ESCANABA - Candidates from three separate races in the upcoming Aug. 7 primary election participated in a candidate forum Thursday night in the Escanaba City Chambers. The forum was sponsored by the Delta County League of Women Voters, American Auxiliary of University Women and the Delta County Chamber of Commerce.
Among the candidates participating in the forum were Judy Nerat (D-Wallace) and Sharon Gray (D-Rapid River), who are vying for the Democratic nomination for the Michigan House of Representatives District 108 seat. The nominee will run against incumbent Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) in November.
Gray cited her experience as a certified public accountant at a local firm as a "great opportunity" to understand how the U.P. is affected by the happenings in Lansing.
Above, members of the community gather at the Escanaba City Chambers Thursday night to listen to candidates during a candidate forum for three local political races in the August primary. (Daily Press photo by Jason Raiche)
"I've decided to run for state representative because I think that it's important that the residents of this district has somebody that understands that what happens in Lansing doesn't stay in Lansing," she said during opening comments. "It comes right back here to the people at home and I would like to put my experience to work for you in Lansing."
Nerat, who has lived in the district for 60 years, has experience as an elected official in many capacities. She previously served one term as state representative for the district.
"Our state is in a crisis," said Nerat, during opening statements. "I've made thousands of phone calls, been knocking on doors, and this is what I hear frequently - the economy now is at an all-time low. They tell me we need more jobs, better paying jobs. We need to restore the school funding for our children and their education. We've got to stop de-funding these programs."
Both Nerat and Gray said education is an important resource available to attract new business to the state and district.
Nerat said there needs to be better funding available for schools, and that government should not give tax breaks to big corporations.
Gray said economic development cannot be addressed until discussing education. She said that, in partnership with businesses and community colleges, leaders can develop an education system to be proud of, which will attract businesses.
Both candidates said they oppose Michigan becoming a right-to-work state and are in support of green energy, specifically wind energy.
Nerat said green energy is something that needs action rather than just talking about the issue.
"I very much favor wind energy," said Nerat. "I feel that in the Upper Peninsula that we have the ideal spot with the waters around and the higher elevation."
Gray said green energy opportunities are important for the future.
"I support green energy, wind energy, biomass and that type of thing," she said. "I think it provides a lot of jobs. It's proven in our own district over in the Garden Peninsula. We have a wind farm going out there, which has provided jobs and will provide energy for the state of Michigan."
Two candidates vying for Delta County's District Three County Commissioner seat also participated in the forum. Democratic candidate Brady Nelson is challenging current board member Mary Harrington, also a Democrat.
Each candidate was asked of their top three priorities should they be elected to the position.
"I guess No. 1 has to be budgetary," said Harrington. "We need to stay within our budget and try to continue to provide the greatest amount of services we can to our residents."
She said the county also needs to look for ways of increasing revenue and to work with legislators to get the state to pay for unfunded mandates they impose on counties. A third priority she mentioned was looking for opportunities to increase businesses coming to the area.
Nelson ranked economic development as a top priority.
"Economic development is No. 1 with me," said Nelson, adding that too many people in this county do not have a job. "If you lose your job, you don't have a replacement in most cases. So, economic development is the top of three items that I have."
He highlighted the recent sale of Escanaba's power plant and improvements to the downtown area as positives for the economy, before highlighting some other priorities.
"The lack of jobs and good-paying livable wage jobs have led to an increase in crime and increase in illegal drug use, and it also has led to the decrease in county budgets, which is my third item," said Nelson.
Another topic discussed was balancing the needs of county services with budget constraints, such as funding in the prosecutor's office.
"We have and we will continue to work with the county prosecutor's office to meet their personnel requirements," said Harrington. She added that the county is going to sit down with the office's staff to further discuss budget concerns.
Nelson said that illegal drug use in this area is a problem and that one responsibility of government is public safety.
"Getting back to the prosecutor's office, it's a priority that needs to be addressed," he said, adding the office needs to be adequately funded.
Current Delta County Treasurer Tom Sabor is also being challenged by Democratic candidate Hope Rudden for the treasurer position. Sabor was previously appointed to the position, and began working in the office in January, following the retirement of the former county treasurer.
Among Sabor's credentials, he noted his previous experience as a chief financial officer, experience managing large school budgets, and his accounting background as positive aspects for the position. Rudden, who currently serves as chief deputy clerk for the county, toted her real estate background, experience as chief financial officer for county court funds, her accounting background, and customer service skills as important to the position.
Each candidate was asked about the department's system of checks and balances.
"The internal control structure that the county has for checks and balances is with the process of receiving the funds in the bank reconciliations, the county programs that are used, and the reports that go to the board of commissioners ... on a quarterly basis," said Sabor. "In addition, each fiscal year the county is audited as required by law."
Rudden said what stands out to her regarding checks and balances is there is only one other employee in the office, and an open position not filled.
"It appears that there's no checks and balances for any of the daily transactions, and not to mention the workload on the current chief deputy treasurer," she said. "This could potentially lead to errors."
She added that she would work to ensure the treasurer's office is properly staffed to provide quality service to taxpayers.
Each candidate was also asked about the single most important responsibility for the treasurer's office. Sabor said he felt transparency was the single most important responsibility, while Rudden mentioned securing county funds is the top priority, with maintaining checks and balances, transparency, and good customer service also important.