knocking on thousands of doors, I know that citizens’ top priorities include continuing to strengthen our economy, lowering auto insurance rates and defending our values.

Let me introduce myself. I graduated from Western Michigan University and WMU Cooley Law School, and am currently a constitutional law attorney. I was the West Michigan liaison for the Michigan Attorney General’s office and worked in the private sector for a combat propulsion systems manufacturer. I am honored to be endorsed by the Michigan Farm Bureau AgriPac, Police Officers Association of Michigan, Michigan Manufacturers Association and the Small Business Association of Michigan. My experience and support prepare me to represent you well starting on day one.

My priorities as your State Representative will be:

1) Michigan has the highest auto insurance rates in the nation, which harms working families and seniors on a fixed income. I will work to lower auto insurance rates by cracking down on fraud, repealing costly government mandates and giving consumers more choices.

2) Supporting our priorities, including our schools, public safety and roads. I will work to direct more resources to fix our roads by requiring all gas tax money to go toward infrastructure improvements, along with fighting for strong warranties.

3) Strengthening our economy by promoting skilled trades training, lowering taxes, and eliminating overburdensome regulations.

4) Preserving our Great Lakes and improving our water infrastructure to ensure clean drinking water for our families.

5) Protecting seniors from financial abuse, neglect in care facilities and scams, and repealing the pension tax. While working in the Attorney General’s Office, I supported the Senior Brigades, which helped empower seniors and their families to protect themselves and their loved ones from criminals and scams.

With your support, we will work together to take our Southwest Michigan values to Lansing and make our community and state an even better place to raise a family, work and live fulfilling lives. Thank you for your involvement in our community and for your families. I look forward to working hard on your behalf to listen to you, represent you, and represent our principles and values in Lansing.

Brandt Iden State Representative 61st District (Republican)

I am your State Representative Brandt Iden and I have served you for the past four years. I have remained accessible, continue to listen, and work hard to ensure your voice is heard in Lansing. I have continuously voted to enhance community safety, to grow jobs and the economy and to ensure government responsibility.

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

I helped secure $8 million in PFAS testing and cleanup and will continue to advocate for state funding to ensure safe water for all Michigan residents.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

If a majority of citizens want to legalize marihuana, then I believe it is incumbent upon the Legislature to safely regulate both medical and recreational marihuana.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

In today’s environment, school safety is of utmost concern. The parents of our local school boards know what is best for the safety of our children. At the State level, I recently obtained $60 million for school safety infrastructure upgrades and have permanently established the program OK2SAY to help keep our students safe.

Do you support selling water to the Nestle company at such an inexpensive rate?

Widely impactful decisions such as the Nestle contract, should be subject to legislative oversight. Your state legislature should be able to take a proactive role in contractual issues such as this to ensure that your voice is heard.

For my district, I obtained $13 million for our local public schools and $4.6 million towards road projects here in Kalamazoo County. One item I am especially proud to support is the historic preservation tax credit, which supports projects such as our very own Vicksburg Mill. The Vicksburg Mill project will be an incredible contribution to our local economy and will grow jobs right here in our neighborhoods. I am thankful to help this project at the state level and am committed to ensuring that all resources are available to support this endeavor. Moreover, I’ve specifically expanded the urban development credit to include rural and small community real estate development projects. Our small communities are the backbone of our region and we need to ensure they have equal access to economic opportunities in our state.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected for the first time?

I have a proven track record of remaining accessible, listening to you, hosting bi-monthly coffee hours throughout the district, and taking the votes that reflect your voice. Thank you for the honor to serve and I hope to earn your continued support.

Sean McCann State Senate 20th District (Democrat)

I am a lifelong Michigan resident and graduate of Western Michigan University. I’ve devoted my life to serving and improving Kalamazoo County and all of Michigan. I believe that we have an opportunity to change the future of Michigan and move it in a new direction – a better direction – and that’s exactly what I will do in the Senate.

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

The PFAS crisis our state is facing – particularly in southwest Michigan – must be addressed with the utmost urgency because the health of entire communities is at risk. I support legislation to require immediate advisories to communities that have tested positive for PFAS as well as measures to hold corporate polluters accountable for what they dump in our water.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

I support the ballot proposal to decriminalize cannabis. As a senator, I will work with police, fire and health departments to ensure any changes to the law are made with public health and safety as a priority.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

I have talked with teachers in our community about this issue, and the bottom line is that they are already tasked with the important work of educating our children and managing a classroom; the last thing they need is for Lansing to add a gun to the equation. We need to let teachers teach. The best thing we can do to keep our schools safe is to provide police and school officers every available resource to protect students and staff.

