SHERIDAN — Eight candidates and a handful of representatives from special interest groups spoke to a packed house of potential voters Thursday evening at VFW Post 5065 in Sheridan.
Each speaker presented a five-minute message, after which members of the audience presented questions to the speakers.
Montcalm County Sheriff Bill Barnwell got the evening started by commenting on an upcoming Nov. 6 law enforcement millage proposal that, if approved by voters, would provide funds to keep deputies on the roads 24/7 for the next two years.
“I’m not talking as a sheriff but as a citizen,” Barnwell said. “We had to lay off some deputies Monday. We’re just trying to keep our budget intact. If this issue is approved it will restore 24-hour operations and keep our head above water for the next two years. We haven’t been without 24-hour patrols since the mid-1960s. Our main goal is just getting those cops back on the streets.”
Debra Wirth (D), who is running against incumbent Dave Camp for 4th District Congress, spoke about the obstructionism she says is all too prevalent in Congress, saying she would do her best if elected to overcome this problem.
“The House of Representatives should not be playing chicken with someone else’s economy,” Wirth said. “We want to take the people who make $250,000 and over and increase their taxes to what they were before the Bush tax cuts. Can we afford it if the top earning people are not paying their fair share?”
Wirth also touched on President Barack Obama’s health care plan, noting that proposed Republican alternatives could raise health expenses for the working poor.
“This is a bad act and they know it,” Wirth said. “I think that in a first world country it is immoral to have people who don’t have health insurance.”
Camp (R) did not attend Thursday’s meeting, but sent an aide, Ryan Parent, to speak in his place. Parent said Camp is working to ensure government did not become a “roadblock to you and your family.” Parent added that Camp wants to reduce taxes for both businesses and individuals. He also lauded Camp’s efforts to control Asian carp in the Great Lakes.
“Asian carp could cause the greatest environmental disaster ever for the Great Lakes,” Parent said. “I don’t think we would have seen any action (on this) had it not been for Dave Camp.”
Sandy Raines (R), candidate for Montcalm County drain commissioner, told the audience she has been a lifelong resident of Montcalm County and has served as deputy drain commissioner for the past 15 years.
“I’ve been involved in every aspect of the drain office,” Raines said. “I’m ready from day one to take over the office without any learning curve.”
Raines’ opponent, Shane Jacobs (D), said he has run a landscaping business in the county for about 20 years and has in recent years seen problems in the drain office he feels should be corrected.
“I decided it was time for somebody to step up and that that someone should be me,” Jacobs said. “If elected, I will provide a more transparent government and will not allow political campaigns to be run from the drain commissioner’s office.”
The most stirring comments of the evening, and those which received the most rousing applause from the audience, came not from a candidate, but Dr. Ronald Steury, an emergency room doctor at Sheridan Community Hospital. Steury spoke in support of Obama’s health care plan.
“I believe in this legislation,” Steury said. “I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to take care of people with no insurance. These are people working day in and day out who just don’t have insurance.
“The ER is where people without insurance come because they can’t get care without insurance. What they wind up getting is band-aid care. I can’t solve their problems in ER.
“Obamacare is for the woman who works in a small store who has a ruptured disk. She doesn’t know how much longer she can work because her pain is killing her. This is for people like her.
“I am a Christian,” Steury continued. “I take that very seriously. I try every day to walk the best Christian path I can and when I think about Matthew 25, where it says, ‘when did we not clothe you, feed you, see you when we were sick?’
“How can I not be willing to pay just a little bit more to help these people? How can we deny this to them?”
Carson City Hospital Chief Financial Officer Duanne Miller spoke in opposition to Steury’s comments, saying they had different views.
“We’ve had a lot of time to change health care but it hasn’t changed,” Miller said. “Obamacare was the first thing to come around and I don’t think most people who voted on (the legislation) even read it.
“This health care bill is a very real concern to me. It contains things I don’t want money going to. I don’t disagree that there may be a savings overall, but it could hurt rural communities; we could be harmed. I don’t believe this one solution that’s been offered is the best way.”
Among the most anticipated speakers of the evening were Rick Outman (R) and Mike Huckleberry (D), who are vying for 70th District State representative.
Incumbent Outman was first to address the audience.
“When I took office we had a $1.5 billion structural deficit in our budget,” Outman said. “We also had $100 billion in long-term debt that nobody had addressed. The ship was going down.”
Outman went on to say that the budget is in far better shape now than when he took office, calling that change “a big turnaround.”
“Not only did we do that, but we payed off $20 billion of that $100 billion debt, faster than any state in the nation,” Outman added.
Huckleberry commented on Outman’s recent television and radio advertisements, calling them “distortion at its worst.”
“How much integrity does this take?” Huckleberry said. “We could have run negative attack ads about Rick (Outman), but we chose not to.
“Rick made some tough choices and now we’re going to have to pay for each and every one of them. I voted for budgets that protected your families; my opponent has not. Current legislators have let you down.”
Tea party representative Tina Dupont addressed the audience regarding proposals voters will be facing on the ballot in November, giving the tea party’s opinions on each.
“Our simple message is that one is a yes and it’s no for the rest,” Dupont said.
Andy Johnston, of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, spoke in lieu of State Sen. Judy Emmons, sharing her opinion of the upcoming ballot proposals, as well as those of the Grand Rapids Chamber.
A question and answer period followed. Each candidate was given two minutes to make final comments prior the meeting’s adjournment.