People in Michigan’s 62nd House District must elect a new representative this November.
Democrat Kate Segal, who currently holds the seat, can’t run again because of term limits. Three Democrats and two Republicans want to replace her in the district that includes Battle Creek and Albion.
In the first of two stories, WMUK reports on four issues that reveal some differences of opinion among the Democrats in the race.
Terris Todd, Andy Helmboldt and Dave Morgan agree on some things. On others, they differ – at least by degrees. Each hopes to win the Democratic party’s nomination for the 62nd House District this fall. Each says his particular experience with government would serve him well in Lansing.
Todd is in his fifth term as a member of the Calhoun County Commission.
“I’ve had several people come to be and say they believe it’s my time, so here I am,” he says.
Helmboldt is in his second term on the Battle Creek City Commission. He says he’s running to make sure “we have a high quality education for every child, no matter who they are, where they are, who their parents are, where they live, and that we have a healthy economy that works for everyone.”
Morgan has never held elected office. But he is the former chairman of the Calhoun County Democratic Party.
“We just need to qualified people to run, we need to get the party system kind of back to where it should be, outside of politics,” he says.
Like every candidate for the state legislature this year, Helmboldt, Todd and Morgan face questions about where the state should find the money to fix its crumbling roads and bridges. Todd takes the broadest approach of the three. He says people need to consider raising the gas tax and vehicle registration fees to raise money for road projects. For him, he says, even toll roads are on the table.
“I’m very much open to it, because again we’re in a state of emergency and so something needs to be done, so we need all hands on deck, we need all options on deck,” he says.
Helmboldt says toll roads give him pause. He’s not sure the state has enough interstate commerce to bring money in – instead the state might end up taxing itself, he says. But he would consider raising the gas tax. And as cars get more efficient and people spend less on gas, Helmboldt says the state might have to reconsider its current vehicle registration and use fees.
“We have really high weight limits for trucks, we have, the penalties for exceeding those limits could be higher, which all kind of folds into you’re putting a vehicle on our roads, and you’re responsible for a lot of the wear and tear on those roads,” he says.
Morgan doesn’t think the state should raise either taxes or fees to pay for road repairs. The funding is “there,” he says. The state just needs to send it to the right places.
“We have the fuel tax for instance, but really not much of it goes into roads. A lot of it gets transferred back into the general funds. So instead of raising a gas tax, imposing more tax on the citizens I would be more apt to increase the amount of money that we’re already receiving and putting that back into our roads,” he says.
The question of revenue comes up more broadly with the fate of the state’s Personal Property Tax. Voters will decide August 5th whether to largely scrap the PPT, which directs revenue from commercial and industrial property to local governments. If Proposal 1 passes, it will shift some of the state use tax to local governments instead. Morgan says he supports repealing the PPT.
“You continually pay over and over and over, so I think eliminating that is very good for small businesses,” he says.
Helmboldt agrees. He says there’s been “reasonable assurance” that local governments will have lost revenue replaced.
“The way it’s structured is not a one hundred percent guarantee, but that’s the intent and you know, for the sake of, ‘ok let’s figure this out together,’ I’m willing to go along with that for now,” he says.
But Todd says he’s not convinced that the state will compensate local governments adequately if they lose the money from the PPT repeal.
“I don’t know if I can be in real support of that because they do need a little bit more local – I guess more local control as it relates to government,” he says.
The candidates also weighed in on a couple of so-called “social issues.” A recent court ruling found Michigan’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. But an appeals court stayed the ruling, and the future of same-sex marriage in Michigan is in limbo. Helmboldt says the court that overturned the ban made the right decision. He says it’s a question of equal rights.
“My view is, we don’t vote on rights. Part of the beauty of the American system is that we have democracy and majority rule but in a way that protects the rights of minorities. The people of the state shouldn’t be allowed to vote away someone’s constitutional rights to equal protection under the law,” he says.
Morgan and Todd are more equivocal. Morgan calls same-sex marriage “a tough one” to decide.
“I would have to look at it more but I would say probably yes, I would support it,” he says.
Todd says he’ll go with what the voters decide. He says it was their decision to ban same-sex marriage ten years ago.
“But if that voice has since changed, then we have to be able to respect that too,” he adds.
And then there’s marijuana. All three candidates say medical marijuana use is all right with them. And Dave Morgan would be fine with people consuming it recreationally.
“I’ve never had a puff of a cigarette – or anything – but I don’t have a problem with it,” he says.
Terris Todd says he’s not sure he would go that far.
“To okay it for recreational use, I think that’s kind of stepping out there a little bit,” he says.
Helmboldt more or less shares that view. But Todd and Helmboldt would support decriminalizing marijuana – giving people caught using it fines instead of sending them to jail. In Helmboldt’s opinion,
“The quote-unquote war on drugs in America has been an ongoing failure for decades now and clearly the – clearly criminalization of drug use has not worked,” he says.
On some points the 62nd District Democrats agree completely. Todd, Morgan and Helmboldt all say it should be illegal to deny housing or a job to someone based on sexual orientation – which would require changes in the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
And each candidate would have supported the legislature’s recent compromise on the minimum wage, which will go up to $9.25 an hour by 2018. That’s even though each says he would have liked to see an even larger increase.
An upcoming story will take a similar look at the 62nd House District Republican primary.