The much-anticipated Oct. 18, 2018, General Election Candidate Forum featured a full house, a forest of candidate signs, and the predictable accusations between the headliners in the race for the 8th Congressional District. There were a few surprises as well.
Sponsored by The Livingston Post, along iwth WHMI-93.5 FM, Voter’s Voice, the League of Women Voters of Brighton/Howell, and the chambers of commerce in Brighton, Hartland and Howell, and moderated by WHMI’s Jon King, the forum was mostly a civil affair with candidates for each office getting a crack at answering questions on a variety of topics. While many of the responses were reliably split along party lines, there were several areas of agreement and some refreshing voices in the mix.
Lana Theis, well-known as a policy wonk with a succinct delivery style, was joined in that category by Mona Shand, candidate for the 42nd House District seat that Theis is vacating. In depth of knowledge and crisp responses, Theis and Shand easily outshone their competition of Adam Dreher and Ann Bollin, respectively.
In the 47th House District, Colleen Turk is challenging incumbent Hank Vaupel, and she appeared to be the more well-prepared of the two, although Vaupel’s incumbent position served him well on several questions.
The most interesting question of the evening was perhaps the one posed to the candidates for the county’s house districts: Do you vote for what is best for the district, or for what your constituents want? All the candidates — Shand, Bollin, Turk and Vaupel — emphasized that listening to residents was a top priority, along with gathering as much information on the issues as possible.
Vaupel listed “the three Cs” of Conscience, Constituents, and Caucus as deciding factors, noting that these were in order of importance, and he would vote against caucus if his conscience said otherwise. Turk agreed, although she could not imagine constituents wanting something that would conflict with her conscience. Shand indicated she would listen to constituents, and was an independent thinker who would be guided by the best available information to make the best decision for each circumstance. Bollin emphasized that she would be representing the views of her constituents, but then stated she would vote for what was best for the district, even it was unpopular, and then proclaimed her “unwavering” right-to-life stance, which resulted in a round of applause and an audience reprimand from moderator King, who reminded the crowd of the basic rules of the forum, including no cheering, signs, and other disruptions.
The race for the newly-created judgeship in the 44th Circuit Court has long-time current 53rd District Court judge Suzanne Geddis facing attorney Dennis Brewer. While both candidates found several areas of agreement — the need for specialty courts to efficiently manage case loads, the fact that the “war on drugs” is not effective — Brewer was more focused, with direct answers to the questions being asked.
King would need to pull the Dad Card again during the Q&A for the 8th Congressional District candidates, where the forum veered from an interest in answering the questions as presented, to an opportunity for candidates to zing their opponents. Leave it to a Libertarian to make Republican incumbent Mike Bishop and Democrat Elissa Slotkin look like kids fighting over a toy; Libertarian Brian Ellison got the last word in on several occasions.
When Slotkin indicated she would like to see campaign finance reform legislation, and Bishop stated his desire for a balanced budget amendment, Ellison had a zinger of his own: “The candidate who has raised the most money wants campaign finance reform, and the candidate who has voted for more government spending wants a balanced budget. I am proud to not be a politician.”
The Bishop-Slotkin fireworks were as advertised, and special interest money was the major theme. Accusations flew back and forth throughout the evening, whether campaign money was the topic or not, and Bishop’s claim that Slotkin broke records for campaign funds raised resulted in the second audience yellow card from King as wild cheering broke out in support of Bishop.
“This is not a campaign rally,” King said. “If you want to rally, that’s great — go to one.”
But even here, areas of agreement could be found.
All three candidates agreed that infrastructure funds need to stay in Michigan, and that too much money went to D.C. and did not come back. They agreed on the need for increased training for jobs not requiring a college education, and that the cost of college and the burden of student loans must be reduced, although they differed on methods. They agreed on secure borders — although they did not define what that meant — and that solutions must be found for “dreamers,” and that family separations at the border must stop.
The most interesting answers from this group came in response to a question about hosting “town halls.”
Slotkin promised to hold an open-to-all town hall in the district every three months, commenting that “you can’t call it a town hall if you don’t invite the town,” in an obvious dig at Bishop’s well-known avoidance of such forums. Bishop’s response that he is accessible to all elicited laughter from many in the crowd — though not loud enough to draw a red card — and was tempered by his admission that he would not do a “coliseum-style town hall” where people were uncivil. Ellison chimed in with a promise to hold a town hall “every two months, so that’s more,” before stating that it was “cowardly for a representative to hide from voters.”
All the candidates were in complete agreement on one thing in their closing remarks: Get out and vote on Nov. 6.