Do you support selling water to Nestle at such an inexpensive rate?

No. It’s appalling that the current administration is letting Nestle drain Michigan’s fresh water for their own profit while many communities in our state don’t have safe water to drink. Over 99% of those who submitted public comment on the Nestle permit – 80,945 people – opposed the move. This is clearly the wrong decision for Michigan.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected for the first time?

As a city commissioner for 10 years, I worked to build a sustainable downtown Kalamazoo, strengthen public safety, improve neighborhoods and clean up the Kalamazoo River. I also served as a state representative for four years, where I fought to improve public schools and higher education, reform partisan gerrymandering, protect the environment and improve public transportation. My office operated a district service office to give constituents a local office to contact their representative. I’ll bring my record of small town values, common sense solutions and big city results to the Michigan Senate this November.

Margaret O’Brien State Senate 20th District (Republican)

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

Having been on the ground in Parchment nearly every day since the PFAS news came to light, I know how important it is to establish a long-term plan to protect our drinking water. I’ve recently introduced legislation to create a $2 billion fund for water infrastructure and contamination cleanup throughout the state. Rather than a quick fix, we need real solutions to real problems that focus on protecting our freshwater supply.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

At the end of the day, I will support the will of the people. I do have some regulatory concerns with the proposal as written.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

Earlier this year, I voted to remove the open-carry in schools loophole by voting to allow properly-trained and certified school officials to carry concealed. At the same time I voted to give local school districts the authority to decide gun policy for their own districts. I believe in local control, and I believe that when we empower our local teachers and administrators to determine their own policies, our entire community benefits.

Do you support selling water to Nestle at such an inexpensive rate?

It is important that Michigan properly regulates its environmental resources. Decisions made over the past eight years have helped created 555,000 private sector jobs, and Michigan is back to work again. Michigan has an abundance of natural resources, and we must strike the proper balance between creating jobs and protecting our environment. While I do not know the specifics of the Nestle permit, it’s concerning to sell so much of our water especially given the various water issues across the state. I look forward to continuing our work on these issues with my colleagues.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected?

The constituents of Kalamazoo County are my priority. Each week, I meet with people on issues important to them. Sometimes they need an advocate with a department while others need legislative changes. My legislative accomplishments have come from the district. My work on sexual assault legislation was driven by people from our community. This important work will have a positive impact on many young lives. Additionally, I have worked to lower auto insurance costs, increase investment in skilled trades, protect our schools. It is my mission to serve the people of Kalamazoo. My record is one of working with both Democrats and Republicans. You can always count on me to be your voice. I will be your voice in Lansing, and I will continue to be accessible and responsible to you as your State Senator.

John Gisler Kalamazoo County Commission (Republican)

What would you recommend the county do to solve the homeless situation?

We should engage the numerous private organizations committed to alleviating homelessness. A first step should be to inventory these private resources and NOT another millage! Government is generally a less efficient and less effective problem-solver.

PFAS – what is the Health Department’s responsibility?

The recent PFAS situation is an excellent example of solid intergovernmental cooperation. The EPA, DEQ, county, cities and townships all put forth a coordinated, collaborative effort.

Jim Rutherford, the county’s Health Director, will continue to monitor and test impacted water supplies. He’ll also lead the effort to determine the long-term health effects of PFAS exposure.

Is the Hazardous Waste program effective?

The current program is definitely effective. The Household Hazardous Waste facility on Lamont Street annually collects more than 750,000 pounds of chemicals, lead-based paint and electronics. It helps protect our environment.

What would you do to support an increased recycling effort in the county?

Recycling is a good idea, but decisions should be made by individuals and not imposed by government.

Do you support the resurrection of the Arena project for downtown Kalamazoo?

Absolutely no! Bill Kern, an economics professor at WMU, has studied sports arenas and events centers extensively. He believes a downtown arena will pull food and beverage business from outlying parts of the county. Bill estimates the net economic effect of an arena would be comparable to a new pet store coming to town.

I strongly object to building the arena on the taxpayers’ dime. If it’s viable economically, fund it privately and pay taxes like other businesses.

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