The two Democrats vying for Michigan’s 69th House district seat met last night in Meridian Township for a televised debate.
Former East Lansing Mayor Sam Singh and career educator Susan Schmidt are running in the Democratic primary on August 7 for the right to represent the 69th House district, which encompasses East Lansing, Meridian Township and much of Ingham County.
After brief opening remarks, each candidate was asked what they felt was the biggest challenge facing the district. To some degree, both believed it’s the state’s disinvestment in human capital. Singh spoke of what he called the “three E’s” of his platform: economic development, the environment and education.
“The state of Michigan I grew up in was a state that invested in all those three priorities,” Singh said. “We were a leader in those priorities, and unfortunately over the last decade, we’ve slipped. We’ve taken extreme cuts to our K-12 system. I’m worried if we want to position ourselves in a global economy, that we can’t do this on the cheap. We actually have to be looking at investment strategies.”
Schmidt, who previously served as current state rep Mark Meadows’ chief of staff, said when tax cuts go to large businesses and public schools and universities lose funding, the state is not thinking about investing in people.
“ I mean, we can talk about all the things the current administration is trying to do to draw business in…but what are we doing to invest in the human capital in this state to create the Michigan that we want with the people from Michigan?” Schmidt asked. “And so, I believe that’s probably one of the most fearful things; when you disinvest in education, you are wiping out the future; the good future, for the state of Michigan.”
Singh and Schmidt were then asked what they’d do to raise Michigan’s profile as a company-friendly climate. Moderator Jo Ann Paul noted a recent CNBC survey ranked the state 33rd best for business. When asked how she’d work to lower that figure, Schmidt again turned to education.
“When you think about businesses and where they want to go to, they have workers,” Schmidt said. “Workers have families. They’re not going to want to start a business and have a business in a state where they know their children – who only have one chance at a K-12 education – are not going to get the best education. As a community college instructor, I can tell you my students are coming into my remedial courses, and they want to be the employees of these businesses. So we have to invest in them, so that our businesses will have the employees that they need.”
Singh’s response focused on encouraging small businesses; particularly those of the so-called “new economy.”
“It’s advanced manufacturing,” he said. “It’s health care. It’s taking a look at alternative energy. We should be investing in those companies and helping our small businesses grow. I started a program and have been working with a number of people throughout the state to help our international students connect to Michigan companies, so if they want to do exports to other parts of the world, they could learn to make those connections.”
The candidates fielded several calls from viewers. One man asked what each person would do to preserve Michigan’s natural resources. Singh proudly pointed to his tenure as East Lansing’s mayor, especially a climate control agreement he penned along with Lansing mayor Virg Bernero.
Schmidt noted that over the last decade, lawmakers have, in her words, “greatly defunded” the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She said if elected, she’d work to ensure the DEQ has the backing it needs to tackle issues such as water pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations.
Singh and Schmidt addressed other issues during their hour long debate. Both said they would fight the Republican-led tax on pensions, and each agreed women’s reproductive rights are being, in their view, “chipped away” by the GOP.
Sam Singh and Susan Schmidt will face off in the Democratic primary on August 7.