Candidates for U.S. Congress, Michigan legislative and Oakland County Commission seats fielded some tough questions from students a Harrison High School Thursday.
The morning candidate forum is a precursor to next week's mock election at the school, which will be overseen by the Farmington Hills city clerk's office. It gave senior Connor Rubin a chance to sit in the same position as Candy Crowley, Martha Raddatz and Jim Lehrer did during recent presidential and vice presidential debates.
Rubin said the mock election gives students who may be able to vote this fall valuable experience with the process.
"It shows you what you'll be doing," he said. "And even if you can't vote in the real election, your voice will be heard."
Congressman Gary Peters (D-9th Congressional), the only Congressional candidate to attend, talked to students about the new 14th Congressional District, which he and Republican John Hauler of Grosse Pointe Woods are both running to represent.
"This is the first district in decades that crosses Eight Mile," Peters said of the historic metro area dividing line. "You have an elected official that truly has one foot in the City of Detroit and one foot in the suburbs. It's an opportunity for communities to come together."
Peters took questions about regional transit, which he supports, making college more affordable, getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and improving the performance of U.S. students by starting with early childhood education, which he said is a "significant investment" the country needs to make.
"It allows children to get the resources they need," Peters said. "Every dollar has a huge return to the taxpayers."
State House Dist. 37
State House candidates Vicki Barnett, the Democratic incumbent in the 37th District, and Republican challenger Bruce Lilley, responded to questions about Michigan's education system, the International Bridge project, which they both support, and each took a turn talking about a state ballot proposal they support.
Barnett backs Proposal 3, which would set a standard for 25 percent of Michigan's energy to come from renewable resources by 2025. She pointed out that the proposal includes a 1 percent cap on utility rates, "so it's not that huge spike in rates everybody's talking about."
Lilley talked about Proposal 1, which would reinstate Michigan's Emergency Manager Law, which was suspended in August. While he said he believes strongly in the bond between voters and elected officials, "there's a point where that bond is dissolved" by elected officials' actions.
"Then the state has an obligation to step in and ... bring the city back to financial solvency," he said.
Oakland County 14th District
Students also heard from Oakland County Commission 14th District candidate Todd Stearn, a Democrat from Beverly Hills, and from Cathy Webb, who read a statement from incumbent Bill Dwyer, a Farmington Hills Republican, who she said was attending a county board meeting.
"Bill's first job, which he takes very seriously, is to act as county commissioner, not to campaign," Webb said, noting Dwyer has a 100 percent attendance record during his first term.
Webb said Dwyer serves on more committees than any other commissioner. "It's no wonder that Brooks Patterson has called Bill 'the hardest working commissioner'," she said.
Prior to the forum, Stearn noted in a press release that Dwyer's absence was only confirmed the day before the event. “I would have liked another opportunity to meet Mr. Dwyer to find out about his opinions, since they were so lacking the first time around,” Stearn said, referring to the Council of Homeowners debate held Oct. 2.
Stearn answered questions about the International Bridge, which he said he supports and Dwyer opposed in a "symbolic vote" taken earlier this year. He cited "jobs and the economy" as the county's top issue and said of the 175,000 jobs Oakland County lost between 2000 and 2010, only 23,000 have come back.
"We have to do more to create jobs," he told students, suggesting the county could hire people to help small business owners fill out the large amount of paperwork required to obtain Small Business Administration loans.
Farmington Hills city council member Richard Lerner, a member of the Committee to Increase Voter Participation, reminded students they can register to vote if they are eligible in the school's guidance office.