THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
17th July, 2008 0
Mike Thomas has served 18 years as Saginaw County's prosecutor, and he hasn't faced an election challenge since 1996; but this year Thomas is retooling his yard signs because long-time defense attorney Tom Frank is eyeballing the seat.
Voters will make the decision not in November, but in the Democratic primary on August 5th. This is because no Republicans are running. The same scenario holds true for Sheriff Charles Brown and his challenger, Bill Federspiel, which the Review will profile in our next edition.
Turnout in past primary elections has dipped as low as 15 percent, compared to more than 60 percent in general presidential elections, so it is important to reverse that trend. If Saginaw County residents fail to make their votes heard in this election, they will find that they have disenfranchised themselves.
Tom Frank is countering Thomas' blue and yellow signs with his own vast proliferation of red & white placards. But apart from the battleground of yard signs & billboards, there are distinctions between the candidates that are significant for voters to understand. For this reason, The Review is proud to present this in-depth candidate forum.
A month ago, Frank launched his challenge with a letter to Review Magazine. In throwing down the gauntlet, Frank asserts that Thomas has tried as few as two cases - an allegation Thomas vehemently denies, counting seven cases that he personally has handled.
"Karen King's killers, Shytour and August Williams; Gerald Duranso, who murdered a blind piano teacher near the Courthouse; Albert Beedles, the largest dope seller in Saginaw history; Michael Perry, who killed three small children in a firebombing; Patrick Calbert, who aided Bo Young in robbing and killing the 7-Eleven store clerk next to SVSU; Jeffrey Gross, who kidnapped and strangled a 6-year-old boy at the Oakley Gas Tractor Festival; and Keith Wood, serial criminal and murderer of his 15-year-old cousin in St. Charles who later pled guilty to also murdering the night manager at a Burger King. My opponent has never tried a murder case in his life nor has he prosecuted a case."
"My opponent wants the voting citizen to believe that he has been effective in combating crime," responds Frank. "If you feel safer today than even 10 years ago then vote for Mike Thomas. If you do not feel safer then its time for a change and you will vote for Tom Frank. Positive change is what I am offering."
"Thomas says he is a full time prosecutor yet is always flying or traveling to some meeting. He doesn't have the time for Saginaw County when is someplace else," continues Frank.
"Mike Thomas has more than doubled his salary since being elected prosecutor. In return he has tried one case in ten years and has inflated his staff to the largest numbers ever. He has the taxpayer footing the bills for his many trips to various venues in the U.S. on behalf of the National Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. He also travels elsewhere at our expense. He should spend this time fighting crime in Saginaw County."
Thomas denies that his staff is at the largest levels ever, pointing to a 2002 cutback by the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners, which left him with 20 assistant prosecutors.
Before that he claims that he had 23.
The incumbent also does not deny the challenger's claim that he is a frequent traveler. Thomas says the Conferences he attends are "serious work, not junkets", as Frank describes, citing the Blueprint for a Safer Michigan (and Saginaw) produced by a team of Prosecutors and police leaders as one example.
Thomas also denies Frank's claim that the county buys him a new car every year. "The car currently assigned to my use was purchased in 2006 to replace my assigned car then, which was purchased in 2000 after a non-fault accident in 2006. The 2000 vehicle was a replacement for a 1995 vehicle. The county does not replace assigned cars every year, nor should it."
President Harry S. Truman once stated Truman's Law when it comes to politics: "If you can't convince them, confuse them." Hopefully, with this forum between the candidates, confusion will be kept to a minimum and you will be afforded the opportunity to ascertain through the unedited words of each candidate, which attorney is best suited for the job at hand as Prosecutor for Saginaw County at this challenging junction in our history.
Review: Please outline your main goals and how you would accomplish them.
Thomas: First, we will continue to provide consistent due process and accountability for crimes to the citizens of Saginaw County, defendants and victims of crime.
Second, I will work with the Legislature and law enforcement associations for implementation of the Blueprint for a Safer Michigan (and Saginaw). The Blueprint will bring long-term positive changes to the criminal justice system and more public safety to Michigan and its communities. It will reduce the number of crime victims and increase services to victims. It will invest in identified programs that demonstrate success in reducing crime. It will maintain Truth in Sentencing so the judge's lawful sentence cannot be reduced. It requires adequate police and prosecutor resources, supports community based treatment programs and requires a prison system sufficient to support judges' sentences as well as provide treatment for those prisoners who want to become law-abiding citizens and demonstrate success.
Finally, we will continue the professional career prosecutor training that has enabled our Assistant Prosecutors to only lose one felony jury trial in 2008 while handling thousands of criminal complaints in Saginaw County.
