Four Republican candidates try for 102nd district seat

BIG RAPIDS — Election day is right around the corner and focus is on the ballot with the contested seat for state representative.

Candidates were asked to give a short biography on themselves, and in a questionnaire, Republicans Jason Briscoe, Michele Hoitenga, Ormand Hook and Morris Langworthy Jr., and Democrat Douglas Gabert were asked to give their views on what qualifies them for the job and how they will help the state.

BRISCOE: I am a garage door technician by trade; after the Marine Corps, however, I began using my G.I. Bill to attend Ferris State University for a criminal justice degree in pursuit of becoming a police

officer. I joined the Marines at 25 and served four years active duty as a small-armstechnician. My wife and I have been married 14 years and have two daughters aged 10 and 6. We have been foster parents and that is how we adopted our second daughter. Adoption is near and dear to our hearts and I will be working to help Michigan’s foster and adoption programs while in office. I have the advantage of having lived in multiple other states because of the military (my father was also a Marine) but Michigan is home. I can use my varied knowledge and experience to help Michigan grow. I see what makes Michigan so great for families and I recognize where others have found a better way. Michigan can set the bar for other states to follow during these difficult and somewhat uncertain times.

HOITENGA: I am a 46-year-old Christian, wife and mother of two adult sons. One son is a military veteran and the other works in the agriculture industry as a commodities trader. I was born and raised in

the district and have deep roots in our great state. My husband and I own an energy consulting company and come from families of self-made small business owners who achieved their successes through pure hard work. I also serve the people as mayor of Manton and vice chair of the Wexford County Republican Party. I have been an active leader in the Republican Party and have spent time in Lansing working with legislators on issues facing our communities. These experiences allow me the opportunity to hit the ground running while serving as your State Rep. I do not view the seat of State Rep as a retirement position; rather, I hope to serve the people and return to the private sector in a more business, community and family-friendly environment. I have great knowledge and insight into the issues facing our towns, businesses and communities, and I am prepared to be an effective voice on behalf of the people I will serve in the district.

HOOK: I have lived in Michigan for most of my adult life and most of that here in the central/northern communities in Mecosta and Osceola counties. I have an ever-expanding group of friendships and

associations in Wexford County as well. I work as a school psychologist for the Mecosta Osceola Intermediate School District. I have served over the years in the school districts of Chippewa Hills, Reed City, Evart, Big Rapids and Crossroads Charter Academy. I live in Big Rapids with my wife, Teri. Together we have six children and 12 grandchildren, with more to come. I like to read, garden, hunt, fish and raise our goats and pets. I have been a Sunday school teacher, baseball coach, board member, educator, hobby farmer and lover of our abundant local natural resources. I am a veteran of the Air Force and am proud to have others in my family serve in the U.S. Army and as first responders. Selfless service is a great way to build the appreciation for our country and the freedoms we possess. My life started on the top of a mountain, at the end of a road, deep in central Maine. I attended a two-room schoolhouse in my elementary years. My father was a sharecropper before we moved to New York State. I was the first in my family to attend high school and then college.  My two brothers and I each hold graduate degrees. This is remarkable since our father only completed sixth grade and our mother completed eighth grade. But my parents taught us that the principles and practices of success are not the private privilege of the formally educated. The principles of success are available to all who will put them into practice.

LANGWORTHY: My family goes back five generations in the three counties that make up this district: Mecosta, Osceola and Wexford. My mother was born in Boon, and my father in LeRoy. I grew up on a

dairy farm north of Tustin, graduated from Pine River High School in 1977, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy that same year. Good leaders taught me how to strive for excellence, the true meaning of honor and loyalty. I found out the importance of a strong family unit. My wife Deb (now of 35 years) and I returned to LeRoy where we settled and made our home. My father had just started “Langworthy’s,” a music wholesale company, and made me a full partner. Within a short period, we built a business that turned into a multi-million dollar company that employed eight people. I partnered again in 1990 to start Lighthouse Music in Cadillac, and sold it in 1993. I have never stopped striving for excellence. I started my political career in 1993 with a two-year term on the Pine River School Board of Education. During that time I was elected vice-president and was instrumental in passing a school millage to eliminate several dilapidated buildings throughout the district and create a new middle school. Aside from my professional and political career, my wife and I have devoted our spare time and money to several different community organizations and projects. My primary motivation in running is to serve the people of the 102nd District. My combination of professional and community experience makes me uniquely qualified to tackle the tough issues facing West-Central Michigan. As the campaign continues, I hope to earn your confidence and vote on Aug. 2.

