Crank it Up - The 95th District State Representative Democratic Primary Candidate Forum

    icon Jul 10, 2014
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Perhaps one of the more controversial contests in the 2014 election cycle involves the race for the next State Representative of the 95th District, which encompasses the cities of Saginaw & Zilwaukee and the townships of Kochville, Zilwaukee, Carrolton, Buena Vista, Bridgeport, Spaulding and James.

On the Democratic side of the ballot, Vanessa Guerra and Norman Braddock are both vying for the position in the August 5th state primary election.  The winner will be poised to face Republican challenger Jordan Haskins, whom it was recently revealed has a record of criminal sexual offenses dating back to his teenage years that is sparked by the sexual fetish known as ‘cranking’.  Sadly, since this recent revelation surfaced it has already received more media attention than the actual positions of the candidates on the many serious issues confronting voters of the beleaguered 95th District, which is a snapshot in itself of the quagmire that our political landscape has sunk. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this article was published on July 10th Haskins has withdrawn from the race).

Insofar as the 95th District has traditionally been viewed as Democratic territory, the winner of the August 5th Democratic primary race will most likely become the district’s next State Representative in November, which makes the importance of voters being able to ascertain the differences between the candidates even more paramount.

Candidate Vanessa Guerra ran for Bridgeport Township Trustee in 2012 and is finishing law school at the University of Detroit Mercy, where she is focusing on public interest law. During the summer of 2013 she served as Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan Intern in the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office, and later served as a volunteer advocate for victims of Domestic Violence in the Third Judicial Circuit Court in the fall of 2013.

Candidate Norman Braddock resigned his seat on the Saginaw City Council after serving approximately half of his 4-year term to run for this State Representative position, which is being vacated by Stacy Erwin Oakes so that she could make her own bid for the State Senate. Braddock served 12-years on the Saginaw Board of Education and works as Director of Quality & Business Development for SVRC Industries, Inc. – a private non-profit agency based in Saginaw that provides job and educational services with barriers to employment. He previously worked for 20 years at General Motors’ Steering Gear Division (Nexteer) and operated the Minority Entrepreneur Development Projects.

Unfortunately, Braddock failed to respond to the questions presented in this candidate forum; so are pleased to present the following discourse that the Review recently conducted with Vanessa Guerra.

Review: Please explain your background in terms of education, experience and qualifications in terms of how you feel it will strengthen your ability to effectively serve as our next State Representative.

Guerra: I am a proud graduate of the Bridgeport-Spaulding Community School District.  Born and raised in Bridgeport, I would not be here today if it were not for the hard work and dedication of our public school teachers.  With the solid educational foundation provided by these teachers, I attended the University of Michigan where I learned from the best this state has to offer.  I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to go to college, a goal I recognize many students in our community feel is out of reach. 

Our colleges have become the single greatest determining factor of success today. We must ensure that our children are prepared for the future, whether that means learning a skilled trade, pursuing a business degree, or applying to medical school. The tools necessary for success in tomorrow’s economy should be available to all, not luxuries afforded to only a few.           

I have always known I would come back to this area after graduating. I want to work here, to raise my family here, and to give back to the community that raised me. I want to make a difference. While volunteering with the American GI Forum I helped raise funds to assist area youth in paying for college.  Working as an academic advisor at Delta I helped our students connect with their passions and develop the skills necessary to further their careers.  I currently serve as a Bridgeport Township Trustee and am completing law school at the University of Detroit-Mercy, where I have focused on public interest law.  I believe my broad community involvement and legal education make me uniquely qualified to represent the concerns and interests of actual voters, not special interest groups.

Review: What are your top three priorities and what specific policies and approaches would you advance on key issues such as the economy, rebuilding our infrastructure, the environment & insurance reform that would improve our region and state?

Guerra: My top three priorities in Lansing will be education, roads, and living wage jobs.  School districts like ours need funding restored so we can provide the best education our children deserve.  Better educational opportunities will open the door for better jobs.  Anyone who has ever seen a shut off notice or an eviction letter knows any job is better than no job—but we should strive for a higher standard.  We must fight for jobs that allow people to earn a living, not merely struggle paycheck to paycheck.  We must strive to create the types of jobs that built our community, the jobs that brought my grandparents and so many of our family members to this area to work in the automotive industry, the jobs that built the middle class.

However, bringing those jobs back to this area will not happen overnight. In the meantime we can pursue policy changes that will assist families who are struggling right now. Research has shown that an increase in the minimum wage coupled with reinstatement of the Earned Income Tax credit, is the best tool available to raise people out of poverty.  I will work to continue to raise the minimum wage so that people working 40 or more hours a week are not struggling to meet their basic needs. I will seek to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit that the Republicans have cut, because I believe it provides necessary relief to the working poor. 

Fixing our roads must be a top priority of this legislature and it will be a top priority for me.   The American Society of Civil Engineers reported that Michigan driver’s pay $2.534 billion a year in unnecessary car repairs owing to the poor state of our roads - an additional $357 per driver, per year. We have to raise the necessary funds to repair our infrastructure while protecting our working families from tax increases they cannot afford. We must look at all available options, including studying weight limits on trucks, adjusting user fees, and making sure dollars currently earmarked for road repairs are spent appropriately. If elected to be your Representative in Lansing, I will work tirelessly to fix our roads the right way. 

