STANTON — Incumbent State Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, and challenger Mike Huckleberry, D-Greenville, went head-to-head Monday evening in a forum sponsored by the the Mid-Michigan United Sportsmen’s Alliance (MMUSA).
The forum was hosted at Twin Ponds Sports Shop in Stanton.
MMUSA representative Steve Wyckoff and other MMUSA members put together seven questions to ask the 70th District candidates. Audience members also contributed written and oral questions.
This was the third time the MMUSA has sponsored a candidate forum in the area and attendance was better than organizers anticipated. Prior to the event, Wyckoff said he was hoping for as many as 50 attendees. More than 60 people showed. This was up from 15 people who came to the first forum and 40 at the second.
“The reason we’re doing this is that we feel the conservation issues are too often overlooked,” Wyckoff said. “They’re not being brought up during the general campaign, and conservation is important to a lot of people in the 70th District.”
Wyckoff opened the forum by introducing the candidates and pointing out they both were qualified and had excellent credentials in Lansing.
“They won’t spend a month trying to find the bathroom,” Wyckoff said. “They both have experience.”
Not surprisingly, considering the audience and venue, one of the first questions asked had to do with the candidates’ stand on gun control.
Both Huckleberry and Outman said they opposed gun control and that they interpret the Second Amendment to mean private citizens have the right to carry concealed weapons.
“I don’t believe in gun control,” Huckleberry said. “I believe in responsible gun ownership.”
On the issues of hunting, fishing and trapping, both candidates again said they support all three.
“I spent my life hunting,” Outman said. “My daughter and son both shot a deer this year.”
The strained relationship that always seems to exist between the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and many conservation groups also was a topic for discussion.
Huckleberry said both the legislature and the DNR need to “learn to listen,” and that the DNR “seems to think they control us and that’s not really the case.”
Huckleberry said he plans to build new bridges of communication with the DNR.
“Where do I start with the DNR?” Outman said. “I’m in excavating so you can imagine the problems I’ve had with them over the years.”
Outman added his office is trying to develop better relations with the DNR and establish a “solution-based” culture, as opposed to an adversarial one.
The future role of conservation districts also was among the topics under discussion. Both candidates agreed that conservation districts would play a vital role in the future of land and wildlife management throughout the area and the state.
Huckleberry said he would actively work to find additional funding for the cash-strapped groups. Outman said he felt one of the groups’ most important roles is to help people develop their wooded lots and provide meat inspectors to help area farmers stay in compliance with state regulations.
Both candidates also agree that hunting of species such as mourning doves, sandhill cranes, wolves and moose would be a good thing, both for farmers and the state’s economy.
“Hunting does a good job of keeping the population under control,” Outman said.
The two also were in agreement regarding invasive species, such as Asian carp. Huckleberry pointed out that the state’s sport fishing industry could be devastated by the spread of invasive species. Outman added that recent legislation has been passed to help deal with the situation.
One issue on which the two candidates most decidedly did not agree was that of drilling for oil in the Great Lakes.
Huckleberry was adamant in his stance that he would continue to oppose any sort of drilling operation in the state’s lakes.
“The financial impact of protecting our lakes and streams is incredibly important to Michigan,” Huckleberry said. “Twenty percent of the world’s fresh water is in the Great Lakes. If we destroy that, we destroy Michigan. I would not support it. My opponent would.”
Outman said he is in favor of “responsible” drilling in the Great Lakes.
“I think we can balance environmental issues with the needs of business,” he added.
The two candidate disagreed on the issue of land caps, which would restrict the state’s ability to purchase new land for use as hunting and conservation areas.
Outman said the state already owns plenty of land and that there is no reason to purchase more for conservation purposes.
“When is enough enough?” Outman said. “At some point we just have to maximize the use of the land we have now.”
Huckleberry stated that the idea of land caps is short-sighted, at best.
“We need the DNR to be able to gather and manage land based on science rather than the whims of a few legislators,” Huckleberry said.
The candidates also answered questions on the influences that shaped their views on conservation. Both pointed to friends and family as their main influences.
The proposed bridge to Canada also was addressed, with both candidates in favor of it.
The issue of renewable energy also came up in the form of an audience question.
Outman said the current percentage of renewable energy generated within the state is about 5 percent and that going much beyond that would be difficult and would likely raise energy costs for residents. Outman also spoke in favor of hydraulic fracturing — “fracking,” as it has been referred to.
Huckleberry said he was worried about the idea of fracking due to the lack of knowledge about what side-effects the process might have on the environment. He pointed to alleged fracking-related problems that have been experienced in Ohio.
“It caused earthquakes in Ohio,” Huckleberry said. “You can’t hunt there, you can’t fish there. I’m not 100 percent opposed, but I think we need to take a long, hard look at it.”
Wyckoff closed the forum by stating both candidates are “down to Earth people, like you or me.” Wyckoff also mentioned to those in attendance that voting in the upcoming election is not only a right, but a duty.
“Make sure you get to the polls and cast a vote,” Wyckoff said. “It’s our power. We hired these guys, we can fire these guys.”