GABERT: I grew up in Birmingham in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Close to Woodward Avenue, we often took the train or bus to downtown Detroit and I have fond memories of trips to the Art Institute or to shows at the

Fisher Theater, or, if we had the car, Belle Isle. As a young adult I lived off and on in the Wayne State area. I started college at Northern, retaining a life-long love of the U.P., transferred to Wayne State and  finished at Central Michigan University where I majored in history and stayed on for a first year of graduate school before moving back to Detroit. This was when college was affordable, before the state began divesting from higher education, and I graduated without debt. Back in Detroit, I worked first for the State Department of Mental Health where I met my wife, another misplaced history major, before transferring to the then Department of Social Services, where under its various guises, I spent most of my career, returning to Mount Pleasant to finish my master’s degree in history, and then spending  20 years at the Big Rapids and Cadillac offices. My job made me acutely aware of poverty in this district. I was well-acquainted with Medicaid, seeing it as a lifesaver for many and yet unavailable for many more. I cheered the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion component, which has been a godsend to thousands of otherwise uninsurable adults in this district.

1.   What makes you the best candidate?

BRISCOE: My willingness to stand for the people of the 102nd District. Representation needs to be more than voting. Our representative needs to be willing and able to advocate for our values, our principles and our actual rights. I am not concerned about ruffling feathers and I understand that making enemies is a side effect of standing for something. Avoiding controversy will not resolve it. On the contrary, we are entrusted with this position to deal with controversy. I realize that I have just 1 vote in 110, but a representative can be far more than their vote. My job in office is not just to vote for you, it is to fight for you. The 102nd District can help make Michigan the best state to raise our families in by working on a stable job economy, improving our education to fit Michigan and by standing firm in our values of Family and Liberty. We need to reverse this trend of government dictating to us, when we are supposed to dictate to it. I am not a politician. I am a Marine Veteran, concerned father, American patriot, and Michigan resident. I will be the strongest advocate for your family, and I will bring much needed perspective to Lansing: government serves the people. Have a United States Marine fighting for you. 

HOITENGA: People are tired of politicians, their empty promises and the political status quo. It is time for a new voice and a new direction; I am that voice. As a small business owner, mayor, military mom, volunteer, Director of the NRA Women on Target and vice chair of the Republican Party, I have the experience and hands-on knowledge of a broad range of issues. I will hit the ground running with thoughtful and responsible solutions to critical issues facing our district. I have overseen and balanced multi-million dollar municipal budgets and possess the necessary experience and energy to be an effective leader. As a middle-class family woman (with no pension and horrific health insurance), I relate well to people of all walks of life and will serve the people with a commitment of transparency, inclusion and accountability. The constitution will be my guide when faced with voting on legislation. When a majority of citizens speak via a ballot initiative, I will honor their voices by voting in line with their wishes. Finally, we do not need to send a person to Lansing to learn how to be a leader; rather, we need to send an experienced leader and I humbly ask all voters to seriously consider voting for me on August 2.

HOOK: As a career leader since the age of 25, I have always been in a position of authority. From an Air Force Staff Sergeant, to school psychologist and principal, I have always been called upon to make tough decisions that have impacted individuals and organizations. I am not seeking a career. I have had titles, recognition and responsibility. I wish to take the lessons learned over a lifetime and apply them to the problems we face. I am confident, that with my prior career, I will be ready on day one to handle the complex issues we face. My job assignments have required that I process complex information then make weighty decisions. I am most capable of reading the bills, studying the issues and making wise decisions that positively impact the people of the 102nd District. I will read the bills before I vote on them!

LANGWORTHY: I grew up on a full-scale dairy farm where a good work ethic begins, served four years in the U.S. Navy and went right into private business where I have been my entire adult life. I began in politics on the school board for Pine River Public Schools and have served on the County Board of Commissioners for eight years. Over the past 10 years, I’ve been appointed by the BOC to serve on the West Michigan Regional Planning Commission and the Parks Commission, currently serving as its chairman. I was also appointed to the Area Agency on Aging Board of Directors. I have been involved in my community for the past 35 years dealing with issues that affect everyone from 8 to 80 years old. My experience sets me apart from my opponents. When others speak of “A New Voice” or messages like “A Fresh Face,” keep this in mind: None of us candidates have held a state level office yet, and term limits are what made it that way. It’s because of term limits that you want to have someone with the experience to know about the local issues, as well as how local units of government and schools, function. I am a job creator, as well as a community planner who understands the importance of infrastructure. My combination of professional and community experience makes me uniquely qualified to tackle the tough issues facing the 102nd district and I’m ready to go to work.

