Candidates meet voters

HANCOCK-The 2014 Candidates Forum on Children’s Issues and Voter Registration Information, held Friday at the Hancock Middle School Auditorium, provided community members with the chance to ask questions, and to get a first-hand look at where candidates stand.

Presented by the Copper Country Human Services Coordinating Body, Copper Country Great Start Collaborative, the Copper Country League of Women Voters and the Superior Child Abuse Prevention Council, Friday’s forum allowed candidates for the 38th Senate District, the 110th State Representative and candidates for the Houghton County District 1 and 3 Commissioners the opportunity to share their stances on issues related to children and families.

Attending the forum were State Senate 38th District candidates Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and Christopher Germain (D-Escanaba), 110th State Representative candidate Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), Houghton County District 1 Commissioner candidate Rick Kasprzak (D), and Houghton County District 3 Commissioner candidate Anton Pintar (D). 110th State Representative candidate Bob Michaels (R-Ironwood Township), Houghton County District 1 Commissioner candidate Eugene Londo (R) and Houghton County District 3 Commissioner candidate Mark Kemppainen (R) were invited, but unable to attend.

Candidates were able to comment on a range of child- and family-related issues, fielding audience-submitted questions. Each candidate had the opportunity to make a one-minute opening statement, had one minute to answer each question, and then were able to make a one-minute closing statement. Topics touched on by the State Senate and Representative candidates included test scores, child poverty rates and unemployment, kindergarden readiness, college costs, and mental health services, while candidates for Houghton County Commissioner discussed topics including overall vision for the county, county-wide public transportation, development of a new jail, activities for youth, the arts, and blight in local communities.

Kazprzak expressed a desire to maintain current services, as well as add opportunities in Houghton County.

“I’d like to see jobs move into the area, that’s one of the things we’re doing is losing our brightest, and our best, and our youngest, they move out of the area because they don’t have any jobs when they get out of school. So, I’d like to see more opportunity in the area, and I think that’s something that we can do if we put our minds to it,” Kazprzak said.

Both Pintar and Kazprzak emphasized a desire to preserve the Houghton County Medical Care Facility.

“(The facility) needs millage to keep its budget balanced. One of my plans is, when it comes up for a vote on the County Board of Commissioners, I will vote to put that millage on the ballot, and I will ask voters for a yes vote on that millage,” Pintar said.

The local candidates differed, however, when it came to implementing county-wide public transportation. Pintar said he did not support the idea, and thought that the number of users simply wouldn’t be there in some areas. Kazprzak, however, did support the idea, and suggested looking at the existing program in Gogebic County, and seeing if portions of their plan would be adaptable for Houghton County.

Kazprzak said that providing opportunities will be key in providing a safe atmosphere for area youth.

“I’d like to see more opportunities for young people around here, and there are a lot of times that I feel that there aren’t enough things for them to do, enough safe places for them to go,” Kazprzak said.

Barry Fink, Secretary for the CCLWV, said that, despite absent candidates, she was pleased that the forum was able to move forward in a flexible manner.

“It’s always better if we don’t have to have empty chairs, but we’re glad that we have the flexibility to be able to go ahead with the candidates we do get involved.” Fink said.

Kathy Flagstadt, voter service for the CCLWV, said that she was pleased to see audience participation in the forum, despite the weather being less than perfect.

“It was nice to we had audience, and we had audience questions and participation, and we are thankful for everyone coming out on such a rainy evening and a Friday night,” Flagstadt said.

Dianda said that participation in events like Friday’s forum are important for candidates, to engage with the public.

“Even our federal level candidates need to be here, all of our local and state. That’s something that’s very important to the electoral body is that we have people that are engaged in the process,” Dianda said.

The candidates, though hoping for a larger audience and a full turnout as well, generally agreed that the forum was a good opportunity for candidates to meet with their public.

Germain felt the forum was an important opportunity for the community to see candidates in person, and delve more deeply into the issues.

“People always feel disenfranchised from politicians. (The forum is) an opportunity for people to come out and meet us, not necessarily one-on-one, but they at least get a better feel for who we are, and they get to see us in person,” Germain said.

Casperson said that participation is key, as once the candidates are done speaking, the decision is in the public’s hands.

“It gives us a chance to share our opinion, and certainly people are going to see the differences in the opinions, and then ultimately there’s not much we can do after that. It’s up to the people to decide who they want to vote for,” Casperson said. “I think it’s good. The more participation the better. The more people are engaged in those questions, the better the system.”

Flagstadt said that, though the forum was focused on the topic of children and family, the issues discussed at the forum are widely important.

“Children’s issues really affect all of us, at all age levels, the whole spectrum,” Flagstadt said. “It affects all ages through the life cycle.”

The forum will be available to view in its entirety on the Copper Country League of Women Voter’s website, www.lwvccmi.org, and the CCLWV and the Daily Mining Gazette have also published a voter’s guide, which is available now at various locations throughout the community. Absentee ballots are still available for the Nov. 4 elections, and can be requested from the County Clerk, City Clerk, or Township Clerk. Absentee ballot applications are due Nov. 1.