This year the race for the 32nd State Senatorial seat currently held by Dr. Roger Kahn, whom is departing due to term-limits, is a battle being waged between Frankenmuth Republican Ken Horn and Saginaw Democrat Stacy Erwin Oakes, both whom have served in the Michigan House Representatives from the 94th & 95th districts respectively.
With recent redistricting in effect, the new boundaries for the 32nd District that once consisted of Saginaw & Gratiot counties, is now comprised of all Saginaw County and a western slice of Genesee County that includes the cities of Montrose, Flushing & Linden, along with the townships of Montrose, Flushing, Clayton, Gaines, Argentine & Fenton, which now shifts the complexion of the district from being evenly split between Republicans & Democrats to a situation that favors the Democratic base by an estimated 5 percentage points – a change that prompted Oakes to not seek re-election to her House position, but pursue this State Senate seat instead.
Horn has lived in Saginaw County for over 30 years and graduated from Concordia University with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. He was a small business owner for nearly 15 years, operating Horn’s Restaurant in Frankenmuth. After selling the business, Ken served as a substitute teacher in Bridgeport & Frankenmuth schools. He later became the Vice President of Donor Services at the Saginaw Community Foundation in 2004, where he managed over 300 funds and oversaw the nearly $1.2 million grant programs that helped improved Saginaw County.
Ken served as a Saginaw County Commissioner for 14 years before being elected to the State House and established a solid reputation for bi-partisanship. He was one of the few County Commissioners to oppose the countywide smoking ban, noting that it was an infringement upon personal liberties that radically redefined the notion of property rights; and he also organized the DART league (Democrats & Republicans Together) – an informal gathering that brought leaders of opposing parties together to discuss and deliberate both their differences and areas of agreement.
Ken currently serves as Vice Chairman of the House Energy & Technology Committee and also serves on Committees of Tourism, Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources & Oversight & Investigations.
Stacy Erwin Oakes obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in criminal justice from Ferris State University and later earned her teaching certification while working as a corrections officer at the Saginaw Correctional Facility. She earned her law degree from Detroit College of Law and Michigan State University while working for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. She taught at Central Middle and Saginaw High Schools and upon graduation from law school, accepted a position with the Michigan House of Representatives as a policy analyst. She was later appointed to the Michigan Attorney General’s office, serving under both Jennifer Granholm and Mike Cox.
Oakes was elected as State Representative in a November 2010 special election for the seat vacated by Andy Coulouris and was re-elected to a second term in the 2012 election, defeating her opponent by a substantial 77% of the vote.
In the hopes of allowing for a more informed electorate, the Review submitted the following questions to each candidate for this Senate Race Candidate Forum prior to the November 4th general election.
Review: Please explain how your education and ability to effectively negotiate within the political arena distinguishes you from your opponent in terms of your ability to effectively serve as our next State Senator.
Horn: Negotiating in the political arena is all about hard work and building relationships. One of my strengths has always been connecting people to solve problems. After thirty years of working with the people of Saginaw County; whether in the hospitality business, partnering with charities or working with public officials, the friendships and connections we’ve made help us solve problems of all sorts. – It’s about perspective. I’ve been there. I’ve had to meet a payroll. I understand how the decisions made in Lansing affect us in places like Saginaw, Freeland and Fenton.
Oakes: Did not respond.
Review: As of August 2014, Michigan’s unemployment rate of 7.4% ranks our state as the sixth highest in the country, tied with California & Tennessee, which is an improvement from a decade ago when we were at the top of the list. Yet economists agree the main reason Michigan’s unemployment rate is falling is because the labor force is shrinking fast, with a 4.6% loss of workforce since the recovery began in mid-2009. What specific policies would you advance that would improve this situation within our state & region?
Horn: I will place a high priority on job training for the nearly 80,000 high skilled jobs that are currently vacant in Michigan. Not every student wants or needs to attend a four-year university to find a great career that pays well. Michigan needs to embrace manufacturing again and reform education to let students achieve success in all areas of today’s economy.
With the progress that Michigan has made in the past few years, it is important to focus on STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). STEM, combined with hands-on learning, a top priority for those people that want to fill skilled trades and high tech manufacturing jobs. Local manufacturers will tell you that there are about 1000 machinist jobs sitting vacant in this region. Whatever career our young people choose, we need to provide the right training to ensure their success.
The Community Ventures Program is designed to solve problems for the chronically unemployed in Saginaw and Flint; moving people from welfare to work. I believe it is so important to reducing unemployment that I have personally invested in the program. Currently; Community Ventures program has better than an 80% retention rate.
Oakes: No response.
Review: Michigan’s fresh water is one of its most important resources linked to tourism which is one of Michigan’s pivotal economic drivers, yet is increasingly becoming threatened from radioactive disposal sites slated for development from Canada, along with the accelerated pace of hydraulic fracturing throughout the state, which has an established track record of contaminating ground water with hazardous chemicals currently exempt from identification & restriction under the Halliburton loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act. Michigan is also accepting contaminated fracking waste from states that have banned its storage & disposal. As of June 2014, a total of 418 actions passed against fracking have occurred in the United States. Do you support banning the storage of this waste in Michigan and/or legislation that would impose a moratorium or ban on hydraulic fracturing?