Frank: My priority is to make our communities safer. A two-pronged approach would be implement. It is necessary to prosecute the worst of the worst within 180 days or less. Our present prosecutor has cases older than the hills - some approaching two years old.
Cleaning up crime in urban neighborhoods must also be accomplished. I would, along with my assistants, be involved with the various neighborhood associations who are already trying to work against blight and crime.
I would work to implement electronic surveillance of high crime areas. Focus on high crime areas will be a positive step in fighting crime.
My intentions are to be a full time prosecutor for Saginaw County. I will not be flying around the country, or traveling elsewhere trying to solve national issues, or the other problems of states as in the present state of affairs.
Review: Does the Prosecutor's Office need more staff? If so, how would you accomplish this?
Thomas: We have the same number of judges and courtrooms now that we had in 2002, when the Board of Commissioners cut three Assistant Prosecutor positions and one secretary. We are seeking grant funding for positions to help balance the budget as well as trying to increase revenue in the form of costs from users.
We used drug forfeiture funds to purchase computers and technology that permit us to do more with fewer staff. We reduced our employees from 43 in 2002 to 39 now.
Our attorneys have the second highest caseload per assistant of any County Prosecutor's Office in Michigan.
Review: Would you propose changes in prosecution of criminal suspects?
Thomas: Michigan needs a reckless endangerment law similar to other states to hold persons accountable who endanger and actually injure children with grossly negligent acts.
The Legislature is currently reviewing new laws to reduce the 400 percent increase in scrap iron thefts.
Identity theft is the fastest growing criminal activity in America and penalties must be adjusted to deter more of this life changing misbehavior.
Frank: Yes! The worst of the worst must be prosecuted ASAP. The five Circuit Court judges are currently responsible for trying all adult felony charges. We have six District Court judges. It seems to me that judges of the District court can be used in trying felony cases. I will work to achieve this goal so we can prosecute more crime effectively and efficiently.
Review: Please express your feelings on alternatives to incarceration.
Frank: Alternatives to incarceration are facts of life. The lack of tax revenues will increase the need for the alternatives to incarceration. As Prosecutor I will present relevant facts to the Courts regarding sentencing. The Court will then determine if an alternative to incarceration is appropriate.
Thomas: Some 75 percent of all convicted felons in Saginaw County (80 percent in Michigan) are sentenced to probation or probation/jail or fines and costs - alternatives to incarceration. Only 25 percent of convicted Saginaw felons (20 percent statewide) are sentenced to prison by judges. The national average is 40 percent. This is because of sentencing guidelines enacted by legislators that prevent judges from sentencing more felons to more prison sentences, thereby saving state expense. Probation conditions can be useful in changing less serious criminal behavior, but the sentences must be monitored and violations of probation must be reported to the judge.
Review: Do you believe in mandatory minimum sentences?
Thomas: I agree with the mandatory minimum prison sentences of life without parole for first degree murder in Michigan, for the requirement of a prison sentence for second degree murder, armed robbery, criminal sexual conduct 1st and 3rd degree (penetration), and for the mandatory 2 year minimum for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. They deter some criminals and are appropriate sentences for these types of violent crimes. Drug minimums have been repealed.
Frank: I would rather leave the Courts with the discretion to impose the appropriate sentence. Mandatory minimum sentences may be appropriate in most cases.
Review: So far over the past 30 years taxpayers have spent over $1 trillion dollars on the War on Drugs and street drugs today are cheaper than ever. Gov. Granholm proposed eliminating 'mandatory minimums' last year because they cost state taxpayers $31,000 per day per inmate for room & board in State prisons. But 70 to 90 percent of the caseloads in our Courts center around policies set by Drug Prohibition. Has the War on Drugs been effective?
Frank: No! There is not enough law enforcement on the streets to combat drug crimes.
Thomas: Obviously not. But legalizing hard drugs would be even worse. Without the threat of criminal sanctions against selling, possessing and using drugs, most addicts would never take the first step toward treatment or try to get back on the wagon of rehab after they repeatedly fall off during treatment. Non-addict drug sellers distribute misery and financial ruin to addicts who will do anything to get their drugs. Public health, the community, parents, and government must cooperatively increase the effort to successfully treat addicts and prevent more from becoming addicted. Drug and Sobriety Courts are one answer to this community problem. Funding is an issue.
Review: What amount is your fund-raising goal for the primary election, and is fund-raising overemphasized?
Thomas: We don't have a specific goal and yes, fund-raising is overemphasized. I have never outspent my opponent in any of my elections from 1990 to the present.
Frank: My fund raising goal for the primary is to request donations so I can get my message to the voters that it's time to replace Mike Thomas with someone who will prosecute the worst of the worst within the shortest time possible. Fund raising will not be over emphasized.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)