GABERT: I am the only candidate in this race not running on conservative Republican principles.  Beginning in 2012, much of the tax burden shifted from businesses to individuals, in particular, through loss of tax credits, to working people with low to modest incomes. I believe businesses are essential but so are employees. Since 2011, the legislature has passed and the governor signed a spate of laws designed to infringe on the right of working people to organize and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions. I am the only candidate running to repeal these laws, including the misnamed right to work law.  I am also the only candidate running on improving working conditions legislatively by promoting laws that would, for instance, require large employers to offer earned paid sick leave and  by increasing the minimum wage. I support spending more on pre-K, public schools and state colleges and universities. I think some revenue for this could come from corrections by enacting sentencing reforms, but if this is not adequate then I would support raising the corporate income tax. I would like to see Michigan lose the distinction of being one of only a handful of states that spends more on prisons than education. Unlike the Republican candidates, I don’t see government as necessarily the problem but I see it as a potential vehicle for doing great things. At bottom, how we view the role of government is the chief difference between Republicans and Democrats, and I’m squarely with the latter.

2.   The governor said road funding is a priority. How do you propose to help the governor in funding road work and repairs?

HOITENGA: The road funding bill has already been voted on and is now law of the land. Conveniently, the road funding taxes and registration increases take effect in 2017 when the next state representative is sworn in. Along with crumbling roads, one of the biggest issues facing Michigan communities is the outdated (1998) revenue sharing formula. Michigan cities, villages and townships receive funds based on local tax revenue earmarked by the state to help pay for governmental services such as roads, fire services, police protection, water and sewer service and so forth; this is Revenue Sharing. State law sets the statutory portion but the Legislature has the ability to modify the distributed amount. Lansing has used this ‘loop hole’ to cover state budget shortfalls to the detriment of our communities. In other words, we must keep more (local) taxpayer dollars, local. The recent road bill will increase funding for local roads (Act 21 funds) but we need to go further to invest in our communities. As Mayor, I’ve seen firsthand the issues facing our communities, therefore I am able to provide experience and great insight to bring forth legislation that updates the revenue sharing formula so Michigan can start investing back into our community’s infrastructure and strengthen public safety. I have consistently been involved in dealing with these issues and fully support the Michigan Municipal League’s efforts to challenge the state legislators to do the right thing and update the formula for investing in our communities.

HOOK: The governor signed into law a very large tax increase to directly address road work and repairs.  That tax on gasoline, vehicle registrations, etc. will take effect in January 2017 and will be directly spent on our roads. There is $1 billion or more anticipated in this road project which will address our roads.

LANGWORTHY: Repairing roads should be a priority, and, as for state and federal highways, MDOT already has a five-year plan in place to deal with their priorities. My first priority is to take an inventory of the local roads issues with our county and city road commissions and departments, work on funding that will deal with all levels of government equally. We continue to kick this can down the same pot-holed road and never seem to do anything about it. Roads, simply put, are “pay me now or pay me later.” Pay me now means higher costs for construction up front, purchasing new trucks that county road commissions haven’t been able to replace, or pay me later, which means pay me for the added repairs for every vehicle that affects your life, from your own car, to the trucks that bring your food, to every public safety vehicle we allow to get beat up in pot holes coming to our aid. As for the governor, hopefully we can work together to establish priorities for the 102nd district at the same time we are working on how to fund them. Finally, as for funding roads and repairs, we all share in this responsibility equally, either directly or indirectly whether you drive a truck or a buggy. We need to all pay for them equally as well.

BRISCOE: Infrastructure in general is a priority for state government. I am not opposed to the idea of increasing road funding if it can be shown that there is a better way to rebuild our roads so that they last longer. I am, however, opposed to using tax increases to pay for it. The state has enough of our hard-earned money. If the state needs more money they can help improve the economy which will lead to more tax revenue. More people having jobs also means fewer people on government assistance freeing up funds to put into projects such as improved roads, which in turn help spur the economy. As part of switching Michigan over to a part-time Legislature I would like to bring back local control over many areas, including roads. For this to work the money also needs to be under local control, where the government is capable of being more efficient with your tax dollars than at the state level. 

