21 Oct Wiejaczka, O’Malley talk economy, roads, education
The following article is part one in a two part series, following a voters forum held on Tuesday night. Part one features responses from two candidates running for Michigan’s 101st District House of Representatives seat.
ONEKAMA — The competition heated up between two candidates vying for the Michigan 101st District House of Representatives seat on Tuesday, during a voters forum held at the Farr Center in Onekama.
Democrat Kathy Wiejaczka faces Jack O’Malley, Republican, in the House race, while State Rep. Curt VanderWall, (R), and his challengers Democrat Mike Taillard and Libertarian Timothy Coon, are running for the 35th Senate District. Coon was not at the forum.
The nonpartisan organization League of Women Voters of Manistee County (LWV) hosted Tuesday’s forum in conjunction with the Manistee News Advocate. Wiejaczka and O’Malley were first up.
Each candidate was prompted to answer three prepared questions, and were allowed two minutes to provide a response. In the audience portion of the night, candidates were asked nine questions and had 90 seconds to respond.
Mediator Michelle Graves, managing editor of the News Advocate, asked candidates to introduce themselves.
For more than 30 years, O’Malley has been a voice in the community through WTCM FM in Traverse City. He has spent 34 years interviewing people like politicians and business leaders, and is involved with many community initiatives.
He currently lives in Lake Ann with his family.
“The reason I am running is after many years of being in broadcasting, listening and following and paying attention — not just to the 101st, but all of northern Michigan — I felt this was something I could do,” said O’Malley. “My goals are to make sure it is not just me going to Lansing, but I am representing the people of the 101st.”
A resident of Empire Township for 36 years, Wiejaczka has worked as a registered nurse for 39 years and has experience as a pediatric charge nurse, obstetrics, a mental health nurse, special education school nurse, hospital supervisor, home care nurse and a nursing instructor.
She also has worked with many groups in her community.
“(It) has given me an eye for the needs of the people,” said Wiejaczka. “People have always come first in my life. I put myself second. And that’s what most nurses have done. What started me on this is noticing and becoming quite frustrated that the votes coming out of Lansing seem to reflect the pockets that the legislators were in…”
Graves asked candidates to explain how they plan to create focused economic growth, and where they advocate to expend state resources.
Up first, Wiejaczka said her focus is improving infrastructure like high speed internet, roads and bringing in more job growth, along with improvements needed in Michigan.
“There’s a lot that needs to be done in this state,” she said. “In many ways we are further behind. Small business is a big portion of most people’s employment in this state. We need to beef up what we do for small businesses.”
Wiejaczka also spoke on ways to bring new people to northern Michigan.
“This could be the perfect draw for young people, but high speed internet and affordable housing are not available in many, many areas,” Wiejaczka said. “People look at the location before they look at what job they are going to do there… research shows that has been the case for a lot of people.”
O’Malley responded with his thoughts on Gov. Rick Snyder’s leadership in Michigan. He believes the current problem is finding a way to “continue” growth in Michigan.
“There are a lot of angles to increasing the economy, but I would say under Gov. Snyder our economy has been coming back,” O’Malley said. “We have increased a lot of jobs. I think things are improving.”
On a similar note, O’Malley said more support needs to be put toward small businesses, as well.
“We need to make sure our taxes are low and our regulations are reasonable,” he said. “I think that, again, our education, schools, our housing — that is very important. Here in northern Michigan, I think that as your legislator I would work with our local communities, local counties, local townships to make sure their zoning is conducive to bringing those small businesses here.”
Candidates were also asked to describe how they would address funding for state, local and main/county roads, which have been in a state of deterioration for a number of years.
O’Malley said, even if road commissions were given additional funds, they would not be able to increase the amount repaired, due to a lack of time, workers and feasibility.
“There was that lost decade, 10 years where we did not put any money into the roads — of course they deteriorated,” he said. “PA51 is how roads are paid for, and what we need to do for funding is get every available dollar into it.
“(Area road commission leaders) said they were at 100 percent capacity at fixing roads at this time, the only thing that would make it better is if they had more crews that were able to continue to fix roads.”
In her response, Wiejaczka said funds need to be properly appropriated to the roads, and not distributed to other parts of the budget.
“Michigan has some of the highest road taxes in the nation,” said Wiejaczka. “Those taxes tend not to go to the roads, they go to other things. If we would take all of the road taxes and applied them to the roads, we would not have a problem.
“If you go across to Ohio, those roads are looking very, very good compared to Michigan’s.”
Michigan is a bottom 10 state for educational outcomes, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It ranks 34th in Baccalaureate Degree attainment for its citizens, and 36th in income among states. Both candidates were asked to explain the root cause and provide solutions.
Referencing her experience as an educator, Wiejaczka said additional funding has to go toward schools, and there needs to be more support staff members, as well.
“I know our kids deserve better,” Wiejaczka said. “The appropriation of funding is inadequate, research has shown right now we are getting, up in this area, $7,600 per student, and we at least need $9,300 per student. That money could be used in so many ways.”
O’Malley agreed with the need to improve Michigan’s education system. He said work needs to be done in the future to improve funding, and the school system as a whole.
“I think that, number one, our funding system is pretty screwed up when it comes to schools,” O’Malley said. “I don’t know exactly what we can do as one representative, but I do think there is something there needs to be done… I think we need to look at how things are done.”
Each candidate was allowed to make a closing statement; Wiejaczka was first up.
“A vote for me is a vote for the people, I’ve said that already,” Wiejaczka said. “I have been on the trail since January, been knocking doors… I truly believe that I can represent this district and unify it, build relationships. People have cried on my shoulder at the doors, people are suffering.”
O’Malley also gave his final statement.
“In my many years of broadcasting I have worked hard for veterans organizations and groups,” he said. “I have worked many years helping foster kids… I don’t brag about those things because those are personal. I am here to represent you; I am here to work hard.”
Source: Manistee News Advocate
October 17, 2018