The 32nd State Senate Race Between Ken Horn & Phil Phelps

    icon Oct 18, 2018
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Kenneth B. 'Ken' Horn is a member of the Michigan Senate for the 32nd District and former member of the Michigan House of Representatives for the 94th District, which he served from 2006 through 2012. In 2014, Horn was elected to the Michigan Senate from the 32nd District, which includes Saginaw County and the westernmost portion of Genesee County.   Before his career in the Michigan legislature, he served as a Saginaw County Commissioner for 14 years, and is the owner of Horn’s Restaurant in Frankenmuth. He received his bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Ann Arbor and also studied at Michigan State University. He is the son of immigrants from the former East Germany and resides in Frankenmuth. Currently he is Chairman of the Michigan Senate Economic Development & International Investment Committee.

His challenger is Democrat Phil Phelps, who began his work in politics as a volunteer for U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee at the age of 13.  In 2006, Phelps worked on the re-election of Gov. Jennifer Granholm and as spokesman for the Genesee Health Plan initiative.  Following service to the House Democratic caucus as a staff member, Phelps was tapped as a regional representative for the Granholm/Cherry administration.  He left the executive office to help a start-up company move to the commercialization phase of their development and then rejoined the state legislature as a special advisor for House Democratic Leader Richard Hammel.  Phelps won the right to represent the 49th House District in the November general election of 2013. He attended Mott Community College and Delta Community College before obtaining his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Michigan-Flint.

Unfortunately, Phelps did not respond to inquiries by The Review  to partake in this Candidate Forum prior to our publication deadline, so what follows is the exchange that I had with Ken Horn.

Review: You’ve been in Lansing for over a decade now, which is long enough to have some institutional memory of the challenges Michigan has confronted, the different ways those challenges have been addressed, and both the progress and failures encountered along the way.  Since you’ve been in Lansing are there any specific pieces of legislation that you feel have been effective in terms of improving both our state & region?

Horn: There’s a couple things I’ve worked on. Public Act 46 created the Michigan Thrive program to promote the re-development of abandoned or rundown properties in downtowns across the state. The first one will involve re-development of the old Hudson Building in downtown Detroit, which when completed will be the tallest building between Chicago and New York and will be completed by 2020.

Young people are moving back into our urban cores and we need to build vibrant energetic cities to accommodate them, so one way to do that is redevelop our urban cores across the state. Saginaw will take advantage of the funding this opens. Anybody can take advantage of it and it requires a minimum $25-milion dollar investment.  The Hudson building will be a $50-million project. The funding is open for apartments, condos, offices, a mixture of sources, so we’re trying to figure the best thing for Saginaw, based upon our population.

Another thing I’ve worked on the last few years is deepening the Saginaw river, as freighters have been running shallow and encountering problems navigating the river.  We need to strengthen our agricultural industry, bring in aggregate materials, and capture redevelopment through federal grants.

Review:  Let’s shift to education, seeing as the state legislature 2019 spending plan budgets an amazing $14.8 billion for K-12 education - the most in our state’s history, yet the average reading level in the United States is at the 6th grade compared to other countries.  Many communities are starting to incorporate skilled trades into their regular K-12 curriculum, which to me is a sensible move insofar as for every 38 construction projects that have a demand there’s only one skilled tradesman available to tackle it, according to a recent study that I read. How do you feel we should address this crisis?

Horn: One of the things Governor Snyder did upon assuming office was to adopt a Marshall Plan for education and two things happened. One that the Michigan Dept. of Education, the Michigan Legislature and the local school boards worked out is that we’re putting so much emphasis onto our local curriculum that teachers are burdened with too much reporting and the other is that we only have one career counselor for every 730 students.  In Michigan we’ve gotten away from skilled trades and careers and always pushed college, where careers end up going because the curriculums are written towards that.

We passed legislation that allows computer studies on the internet and foreign languages, which creates a more well-rounded student; and we should be gearing to career training programs. Another problem, however, is we’ve always approached this in a manner that says for all the smart kids you get college; and for the rest of you it’s a special class career training program, so we basically segregate the classes. Kids feel dumb when you that the ‘career’ element out of it, which is an awful position to put them in.

Our goal is to fix the problem on the front end and give them career exploration opportunities. Here’s the extent of the problem. Merrill Technology built a welding school because the colleges can’t keep up with demand. By 2024 there’s going to be 811,000 skilled or high-tech jobs in Michigan. That represents an additional $50 billion in gross pay for Michigan residents, an extra $2 million for schools to fix roads, and we need to teach our kids to fill these jobs. It’s a decades old problem - not having enough engineers. So the goal with our commitment to address this is to shape careers out of the skilled trades - show kids how to learn about Merrill Technology or Nexteer the way show them about colleges.

Review:  Even though the unemployment rate in Michigan is at a 17-year low, a pandemic problem across the United States is the deterioration of the middle class. From 2000 to 2010 workers’ wages raised 15% in Michigan compared to 43% nationally. What should be done to address this?

Horn: I served during the eight years that Gov. Granholm was in office and refer to that as the Lost Decade. We lost the population of an entire Congressional district and since 2010 we’ve gone up 10% in population since we’ve navigated tax cuts and created a friendlier business climate. Paychecks are getting bigger and more jobs are available, so things are better now. Lower unemployment rates create increases in payroll and we’re getting jobs coming back to Michigan that resulted from diminishing middle class policies like NAFTA that sent skilled trades jobs to Mexico and China.

Review: What do you feel distinguishes you from your opponent? One of the things he is pushing for is a progressive income tax and talks about creating an equitable playing field throughout the state.

Horn: The people in Michigan turned that idea down a couple of times. But the biggest difference between me and my opponent is that I understand this district and Saginaw County. Phil Phelps is a nice guy, but his main focus is on the city of Flint, which proportionally represents about 3% of the 32nd District. His main focus is on the City of Flint, not helping the City of Saginaw.  What the City of Saginaw needs is jobs, not a progressive income tax, It needs better schools, better roads, and lower insurance costs, which he had a chance to do serving in the State House.

The biggest issue that I hear from constituents in the election is the high cost of auto insurance. Under Senate Bill 787, Michigan residents 65 or older could choose between a capped plan to avoid paying higher rates when they go on Medicare. Senate Bill 1014 would create the Michigan Auto Insurance Fraud Authority to tackle waste and deceit, estimated at $400 million each year. These have been sent to the House for consideration and are a first step.





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