Horn: I served on the House Energy and Technology Committee and was Chairman in my final term. The Canadian radioactive waste question concerns its nuclear waste and has little to do with natural gas drilling. As I understand it, the waste will not be in Michigan, but rather buried in the Great Lakes Basin along Lake Huron. In either case, I would oppose this measure. It is a federal issue that readers should be aware of and should voice their opinions to the U.S. Congressional delegation.
Hydraulic fracturing waste coming from Pennsylvania is abhorrent to me, and should be stopped.
Locally, Michigan has been doing this type of energy exploration for decades without incident. I support Michigan’s energy independence and would encourage its growth, in order to provide great, high-paying jobs, while protecting Michigan’s Great Lakes.
Oakes: No Response.
Review: What specific legislation have you authored that you are most proud of and what current legislation are you advancing that will impact & improve our state & region?
Horn: In terms of authoring legislation, I wrote the Family Dignity Act, which limited welfare to 48 months, for able-bodied people while also working to strengthen families by providing early childhood programs. I also wrote bills to protect home heating and utility payments and found $60 million in low-income heating assistance when the court system struck down a utility bill surcharge.
I chaired a bi-partisan sub-committee with Rep. Phil Cavanaugh D (Detroit) to make sense of Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Law. Every bill in this reform package required a (rare) 3/4 vote in the House and Senate. The package was featured by reporter Tim Skubick as one of the most intense bi-partisan legislative efforts in his journalism career.
I was proud to be the 2011 Manufacturers Legislator of the Year, and the 2012 Tourism Legislator of the Year. With the 2014 endorsement of the Michigan Farm Bureau, I am pleased to promote each of Michigan’s top three job-providing industries.
Lastly, I worked hard to eliminate the Michigan Business Tax of 2007. The tax, and its 22% surcharge, was choking Main Street businesses - some 65,000 family businesses, in fact. The Michigan Business Tax also had an effect on you and me. The 22% surcharge was something that businesses like hairdressers, hardware stores and other service provider businesses had to pass on to you, the customer. This, combined with the elimination of the Personal Property Tax, in August, makes Michigan a top-ten tax-friendly state, to start a business.
Review: The deteriorating infrastructure throughout our state, especially with roads & bridges, is a pivotal concern this election year. Congress adjourned last session without addressing this issue of how to best budget & fund these repairs, so what approaches do you feel are the best way to deal with this issue?
Horn: Infrastructure must take top priority in Lansing. To gain the trust of Michigan residents, the legislature should consider locking up road spending, by Constitution if necessary, to make sure that no money is used for frivolous government spending, now or in the future. The legislature must look at a variety of ways to find a permanent fix to this road issue. Michigan residents deserve to have safe roads in great shape. I’ll work with legislative leaders to find a permanent solution to fix our roads.
Oakes: No response.
Review: Are you supportive of a woman’s right to obtain an abortion?
Horn: I am proudly endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan. My one exception to abortion is in protecting the life of the mother. I will continue, as I have for more than twenty years, my work to strengthen our foster care system and streamline adoption rules to always make children know that they are loved and wanted.
Oakes: Did not respond.
Review: How would you best summarize your political philosophy in terms of how it distinguishes you from your opponent?
Horn: I am a first-generation American that strongly defends property rights. My family had everything taken away from them, after WWII, including my grandfather, who died in a Soviet prison camp when Germany was split and the eastern half was put under communist rule. When I contemplate an issue, I fall back on natural human yearning for freedom, and use the Constitution for guidance.
I live in the District and have lived here for over 30 years. Living in the district, and talking to people every day, helps me understand all that is happening here.
Most young people don’t believe for a minute that Social Security will be there when they retire. Three out of every four households are living paycheck to paycheck. The vast majority of people living in this region don’t have enough retirement savings and expect to work for the rest of their lives, at a time when they deserve to take it a little easy, in their waning years.
I know what it will take to truly reform education and make it relevant to Michigan students and their families from talking with teachers, administrators and parents. I can tell you that I’ve been endorsed by the Police Officers Association of Michigan, the Michigan Association of Police Officers and the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Michigan because I know that we can’t arrest our way out of a crime problem. Investing in kids early solves a ton of problems later on down the road.
I know what it takes to grow jobs and the economy. That’s why I’ve been endorsed by the Michigan Manufacturers, the Michigan Farm Bureau, numerous Chambers of Commerce, the Small Business Association of Michigan, National Federation of Independent Businesses, Associated Builders and Contractors, and others. We want to keep Michigan growing.
I have spent my career building relationships based upon trust. I’ve spent the past several months meeting people in the new 32nd District and have asked them to allow me to earn their trust. Now, I’m asking the readers of this magazine for their support and for their vote on November 4th.
My time in office has been spent in service to the people of the district I represent. That will not change when I’m elected to the Michigan Senate.
Let me go to work for you to get Michigan working again.
Oakes: No response.