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.

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Candidate Survey: Gratiot Area Chamber of Commerce

Hello friends!

Today’s survey comes courtesy of the Gratiot Area Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau Insurance. The questionnaire itself was somewhat confusing to answer because the questions were worded somewhat poorly, so I did the best I could. The entire response was limited to about 500 words because they have the intention, I was told in the letter, of reporting these answers to newspapers in Gratiot County. As such, the answers are kind of truncated into soundbite form, which is not how I would have preferred to answer them. However, I’m going to post the answers that I gave to the questionnaires as they are.

Gratiot_Area_0001Gratiot_Area_0002My answers to these questions are as follows:

  1. I have first-hand experience with many of the issues the legislature deals with, including poverty and education. I earned a full scholarship to the University of Michigan by my own hard work. I’ve been a tutor, and as a college student I came to understand issues involving higher education. I don’t have a career or an education designed for a career in politics, and I believe in the idea of the “citizen legislator.”
  2. Reports say we need $1.2 billion per year in new funding for roads and bridges. This amount cannot be raised by only eliminating waste and fraud, and other proposals fall well short of this amount. As painful and contentious as it may be, a use tax paired with higher license fees may be needed. However, I recognize that the state has failed to garner trust with how it handles the taxes and fees that already exist. As part of raising the new funds there should be, I believe, ironclad provisions that increase the visibility of how the funds are used, and that data be provided to citizen watchdog organizations. Properly funding road repair is vital to grow Michigan’s economy.
  3. Michigan’s energy future is with alternatives like wind and solar. Green jobs are on the rise, and they’re helping to grow the economy. They’ll help us maintain the pristine beauty of the state, from the Great Lakes to our many parks. Agriculture relies on clean soil and water, and alternative energy sources will up us maintain these resources.
  4. The biggest challenges in education are adopting new strict standards, an onerous standardized testing schedule, and a shortfall in funding. To fix these issues, we can increase funding to traditional public schools (prisons get more funding than schools), especially in early-childhood education. Reducing tuition costs for higher education to take the burden off the students and reduce their debt load will also be a positive step. If we scale back standardized testing we can ensure classes don’t just become about test-prep. I have a wealth of experience in agriculture; my grandfather owned and operated a corn farm in Bath, and assisted in its operations from a very early age.
  5. I will be a strong advocate for agriculture. I support science-based policy with respect to hybrid crops and developing agricultural technology, as well as with the environment and energy. My experience on my grandfather’s farm has given me insight into the issues important to farmers. My goals are to establish a clean energy infrastructure to protect Michigan’s soil, water, and other natural resources which agriculture depends on.
  6. I am running because:
    1. I believe in Michigan, and I want to help the state to live up to its vast potential.
    2. I don’t believe that current legislators are working in the best interests of the citizens of Michigan.
    3. I’m not a typical politician; I will make the hard decisions that career politicians in Lansing will not.

The Gratiot Area Chamber of Commerce will also be hosting a Candidate forum on the 30th of September, and it is my intention to attend.

I hope to be making more posts about my positions on various issues tonight and tomorrow. I have done a ton of research and organized it into a series of binders and folders, so the only step is to write all my thoughts down.

Thank you for stopping by!

Josh