By Paul Rozycki
It was the morning of the Fourth of July, when most people are preparing for picnics, hot dogs, and fireworks, and it was hot and humid on Mott Lake. But that didn’t prevent four of the six Democrats running for the 49th state House of Representatives seat from attending a lakefront candidate forum at Bluebell Beach.
As part of The Tom Sumner Radio Program’s regular broadcast, (92.1, WFOV) John Cherry, Jacky King, Dayne Walling and Don Wright responded to questions from a panel of political pundits. Candidates LaShaya Darisaw and Justin Dickerson were also invited but unable to attend. A dozen or so interested voters and candidate volunteers were in attendance.
John Cherry has worked for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and served as vice-chair for the Flint Charter Commission, which created the recently adopted city charter. Jacky King is a community activist, urban farmer and martial arts instructor, running for the first time. Dayne Walling is the former mayor of Flint. Ex-marine and GM employee Don Wright, who ran for the office in 2013, said he was motivated by his wife, who served 20 years as Flint Township treasurer, to get involved in politics.
The candidates are running in what many consider to be the most watched statehouse race in Genesee County this primary season. The 49th District covers the southwest parts of the city of Flint, Swartz Creek, Mt. Morris city and township, Flint Township and Flushing. It’s currently represented by Democrat Phil Phelps who is term limited and running for a state Senate seat. Republican David Duvendeck is unopposed for his party’s nomination in August. However, the district usually votes Democratic and the winner of the Democratic primary normally has a large advantage in November.
While it may have been Independence Day, there were few fireworks between the candidates. As might be expected, there was agreement on many issues. They all generally felt that the key issues were creating jobs, repairing the roads, fixing the state’s infrastructure, and improving Michigan’s educational system. Walling argued there was a need to change the funding formula for schools, and a need for an infrastructure bank to seek funds for infrastructure improvement.
Skeptical about charters
Asked about charter schools, most of the candidates were skeptical of charters, particularly those run by for-profit corporations. Both Cherry and Walling said charters should be required to meet the same standards of accountability and transparency that traditional public schools must meet. King was willing to accept charters as long as they had appropriate oversight. Asked about the proposed new charter school to be located in the Cultural Center, Wright was opposed, King and Walling generally liked the idea, and Cherry had doubts, but could accept it with appropriate oversight, and possibly a change in the funding formula.
Opposed to emergency manager law
Their response to the emergency manager law, which governed Flint and many other Michigan communities in the last decade was similar. They were all opposed. King said “It hurt Flint. People need their own government.” Walling called the most recent version of the law undemocratic and said it “should be repealed,” and that he was “angry with it every single day” when he was mayor. Wright also opposed the measure and said it was best “to keep it local.” Cherry said it “has not worked,” and that “you can’t just solve problems on the expense side, you have to address the revenue side” of local finance. He also said that Flint wasn’t alone and there were four other municipalities in the 49th District which faced unfunded legacy costs. He felt that the use of the emergency manager law has led to “apathy about self-government” and caused voters to lose interest in the political process.
Protect the kids, represent the people, vote for democracy
In the candidate’s closing remarks, Cherry told of holding his 18 month-old daughter as she cried while being tested for lead, and realizing that her pain had been caused by government hurting its citizens through misconduct. He said that government’s first priority should be to “protect the kids.” He said he hopes to work for that if he goes to Lansing.
King said his role was to “represent the people,” particularly those businesspeople who “can’t pay taxes,” and that parental responsibility was critical to personal success.
Walling said “Democracy is critical at the state level,” and that people “need to get involved in the process.” He urged voters to “take your vote seriously” because “states can stand up to a tyrannical federal government. Our system depends on strong states.”
Wright said he “had no money (for the campaign) but lots of heart” and that he is a right-to-life candidate, not a right-to-work candidate. He spoke strongly against those who protest or burn the flag. He said he’s “not a politician,” and his priorities are “God, county, people and myself,” and that he “is running to make a difference”.
The primary election is Aug. 7.
EVM political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com.