State Representative Margaret O'Brien says she would bring a record of results and leadership to the state Senate.
The Portage Republican is running for the state Senate district that will be made up entirely of Kalamazoo County. Representation is changing in part because of new district boundaries. Republican Tonya Schuitmaker currently represents the area in the Senate, but the new map puts her Van Buren County home in a new district that also includes Allegan and part of Kent County. Schuitmaker is running for that seat. Ron Zuiderveen is O'Brien's opponent for the Republican nomination for state Senate. State Representative Sean McCann is the only Democrat running. O'Brien sat down with WMUK's Gordon Evans and Kalamazoo Gazette reporter Alex Mitchell. A summary:
An increase in the minimum wage was recently approved by the Legislature and signed into law. O'Brien did not vote for the increase. She says there needs to be more focus on education and training to prepare people for better jobs. O'Brien says that includes job training and vocational education. The Republican representative proposed her own bill to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, rather than the $9.25 that was signed into law. O'Brien says the minimum wage should be indexed to inflation, but she says that should not happen every year.
O'Brien points to a list of bills that she has worked on with Democrats. The Portage Republican says she is willing to work with anyone. O'Brien says that includes laws dealing with physical therapy, education and adoption. She says individuals, not political parties have to lead on important issues.
Former State Representative Lorence Wenke had planned to run in the Republican primary, but has since decided to run for the seat as a Libertarian. Wenke said the party's stance on gay rights is a major reason he decided not to run as a Republican. O'Brien says discrimination against gay people is an important issue, but she says rhetoric has clouded it. She says she is open to a discussion of amending the state's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for sexual orientation. But O'Brien says people's religious rights also have to be protected.
The Wenke Effect
O'Brien says convention wisdom is that Wenke will pull votes from Republicans in the general election. But she says Wenke is not running a traditional "libertarian" campaign. O'Brien says regardless of who is in the race, she is ready to run on her record, "I'm the only one that has a record of real results across the aisle. And I'm the only one that doesn't go out and spew partisan political talking points."
Discussion of other issues can be heard in the web version of the interview
O'Brien says lawmakers have stabilized Michigan's finances, eliminated the Michigan Business Tax and phased out regulations that got in the way of job creation. The Republican Representative says Southwest Michigan has been a home for entrepreneurship. O'Brien says predictability and an understandable, transparent tax system are helping bring jobs to Michigan.
Personal Property Tax
A proposal on the August ballot would phase out the state's Personal Property Tax on equipment. O'Brien says it's a tax that makes it tough to compete. Local governments rely heavily on revenue from the tax. O'Brien says a replacement for the revenue is included. She says that's why groups representing local units of government are backing the proposal.
A controversy erupted shortly before the interview when three Republican lawmakers were photographed reading fashion magazines. The photo was sent out on social media. O'Brien says the whole thing makes her uncomfortable. But she says women shouldn't be used as political props. O'Brien says women shouldn't be defined by a narrow set of issues. She says issues like women's health are rarely discussed, while a certain position is expected on abortion.
As part of the discussion on gay rights (see above) O'Brien says she believes marriage is between one man and one woman. But says she wants to continue discussing the issue. O'Brien says she is like many people who have a clash between people they love who are gay and the faith tradition they grew up in.
O'Brien says she wants to look at research on marijuana before agreeing to decriminalize or legalize pot. She says safety and health considerations are important. O'Brien says people should not be "put away forever" for smoking marijuana.