Republican State Rep candidates take part in candidate forum
CENTREVILLE — St. Joseph County’s candidates for state representative got their chance to appeal to voters in a public setting at a candidate forum held last week.
The forum was held Wednesday, June 1 on the concourse of Glen Oaks Community College and was hosted by the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce and Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce. All four Republican candidates for 36th District State Representative – Jack Coleman, Jerry Solis, Steve Carra and Scott McGraw – participated, while Democratic candidate Roger Williams was not in attendance.
Candidates discussed a multitude of issues and topics during the hour-long forum, with questions both from moderator Joe Haas and pre-submitted questions from the public. Over two dozen members of the public attended the forum.
When asked about what additional revenue in the state budget should be used for, as the state budget is expected to go up by about $9 billion in the next fiscal year, Solis, a pastor and former police officer, said some of it should be used to help first responders.
“We are losing first responders left and right to higher-paying counties and districts, and I think that needs to be addressed,” Solis said. “Public safety needs to be one of our most important things to focus on.”
Others, however, were a little more hesitant to use the money for anything significant or even specific, generally saying the state should manage their money better or even give back the additional money.
“We have a Republican majority in the House and the Senate, and we have the power of the purse. Part of the problem is a lot of this is federal passthrough dollars from ARP funds and things of that nature. It’s matching grants and money that comes if the state spends an extra $50 million here you get $50 million from the government,” Carra, the incumbent candidate for the state House, said. “To me, that’s a violation of the 10th Amendment, that’s coercion upon the states. We should be able to decide how to spend our money without being coerced to it by the federal government.”
“They’re talking about this huge budget, but what they’re not telling you is they managed to get us further in debt,” Coleman, a retired Navy chief and current road commission and Park Township planning commission board member, said. “We need to start managing our money better. We’re overtaxed, let’s use taxes at the gas pump. We’re one of the states where the least amount gets applied to roads; that doesn’t make sense.”
“I say it’s time to go on a diet. With $71 billion, and it’s going to be $75 billion, What happens when all that federal money goes away? That’s the money that’s making our inflation and the money that’s contributing to our gas problem,” McGraw, a local businessman, said. “I’d set that money aside or give it back. It’s bigger than just one state rep can do, but we need to control this stuff. It’s not helping this economy and not helping this country.”
Candidates were also asked about how they would keep citizens safe from gun violence in public places in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y. and Uvalde, Texas. The response from them was either to put more cops in schools, having more healthy home environments and getting back to “traditional values” in schools.
“I would suggest what we start doing is funneling some wasted money, like DEI [the state Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion], to putting officers in schools. I also suggest we do full training of every teacher, training them how to react in these violent situations,” McGraw said. “I think if we get on the aggressive and protect our schools, we’d see better results from that.”
“You can’t legislate morality. It’s something we’ve done over the years in our country and in our communities is condone the opposite of the sanctity of life. We’re not valuing life from the womb to the tomb. That’s one of our biggest reasons I believe that violence exists because we’re teaching a culture that it’s okay to not value life,” Solis said. “It’s much more of a heart issue than it is a – we need more equipped law enforcement, but we need to go, I gotta be honest, we need prayer back in schools.”
“What we need is a healthier society, a strong family unit, a conservative Christian society, that’s what’s best for our community going forward,” “This jamming things down our throats is jading a lot of society towards having mental health issues. Personal responsibility, a strong family unit, a Christian family is something that’d pay immense dividends. Get government out of the way and let parents and guardians raise our kids.”
“We’ve lost our traditional family values with the father being the role model for kids,” Coleman said. “We hear about kitchen table issues, but they no longer exist, but they’re driveway issues. If dad is pulling in from a hard day of work, mom is leaving and passing by the dad from a hard day of watching kids. We need to get back to those traditional values. For schools, they are soft targets and we need to strengthen them. You can argue which way to do it, but because schools are considered soft targets, that’s why we’re seeing tragedy.”
Later, candidates were asked about their stance on issues regarding EMTs and first responders. Most of the candidates had varied answers as to how to solve the issues.
“I would like to see the cities and townships, where possible, have a consortium and come together to lower costs,” Carra said. “The ambulance drivers today, if you can get paid $17 or $18 an hour there, you can get $20 and hour at McDonald’s. This is a tragic situation for our first responders, and we need a vibrant economy. The whole problem that’s causing all this is the redistribution of wealth from the hard-working middle class.”
“There is no silver bullet that will fix it all. The problem is the paramedics and EMTs aren’t getting paid enough, especially when you become a paramedic,” Coleman said. “Another thing that’s also keeping it not as healthy as it should be is that Medicaid hasn’t increased their payments in over 20 years. These hospital runs these ambulances do, they’re losing money on it. Insurance isn’t paying enough to keep the companies healthy where they can pay competitive wages to the paramedics and EMTs.”
“We’ve got townships in Cass County that are working to help St. Joseph County townships, and it’s neat to see that come together. Some are spending ARPA dollars to achieve some of this stuff too,” McGraw said. “It’s easier to be an RN to be an ambulance driver, and if the dollars aren’t there, the dollars aren’t there. We need to work at working together, and if there’s anything we can do at the state level, I’d be interested in supporting that.”
“One of the things that’s very much needed is competitive wages. This needs to become a place to come to and stay at,” Solis said. “We need to have voices throughout the community telling townships and cities to pay them more. They’ll do what we tell them to do ultimately. There’s also a way for every township to begin to work together and share resources more than they are right now to be more strategic about it.”
At the end of the forum, the candidates asked what their plans would be if they lost the election, something that became a bit of a touchy subject during the 2020 race when Coleman announced his write-in candidacy for the general election after losing to Carra in the primary that year. Carra referenced that in his response to the question, the only time any candidate made a purported jab at another during the forum.
“When I won last time, if I had lost I would not have ran a write-in campaign. It’s time to unite and come together to beat the Democrat in November,” Carra said. “If I am to lose, I would not only not run a write-in campaign, but I will vote for any of these three guys if they come out as the winner.”
Coleman responded by saying he would “not abandon the district,” noting that if he loses the primaries, he has other avenues to explore.
“If I have proved anything, I stay strong, I fight, and I don’t give up when I think something is right. I will not leave and I will not abandon our district,” Coleman said. “What will I do if I lose? There’s some other avenues that have been pointed out in my direction. I’ll continue to serve as a road commissioner and I’ll continue to serve the people of St. Joseph and Cass County in Michigan in some sort of capacity.”
Other candidates said they would probably run again in the future if they lost the primary.
“I could probably retire. I’m in a position for that, but I don’t want to retire from doing things,” McGraw said. “Who knows, I might run again. It’s only a two-year period.”
“I will continue to pastor the church that I pastor today, and I probably want to get involved in the school board. It’s a passion of mine. I could posture myself to see what happens next cycle and see if I want to run again depending on the voice of the people,” Solis said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org.