Candidates for the Michigan House of Representatives 54th District seat debated at Eastern Michigan University Tuesday night.
Education was one of the first topics discussed during the almost two hour debate. Five of the six candidates took part in Tuesday's debate, including Lisa Cardenas, Gregory Peoples, Michael White, Ronnie Peterson, and Bill Krebaum. Ypsilanti City Councilwoman Anne Brown did not attend the event.
Specifically, the audience asked the candidates to describe how each planned to keep young college graduates in Michigan.
Activist Michael White says he plans to create ‘smart zones’ in Ypsilanti. He describes these zones as areas where students can afford to live using housing subsidies. Peoples, a Michigan Association of School Boards member, says restructuring college debt and starting a student loan forgiveness program for teachers who stay in the area and work in the state are priorities.
Ypsilanti resident Lisa Cardenas said boosting job growth and creating more government funding for small businesses are part of her platform, while Krebaum said fully legalizing marijuana is his campaign's goal.
Repealing the Right to Work law and increasing environmentally-friendly policies in the state were also discussed. Audience members asked about the following topics.
On the Emergency Financial Manager law: White, “We are setting ourselves up for failure” by not repealing the EM law. Peterson, who co-ran a petition campaign to repeal the law, says the legislation was intended to target unions.“It was to break organized labor,” he says..”Unfortunately, it succeeded.”
On whether to repeal a tax on retirees’ pensions: Peoples says an elderly couple he knows couldn’t afford to live in Michigan due to the tax on pensions. "They had to move to Delaware where they didn’t know a soul.” Peterson says the state hasn’t progressed on how to take care of an aging population. “There's no question we need to repeal the tax on pensions,” he says. Cardenas: “We need to find ways to take care of seniors. Our population is aging at a [very] fast rate.”
On gun control: Cardenas says, “We need to make sure we’re not putting guns in the hands of people who are criminals.” White admits that he and his son have been the victims of violent crime. "It’s not that we were out doing things we shouldn't have, he says."Background checks are good, but it’s mental health that’s the big issue. That’s where we need to invest more dollars.” Peterson spoke against the trend of open carry legislation. He says,“There’s too many people dying from gun [violence]. I believe in the right to bear arms...but open carry is a little ridiculous. This is not the wild, wild West.”
On LGBT rights: “I believe an intrusion on anyone’s rights should be all of our battle, " Cardenas says. “I’ll fight with every ounce of my being to make sure [LGBT] rights aren’t violated.” Peoples wanted to bring the topic back to education. “Yes, this is an important issue," he says. "But legislators need to focus on [issues] like funding for schools.”
Voters will decide which Democrat will represent Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and Superior Townships during the August Primary. Representative David Rutledge has led the 54th District for six years and is term limited out of office.