Review: Do you offer any proposals for education reform, either at the K-12 or Higher Education levels, and do you support linking teacher pay to student performance and recent moves in the legislature to reform teacher tenure and require annual evaluation of schools?

Guerra: As I previously stated, our schools must be a top priority.  Specifically, we must restore funding to our schools.  I will be the first to admit money alone will not fix our schools; however we cannot starve our great teachers of the resources necessary to do their jobs and expect perfect outcomes. 

Our teachers work every day with limited means and do a fantastic job.  When we lose kids to gangs because after school programs were eliminated, or a child loses valuable opportunities in the arts, trades, or advanced courses because of limited resources, then both our youth and our teachers are being shortchanged.  The greatest travesty of our time is the unequal opportunities our children receive.  Some enjoy access to advanced placement courses; others struggle through the day hungry until lunchtime.  I want to see funding restored to provide our families with what they have a right to—an excellent public education. 

Additionally, funds should be made available to districts that wish to switch to year round learning.  A major driver of inequality is the summer break.  While some children are in band camp, piano lessons, and tutoring, their less privileged peers are losing many of their educational gains.  Studies show the long summer break leads to decreased retention of subject matter learned in the prior school year, particularly for students who are not afforded the opportunity to attend enriching summer programs.  I believe that year round learning will present a cost effective way of closing the achievement gap. If the parents and teachers of our community support this transition, I believe the state should support their efforts.

Our teachers should be held accountable just as anyone receiving public funds should be.  But Lansing politicians and distant bureaucrats are not qualified to do that job.  Local school boards, administrators and teachers should be encouraged to create productive accountability, not oppressive paperwork regimes from Lansing.

Review: What is your position on Medical Marijuana in light of the recent vote by the House of Representatives in Washington instructing the Justice Department to not interfere with states adopting Medical Marijuana laws?

Guerra: My position on medical marijuana is simple.  I support the regulated and careful legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.  I think it is cruel to deny our vulnerable citizens what many in the medical community agree is a viable tool for managing pain and addressing other medical issues. At the end of the day, I do not feel that I can tell a cancer patient, suffering in a way that most of us will never experience, that they should not be permitted to responsibly use marijuana to manage their pain.  However, I do believe that any such treatment should occur under the careful supervision of a medical doctor.

Review: Are you in favor of supporting legislation to either ban hydraulic fracturing or make the companies utilizing the practice pay for 24-hour monitoring by State regulators; or impose a moratorium on this practice as other states like new York and Pennsylvania have recently done?

Guerra: There is plenty of reason to be skeptical of fracking and the industry’s “don’t worry about it” claims. Michigan’s economy is dependent on tourist dollars brought into this state as a result of its incredible natural beauty and resources. We should not jeopardize that simply to make a quick buck and meet our short-term energy needs.

Ultimately, fracking is a distraction from what must be our true priority—developing clean and renewable sources of energy.  Our state has two huge resources at its disposal, our incredible research universities and the manufacturing know-how to bring their innovations to market.  I firmly believe with these natural and human resources at our disposal we can become a world leader in renewable energy.  Becoming the world leader in renewable energy will create hundreds if not thousands of solid, living wage jobs and grow our state’s middle class.

Review: The Financial Crisis of 2008 and resulting taxpayer funded bailouts of Bank of America, Citicorp, and Goldman Sachs represented the largest transfer of wealth in our nation’s history and has crippled the middle class along with state and local infrastructures. Would you be in favor of a .01 percent tax on all trades of stocks, bonds and derivatives that would generate enough revenue to pay back the bailouts and reduce government deficits?

Guerra: This is a question for our federal representatives, not the work of a state legislature.  That said, I do think this question illustrates a problem we have in our society today—too often our citizens are being given the shaft at the expense of big business.

For example, Gov. Snyder and the Republicans handed businesses a significant tax cut, only to impose a significant tax hike on Michigan’s seniors in the form of new taxes on their pensions. Many of these people retired believing they would have enough money to meet their needs, but because our legislature decided to balance the budget on the backs of our seniors, they are now struggling. That policy was wrong for Michigan then, and it’s wrong now. If elected to be your State Representative I will fight to repeal this regressive tax on seniors. I will work for an economy and a community that works for us all, not just the 1%. I will work tirelessly for the roads, jobs, and schools we all deserve.

Review: What do you feel should be done to correct crumbling roads in Michigan?         

Guerra: Our citizens expect that government will provide them drivable roads and safe bridges.  We need more money for our roads; however, those funds should not come out of the pockets of our most vulnerable citizens.

I believe that a permanent funding stream is needed. While I believe that many options for developing this funding source may be worth pursuing, one solution I hope to explore would be increasing the existing tax on diesel. The gas tax in theory is a fair tax—those who drive the most pay the most. However under the current tax system families buying gas to get themselves to work and school everyday in vehicles weighing at most a few tons pay several cents more per gallon in taxes than those fueling large commercial vehicles weighing tens of thousands of pounds.

It would seem that these large rigs cause much greater wear and tear on our state’s roads, and those operating them should pay their part. Additionally, we should be working to ensure that we are getting the best work possible for every dollar we spend on roads. We need to look beyond who is simply the lowest bidder, but to truly invest in quality workmanship designed for durability and longevity. 

Finally, this is a complex problem that is going to require bipartisan cooperation and a willingness to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a common sense solution. This should not be an ideological problem; it is a matter of priorities. It will be my priority to do what it takes to deliver results for my constituents.

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