MUNDY TWP. — In the race for the 49th District State House of Representatives seat, there are seven candidates – six Democrats and one Republican – all vying for the seat being vacated by the outgoing Phil Phelps.
Phelps, who is term limited, is seeking the 32nd State Senate seat.
The Genesee Intermediate School District partnered June 18 with the Genesee County Association of School Board Members (GCASBM), and the League of Women Voters, to host a Candidate Forum to help inform the public about the 2018 candidates running for State House of Representatives and State Senate seats representing Genesee County.
Candidates responded to questions on a variety of topics from Public Education to Healthcare, and other community issues of interest.
Three candidates in the 49th district House race attended the forum. They were Justin Dickerson (D-Flushing), John D. Cherry (D-Flint) and Dayne Walling (D-Flint).
Not attending were Democrats LaShaya Darlsaw, Jacky King and Don Wright. Also absent was the sole Republican candidate, Patrick Duvendeck.
The district covers Flushing, Mt. Morris, Mt. Morris Township, the City of Flint, Flint Township and Swartz Creek.
Dickerson, the principal at Bentley High School, said he is running for office because he lost a bet to a student. After challenging a student not to drop out of school, the student counter-challenged Dickerson to complete everything on a list of goals he had for himself – one being to run for public office – so the principal did.
Walling, the former mayor of Flint, said he wants to get government back on the side of people.
“People have gotten one raw deal after another,” he said. “From serving as mayor I know change is difficult, and I have the bruises to show for it. But my spirit is strong.”
Cherry, son of former lieutenant governor John Cherry, grew up Vienna Township and has bachelors and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan.
He said he has worked for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources executive section, is the owner of Flint Coffee Company with his wife, and served on the charter commission in the city of Flint.
The first question asked of the candidates was if they had read a report suggesting Michigan schools were under-performing, specifically in the area of third grade reading scores. What they thought of the report and their thoughts on whether the state was failing in education.
Walling said public education has so many opportunities, adding there are amazing teachers in the classrooms across the state, but we are asking them to do “mission impossible.”
“Students are falling behind, test scores are not where we want them,” he said. “I want every high school graduate to be ready for the college of their choice, with scholarships available for all students.”
He also said he think two semesters of high school civics should be required of all students.
Cherry said third grade reading scores are already far behind. He said a child’s first educator is the parent and he wants to see more resources provided for parents.
“So students are not falling behind before they even start school,” said Cherry. “There are no resources, but we still have the opportunity to make sure kids are not falling behind.
Dickerson said as a high school principal, he’s seen SAT scores improve, but adds the target is always moving.
“Benchmarks are always moving, never sticking in one place,” he said. “It’s hard, hard to hit a moving target.”
He added what is needed in education is different programs, different compa- nies and different ideas.
The next question asked was about the candidates’ views on engaging voters and making voting more accessible to the public.
Cherry said there should be no reason needed absentee voting, with people being able to verify eligibility when they register for a license or state ID with the Secretary of State’s office.
Dickerson said elections look same as 50 years ago, for the most part. He said society has moved on and so has technology.
“Technology is what they’re used to,” he said. “Technology is not utilized as much as it could be (in voting). Registration should also be easier.”
Walling said he also believes in everyone’s right to vote, allowing equal representation and funding to democracy.
“Voting should be well protected and widely accessible,” he said. “With same day registration, put citizens first, limit lobbyists, and I would lead the way to repeal laws allowing solicitation of funds from super PACS (political action committees).”
The panel then asked if the candidates believed Michigan schools were underfunded and if so, how would they change the method of funding.
Dickerson said he would look at how schools are funded. He favors less local control, pointing to the amount of money spent to keep three schools districts in Burton – Bendle, Bentley and Atherton, together still collectively smaller than Flushing – as they are instead of merging them.
Walling said he favors free public and secondary schools, without discrimination, that need a truly fair and sustainable funding system.
“As state representative, I’d work to broaden the use of the sales tax as the base of funding for education,” said Walling. “When kids need to talk to a career counselor, or mental health professional, it shouldn’t be an add-on. That’s part of my vision on how to serve kids.”
Cherry said there are hundreds of millions available that are not used in the public education system. The money goes to community colleges and higher education.
“We need ways to stop raiding the school aid fund,” he said. “Schools are underfunded, we should not raid the school aid fund, or alter per pupil funding.”
Each candidate was allowed to make closing remarks at the conclusion of the forum.
Walling said there is so much at stake that state, local and regional government must make consequential decisions where people aren’t afraid to have conversations about it.
“We need to end polarization,” he said. “I could strengthen our democracy. There were difficult lessons learned at the mayor’s desk and I have had conversations with voters, citizens, about what we want our state to be.”
He said the government needs to get beyond talking points and get down to solutions. The education system won’t have money if we don’t take on issue of funding.
Cherry said he thinks he has the background and experience for the position, and adds his decision to run for the seat was based on his work with the charter commission and the issues he dealt with there.
“On the charter commission I was not able to move the needle much,” he said “As far as local funding, I couldn’t impact that, that’s an issue that impacts city and townships. In my family I have a 16-month old daughter. As far as her future is concerned, there’s not a solution right now. We have to make sure we deliver real solutions.”
Dickerson said he’s a political outside and is “not in the good old boys club.” Hard work is important, but what do we do to make schools better? His message is to start small and work up.
The primary election will be Aug. 7, with the general election Nov. 6.