GABERT: Last fall the governor signed a package of bills providing for funding road work. The full amount, $1.2 billion a year, will not be reached until 2021. The funding comes from a combination of an increase in taxes on fuel, an increase in car registration fees and $600 million a year out of the general fund. There being an extra $600 million a year in the general fund is predicated on economic growth, but there doesn’t seem to be a back-up plan other than taking from other, unspecified areas of spending. According to some estimates, $2 billion a year is needed by 2021, thus the $1.2 billion may well be inadequate. The voters had earlier said “no” to increasing the gas tax to pay for roads (although pay it they will now). The problem is the more we put off fixing our roads, bridges and other infrastructures, the more we will pay later. I would “help” the governor try to convince the public of this but it is his party that has made taxation and spending, in short has made paying for things, so toxic. Many Republicans in the legislature have signed no tax increase pledges (I did not) which hamstrings them and state government. I do not support repealing the Prevailing Wage Act. The savings of doing so are illusory according to many studies and we need to keep the construction trades viable in Michigan.

3.   Internet connectivity is important in developing the business infrastructure; what will you do to help connect businesses in more rural settings?

HOOK: The best solution is to allow private enterprise to generate the answers to business or other problem areas. When government steps in to “help” the costs go up and there is more control, regulations and cost to the business community. Entrepreneurs have given us the automobile, the computer, medicine and everything that touches our daily lives without direct governmental assistance. I am confident that there will be natural solutions to this problem. Some smaller communities have located an “anchor tenant” to make the expansion a financial reality along with the banding together of other businesses and individuals in the area. Big Rapids developed the Riverwalk with such a community effort, and internet connectivity can be another successful example of a community focus.

LANGWORTHY: I’ll stay out of the way of those businesses that are already here improving those services every day. Currently, there are Wireless Internet Service Providers (W.I.S.P.’s) starting up all over the state developing better ways to bring faster broadband to the area. As long as those new businesses are doing business in a fair and trustworthy way, let competition do its thing. As with all new technology, it always starts off slow and cumbersome, then before you know it, faster, smaller and cheaper isn’t far behind.

BRISCOE: Reducing state regulations on RF Towers for companies such as Casair can make it easier to expand internet coverage. Currently for a tower to be built, it must be approved through multiple layers of government: local, county, state and federal. The state can reduce regulation or at least streamline the process so companies seeking to expand in Michigan are not held up at the state level. Again, I do not feel it is necessary for government to encourage business through grants or special tax breaks as much as just get out of the way and let business grow. 

HOITENGA: Let’s face it, internet was once considered a luxury but is now a necessary and indispensable part of everyday living and vital to economic growth. I would label internet services in the same category as infrastructure. Having access to internet allows development and progress for services in agriculture, healthcare, education, entrepreneurism and so forth and those without internet are at a severe disadvantage. I have been consistent in my message of limited government except in cases of building and maintaining infrastructure. Government should pay close attention to this issue because of its necessity on the Michigan economy and families’ ability to get ahead. Although I am a proponent of free markets and non-governmental interference, I would support or sponsor legislation that (1) issues revenue bonds to raise capital for continued development of broadband services, (2) establishes partnerships with providers of telecommunications services and related entities to bring service to people in unserved areas, and (3) offer assistance to service providers via grants or indirect financial assistance. Local governments can make the internet better by repealing regulations or ordinances that block private investors from expanding their services. This is an example of the free markets working in conjunction with government to bring necessary services to the taxpayers who deserve to see their hard earned dollars spent on necessities to grow the economy.

GABERT: County, city, township leaders as well as the local chambers of commerce and MI Works offices in the district have brought all three counties to be designated Certified Connected Communities by Connect Michigan, a non-profit part of Connected Nation, which works with Michigan Public Service Commission to increase access and use of high speed internet throughout the state. The designation means that each county completed an assessment of broadband availability, developed a plan to expand this and to educate business and the public on the advantages of broadband use, and demonstrated that it meets national standards as a technologically advanced community. This a recent and impressive achievement (Osceola County received its designation this year; Wexford in 2015; and Mecosta in 2013) especially in light of where we were just a few years ago, and if elected I would trumpet this.

