Reflections on the Gratiot Area Chamber of Commerce Forum

Last Tuesday I spoke in the Gratiot Area Chamber of Commerce Forum. As a candidate for State Representative, I had ten minutes to respond to the question: “What are your top 3 priorities for the State of Michigan and what actions or steps would you take to address these?”

I love data, and I love dealing with facts and figures. I’m a researcher, deep down, and I spent hours collecting data about the issues that I thought were the most important in the coming election. I tried to avoid watering down what I said with useless rhetoric, though every now and then I felt it was necessary to drive a point home. In all honesty, ten minutes was not enough time to speak; I reduced my original outline from 20 pages to 3 and a quarter, and even then I only got through about half of the points I wanted to cover.

While I have a lot of information on the issues, and my opinions are based on information and logical reasoning, I could use improvement in my public speaking abilities. I get nervous in front of large crowds. Knowing this, I decided that, instead of standing and speaking to the crowd from behind the table, I would get up and stand before them. I wanted to address them more directly–to get out in front of them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spoke sincerely, honestly, and passionately. I didn’t want to shy away from avoiding ideas and facts that would have been unpopular–I wanted to look the people in the eye and tell them what I thought needed to be done. And I think a great many of the people at the forum appreciated that. I received many words of encouragement after the forum, and many people told me (Republicans included!) that they liked my ideas and that I had a future in politics.

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Fred Sprague (State Senate District 33), Me, Jeff Holmes (U.S. congress District 4)

I just briefly want to say that I think new politicians want to think of themselves as the unpolitician–or perhaps, not even politicians at all. In all honesty, they are. I recognize that my candidacy and involvement in politics makes me a politician. I’d like to think that I’m a better class of politician than the norm; I avoid rhetoric without substance, I find facts to back up my ideas, and if the facts show me to be wrong, I change my views. I speak honestly, I like debate, and I stand up for what I believe in, sometimes fiercely and passionately. I don’t want to be an ideologue; I want all of my views to be formed by data, logic, and a firm adherence to a strict morality and ethics that precludes lying or hiding my views and beliefs. Whenever I go to a forum like this I carry my binder of surveys and responses so people can look through it as they wish. I’m not afraid to say that I don’t know the answer to a question, but I follow that up with “I’ll do my best to learn about it.”

And if anything describes the foundation of my candidacy, it is a love of knowledge and the desire to learn. I think it goes without saying that politicians won’t always agree with their constituents; after all, we’re people with our own views, too. But it is incumbent upon us to act in good faith; to explain why we take the actions we do and be open to feedback and criticism. And, when we run for election again, to be accountable to the people who vote for us.

I presented myself to the voters as I really am. I dressed simply in jeans, tennis shoes, and a button up shirt because I don’t wear tailored suits. There’s no problem with wearing tailored suits, of course, but it isn’t me. I’m a down-to-Earth guy who enjoys debating issues and drinking a craft beer from a Michigan microbrewery every now and then (Founders Pale Ale and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale are my personal favorites). But this doesn’t mean I’m not serious about policy and governance, nor does it mean that, if elected, I will take a laid-back approach as a legislator. I’ll work to represent all of the people of my district, be they in the LGBT community, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, Democrats, religious minorities, homeless, or elderly. Everyone deserves a voice.

All of us have a stake in the long-term prosperity of Michigan, and I feel that I can best represent the people of Michigan by offering a fresh perspective, new ideas, and a different kind of approach to politics and the role of elected officials.

In the interest of openness, I’m going to post the notes I used at the forum, including what I’ve crossed out (in those cases it’s not because they’re not important, but because I was trying to best use my time) and what I had added.

Gratiot_Notes01 Gratiot_Notes02 Gratiot_Notes03 Gratiot_Notes04The study mentioned at the bottom of page 3 can be found here.

Thank you for reading. If you have questions or comments, please contact me via email at jderke2014@gmail.com or leave a comment below.