Candidate forum an opportunity for voters to get questions answered

By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 1:54 pm on Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WOOD TV-8 political reporter Rick Albin holds a card with a handwritten question from an audience member for U.S. House District 4 candidate Debra Friedell Wirth at a question Tuesday night at a question and answer session for local political candidates at the MCC Ash Technology and Learning Center in Greenville. — Daily News/Cory Smith

GREENVILLE — Many residents gathered at the Montcalm Community College Ash Technology and Learning Center in Greenville on Tuesday evening to ask political candidates questions before the Nov. 6 election.

The forum was planned and facilitated by the advanced placement government class at Greenville High School. Students asked questions during the first half of the forum and WOOD-TV8 political reporter Rick Albin moderated the second half of the event.


 70th District State House

The main event of the night was the question and answer session between Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, and his opponent, Michael Huckleberry, D-Greenville.

Outman talked of changes made at the state level since he was elected to office in 2010, ousting then-incumbent Huckleberry. Outman said he helped stop the debt clock, lowered the unemployment rate and developed a surplus instead of having a deficit.

“We still have a lot of work left to do,” he said.

Huckleberry said Outman did not create jobs — industry brought back jobs. He said Outman cut money from schools and more.

Huckleberry asked if the state has a surplus, why does the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office have to ask voters for millage approval to keep it running?

When Albin asked about welfare and the 48-month limit, both Outman and Huckleberry agreed they wanted to help those who need help.

“I do not support someone who does not need help (and is using welfare),” Huckleberry said. “There are truly people who need a helping hand. We need to go after the ones who misuse it.”

Outman clarified the 48-month limit is only for cash assistance, not for food, housing and other welfare options.

Both Outman and Huckleberry were asked about the Michigan Financial Manager Act and whether the act would be good or bad for residents.

“I do not support emergency managers,” Huckleberry said.

He explained elected officials are put into their positions by voters and should not be removed unless they do something illegal.

Outman disagreed, saying the current law doesn’t have any “teeth” in it.

“We stuck some tools in a belt to help accomplish the job,” Outman said. “We never want to put one in place, but we want to avoid bankruptcy.”

 Montcalm County District 1 commissioner

Democrat Ron Blanding and Republican Dale Reyburn have both served as county commissioners in the past and are both running for the open District 1 seat. Both candidates talked about the committees and boards they each sit on to justify why they are qualified to be commissioner.

A question asked of both candidates inquired what the county’s role is to improve economical development.

Reyburn said commissioners need to work on bringing jobs into the county.

“It’s important as a commissioner go out seek that type of thing,” said Reyburn said, adding that he is does not support gathering money to advertise.

Blanding said communication is key to keeping economical development going in the county, referencing an ongoing dispute between Eureka Township and the city of Greenville over a proposed annexation by Mersen USA.

“If we don’t talk, we won’t get anything done,” Blanding said. “We have to talk to our friends and our enemies.”

Each candidate also stated the three main challenges they would face if they won the commissioner seat.

For Blanding, the issues would be effective cost control and funding for the Animal Control — Blanding was unable to give his third answer as his time had ran out.

Reyburn said his top three challenges would be maintaing the budget, funding for Animal Control and cost effective living.

 Montcalm Township supervisor

Current Montcalm Township Supervisor Michael Adams, an independent, and his opponent Ron Trachet, a Republican, discussed what they brought to the table to qualify as supervisor.

Adams took over as supervisor a year and a half ago, when the previous supervisor was recalled from the township board.

“It has been an honor and privilege serving the community,” Adams said. “We have made great progress.”

Adams touched on previous issues in the township regarding treasury issues and more, and noted how far the township has come while he was supervisor.

Trachet is currently chairman of the township’s fire board and said he has helped make the fire department a better place. The department had accomplished lowering its ISO rating to a 7/10 and has been able to make advances not only in equipment but training.

“I will show the same dedication as elected supervisor,” Trachet said. “I am very capable and admire the members on the board.”

Both Adams and Trachet talked of three challenges they would like to address if elected.

Trachet said roads, accessibility to township board members and cemeteries would be his top challenges.

Adams said the conditions of the roads, the cemeteries and perception of the local government would be his focus points.

 Eureka Township supervisor

Eureka Township Supervisor Laura Shears, a Democrat, did not attend Tuesday’s forum.

Her challenger, Republican Les Lillie, was asked many questions regarding the Eureka Township and city of Greenville conflict regarding Mersen USA.

Lillie said he has served on the board in the past for eight years, four as a supervisor and four as a trustee. While serving in the past, he noted he worked with Greenville to develop Public Act 108 agreements and he never felt like the township was “burned” by the agreement.

“Drawing a line in the sand and not talking is a very serious problem,” said Lillie referencing the ongoing stand-off between the city and the township. “We need to get together and talk about this.”

Lillie said three challenges he wants to address if elected are the Mersen annexation, roads and bringing more businesses and jobs to the township.


Montcalm County drain commissioner

Montcalm County Deputy Drain Commissioner Sandy Raines, a Republican is running for the main drain commissioner position. Her challenger, Shane Jacobs, a Democrat, did not attend Tuesday’s forum.

Raines said she has 34 years of hands-on experience and has worked in all aspects of the drain commission department.

She noted there are 260 drains her office maintains throughout the county. She addressed all the aspects of what her department does, where it is located and how items are maintained.

“I would like for you to take away what sets me apart,” Raines said. “I am the only qualified candidate that is running.”

 U.S. House District 4

Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, represented U.S. Rep. David Camp, R-Midland, at Tuesday’s forum as Camp was not able to attend due to doctor’s orders. Emmons stressed Camp’s illness has not kept him from his job and he has been present at every vote.

Camp’s challenger, Debra Friedell Wirth, D-DeWitt, focused on the fact that she is an average person who worked her way up in the middle class.

“The middle class are the job creators,” Wirth said.

Wirth said the middle class are people who need help because they have earned it. She discussed Medicare and how she would vote to keep the promise made to people about Medicare.

If given the chance, she said there are things she would work with Republicans on to make a compromise.

“There are also things I wouldn’t (make a compromise on),” Wirth said.

Issues like fracking are issues Wirth said she would have to look into before taking a stance.

“I would like to take your vote to Washington,” she said.

 U.S. House District 3

Candidate Bill Gelineau, a Libertarian from Lowell, spoke quickly at the Tuesday’s forum to stress reasons why voters should not always vote Republican or Democrat.

Gelineau said local voters showing up at the forum not only showed respect to candidates, but also showed that residents are serious about the election.

“(Candidates) showing up shows respect for the voters as well,” he said. “However, sitting Congressman (Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids) didn’t come (to Tuesday’s form) and neither did his running (opponent) (Steve Petska, D-Ada).”

Gelineau said voting Libertarian shows voters are “fed up” with “team red and team blue” and the way voters are being treated.

“Vote third party,” Gelineau encouraged.

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