4.  What would you do in Lansing to fix the financial issues in K – 12 education systems?

LANGWORTHY: Lansing is not the place to fix anything with regards to education. The state is the best collector of taxes and disseminating equal funding throughout the state. However, the real financial issues in K-12 are not here in the 102nd, it’s in Detroit. One of my opponents says “No Bailouts.” So we deny those children of the state no education until they figure it out? No. We have an obligation to provide every child with an opportunity to the best education we can provide. As for DPS? Cut the district into manageable pieces. Have newly elected officials and administrators present plans for improvement to the state, and reward them with funding as they meet benchmarks. Close and consolidate many of the old buildings they haven’t needed and reduce the overhead. 

BRISCOE: The amount of money in our schools is not the problem, responsible use of it is. Increasing school choice in Michigan will go a long way towards getting more bang for our buck. But in order for schools, especially public schools, to be able to properly compete we need to change the game a bit. We start by eliminating Common Core that dictates from the top down and we work from the bottom up, starting with teachers and parents. The state should adopt an overall standard of what we expect from our students when they graduate and what we expect from our learning institutions that receive taxpayer money. As a legislature, we leave as much latitude as possible for the school board to determine how it will meet those standards, because the local school board is much more answerable to the parents and community than the state government. This will also give teachers the most room to be creative in their classroom. We all have our favorite teachers growing up, and they were never the ones who taught from the book or followed a strict curriculum. Our schools are not factories. The world today does not stand still. We need inventors, entrepreneurs, skilled trades, and minds that can find creative solutions to problems that do not exist yet. The cookie-cutter-children we design today will not fit into the world tomorrow. 

HOITENGA: The bottom line is, there is a direct correlation between socioeconomic factors (poverty) and academic failures that cannot be ignored. Therefore, the ultimate goal should be lifting poverty-stricken families out of dire circumstances via a strong economy, good paying jobs and strong communities. For example, how can a child who is hungry or distraught as a direct result of poverty possibly concentrate on a Common Core math problem? In addition, an expansion of high-quality early childhood programs can significantly help children and parents but education policy also needs to be approached with thorough evaluation and evidence-based outcomes to determine what actually works. Finally, Legislators can improve the education of Michigan’s students by allowing the local school boards to enact policies that best suit their school district at a local level. The state cannot possibly make ‘one size fits all’ decisions at the state level when each school has such unique circumstances, issues and goals. Important decision making can only be successfully achieved by administrators who know their school’s administrations, students and communities best. I will support any and all legislation that encourages all of the above solutions. I will also attentively listen to the teachers and administers who walk the walk in this profession and can offer viable solutions. Investing in our schools should remain a top priority but with oversight and accountability to catch any failing or corrupt entities that are abusing the system as we have seen in the Detroit School System. 

HOOK: The state education budget for the 2016-2017 year is the largest in history with $12 billion going to our schools plus another $2 billion in federal dollars. The budget has increased yearly since 2010, while the student population has been decreasing. Like every other situation, we must live within our means, cooperate with other districts and build a stronger economy. Reducing the paperwork demands from the state, which eats up teacher and administrator time, and allowing that time to be spent with students, will stretch the available dollars and take some of the pressure off the schools. The “crisis” in education, of which most speak, is the financial failure of Detroit Public Schools and the 17 administrators on their way to prison for financial fraud. This bailout and the 17 trials have addressed this crisis to some degree. Our local school districts live within their means and make the necessary adjustments based on the strength of the economy.  We need to give them their due for care of their finances and their mission. Finally, the real crisis, in my opinion, is the lack of achievement by the students in schools such as those in Detroit. With fewer than 10 percent of the students proficient in reading and math, these children will not be prepared for their adult lives as workers in a world that requires complex skills. 

GABERT: The K-12 per pupil foundation grant began to drop for the 2009-2010 fiscal year and the drop continued through 2012-13, nudging up only slightly the following fiscal year and then again by less than $200 (to $7,251) for 2014-15.  The latest education budget raises the foundation grant to between 7,511 and 8,229, making a small attempt to offset the disparity of funding between the lowest-funded and highest-funded schools. I think the constitutional guarantee of free public education implies that there is at least some degree of equity in that education, so that a public education in Detroit or Flint resembles that of a public education in Ada or Forest Hills. We lack this now. In some schools class sizes even in the elementary grades exceeds 40, which is more warehousing than education. I support greater funding for K-12 (and pre-K and post-secondary) education and would support using more general fund dollars for this. As mentioned above I believe we could spend less on corrections and more on schools. And to increase the general fund I think we need to re-visit the business tax. This year, for instance, refunds from tax credits given during the previous administration exceed tax receipts from the new corporate income tax, which in turn generated less revenue than expected.