On Tuesday, August 4, local Democrats will decide which of three candidates will run in November against Republican Mitch Swoboda for the 37th District House seat held by term-limited State Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills).
We asked Michael Bridges, Randy Bruce, and Samantha Steckloff* how they would approach their first term in the State House, given the challenges Michigan faces due to COVID-19, racial unrest, and a budget deep in the red:
Bruce’s top priority will be the state’s budget and filling an estimated $3 billion COVID-related deficit. He favors immediate use of a $1.2 billion “rainy day” fund to support Michigan’s economy and lobbying Washington to help with COVID losses.
“One of the things I will not do is vote for any budget that cuts funding to education and local government,” Bruce said. “That seems to be the areas the state looks at first to cover budget holes. We have to hold those harmless, and we have to look to other places to cut or raise revenues as best we can.”
As a practicing psychologist, Bruce said, he is “good at listening to what other people are trying to say, figuring out what’s motivating them, and addressing their concerns.” While he foresees painful decisions, he said, “we have to look at what opportunity is there as well.”
Bruce said lawmakers must address the causes of systemic racism and ensure equal justice. He believes education plays a large role, and Michigan needs “a well funded education system that is fair to everybody.”
“If we don’t have an education system that works equally for everybody, we’re going to continue to have long term issues,” he said, adding that includes proper charter school regulation.
Bruce sees protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis as a “safely valve” that allows people to release some of their frustration, as well as bringing important issues to light.
“It’s forcing a real discussion in this country about how we address this,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can see real change because of all the people pushing back.”
Steckloff said lawmakers need to not only work together, but with officials at all levels, to address of systemic racism, COVID-19 impacts, and other tough issues like women’s rights and health care. But that may not be easy in today’s angry political climate.
“There was always conflict between parties, but there never used to be that hatred. It’s really debilitating for all of us,” Steckloff said. She believes the relationships she has developed with Michigan leaders, from Congress down, will give her an advantage in negotiations.
Among her early initiatives, Steckloff wants a legislative committee on race relations, with representatives from across the state doing a deeper dive into related issues. As larger cities take more immediate action, like prohibiting police from using choke holds, lawmakers should take time to look at all agencies.
Steckloff said defunding police isn’t necessary in suburban cities like Farmington Hills, where residents fund the local department through a dedicated millage. She said city officials are best able look through records to weed out “bad actors”.
In the wake of COVID-19, Steckloff believes lawmakers have to become job creators, by bringing together unions, organizations, and strong corporations. She’d like to see health care coverage for all Michiganders, an unemployment system that better serves residents, and more protections and guarantees for furloughed employees.
“The budget is a moral document dedicated to our residents, and we are going to have to take a deep look into it,” Steckloff said. “We need to make sure we are showing our residents that we are dedicating all of our funds to them.”
Having attended a recent Citizens Research Council seminar on how COVID-19 has affected Michigan’s budget, Bridges said the $3 billion deficit will have a “significant impact on our ability to provide services to state residents that they want and deserve.”
“I’m mindful of the fact that we need to make sure we balance the budget, and protect those programs and services that are vital to the state’s success,” he said.
In addition to budget impacts, Bridges said, “COVID-19 revealed significant disparities among victims, whether mortality or people who got the disease.”
“Clearly, we need to make sure public policy reflects the reality that there are significant racial disparities with regard to health care, education, job opportunities, and the environment,” he said. “I’ll be a clear thinking person, and I will seek common ground.”
While Farmington Hills has a very good police department, Bridges said, “we have some opportunities to improve.” He believes strongly in body cameras for all police officers.
“In my time on city council, I’ve been a very forceful advocate for diversity and inclusion, making sure the police department reflects the population of Farmington Hills,” he said. “I don’t support any policy toward defunding (police). I think we should stress training, sensitivity training, and making sure we have the right officers on the job.”
*Mr. Swoboda did not return an email requesting an interview.