Candidates Rett DeBoer, Joe Haveman and Roger Victory attended the event. The fourth Republican candidate for the Senate seat, Daniela Garcia, was absent.
The three candidates tackled myriad issues during the forum, moderated by WHTC radio host Peg McNichol. The candidates discussed topics such as the state budget, health care, K-12 and higher education, and the Great Lakes.
Being that the event was held in Grand Haven, the three candidates were quizzed on what they believe to be the top issue facing Northwest Ottawa County.
“Housing is toward the top of the list,” Haveman said, referencing the discussions about the lack of affordable housing. “Our biggest issue is a product of our economic success.”
Haveman said this lack of affordable housing has led manufacturers to struggle with finding talent to fill available jobs, but he noted that the county has done a good job at beginning to tackle the issue with its Housing Next taskforce.
“I think it does need to be looked at countywide, not just region by region,” he said.
While he noted that he thought the state was limited in what it could do, Haveman said a good start would to be to look at bureaucracy and within the state building code as ways the state could get involved in the discussion.
Victory said he is also concerned with the affordable housing issue, but he had a different approach to solving the problem — a solution that involves removing transportation barriers.
“A lot of it comes down to transportation,” he said.
Victory noted that work should be done to remove the transportation “islands” between Grand Haven, Grand Rapids and Holland in order to allow people to get to places of employment easier.
“We have to start thinking outside of the box and moving the needle on that,” he said.
DeBoer said substance abuse is one of her top concerns regarding issues facing the area.
“The opioid crisis, it affects all of us,” she said.
DeBoer said she is also concerned with the recreational marijuana ballot measure and its potential impact. She said she is concerned with the increased availability of marijuana to children and teens, as well as how the law might affect young adults applying for higher education. It might have an effect on the job market and the people in search of employment who can’t pass a drug screening, she added.
“If it does pass, we’re going to have to work really hard to regulate it, and we are going to have to double the people enforcing it,” DeBoer said. “It’s going to cost us.”
The candidates were also asked how they might work to get the people who traditionally don’t come out to vote to actually get involved in elections.
Haveman said he believes the process starts with increasing civility.
“We need to set examples,” he said. “Washington certainly isn’t the example — local governments are. ... People are fed up with partisanship. I think that’s a big reason people don’t come out.”
DeBoer said she would like to see work done with younger residents to increase civic participation.
“Getting the young people involved, I feel, is very important,” she said.
Being involved in the campaign to elect President Donald Trump, DeBoer noted that they made a big push to get local high schools to form political clubs.
“I think that’s a huge way to get people interested in politics,” she said.
Victory said more of an effort should be made to allow for “no-reason” absentee ballots, giving voters the opportunity to vote absentee for any reason.
“We’re forcing a lot of people to lie (with the current system),” he said. “Let’s make it simple. No-reason absentee, you can apply for it and make it happen.”
The winner of the Republican primary will face Democratic candidate Jeanette Schipper and Libertarian Mary Buzuma on the Nov. 6 ballot.