Senate candidates tackle tough issues

Alex Doty • Jul 22, 2015 at 10:53 AM

Incumbent Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive — seeking his second and final four-year term in the Senate — and Grand Haven resident Sarah Howard took part in a League of Women Voters’ question-and-answer session in a packed room at Spring Lake District Library.

Howard, a Democrat, said she is in the running because she is concerned about the future of Ottawa County, which makes up most of the 30th district.

“Mr. Meekhof is too extreme for this district and he doesn’t represent the values here,” she said. “I don’t believe we are on the right track for education and economic growth.”

Howard said there should be more spending in the classroom and in higher education, and added that roads also need attention.

“We used to have one of the best education systems in the country, and one of the best highway systems,” she said.

Meekhof, however, believes Michigan is on the right path since he began state-level public service during what he called the state’s “lost decade.”

“A lot of people were leaving Michigan because they were looking for a better opportunity,” he said. “Some very difficult decisions needed to be made to make sure Michigan was on the comeback trail.”

Meekhof noted that he passed “thousands” of bills and measures to make sure the state’s government is more efficient.

“Michigan is in a better spot, but we’ve got a lot more to do,” he said.

The candidates elicited cheers, jeers and heckling from some of the crowd over several of their answers.

One such moment came when the candidates were asked about transparency in campaign advertising — a reference to a recent Detroit television news report about Meekhof’s support of Senate Bill 661, which keeps who donated to organizations behind issue-based political ads a secret.

“I sponsored Senate Bill 661 to protect free speech,” Meekhof said. “The Supreme Court has ruled that (donating money) for issue advocacy is protected free speech. … Anyone who wants to use issue advocacy and they want to educate voters, they would have those same free-speech protections.”

Howard had a contrasting view.

“We need to absolutely undo that Senate bill my opponent sponsored,” she said. “It’s not a free speech issue at all. It’s a transparency-in-government issue.”

Howard noted that many people she’s talked to are tired of the televised campaign advertisements.

“There’s nothing educational about many of the ads I’ve seen on television right now,” she said.

The candidates’ views on climate change also brought a rise out of the crowd.

“Just recently, the guy from The Weather Channel said climate change is a complete hoax,” Meekhof said.

The senator noted that there are a lot of disparities in the science behind climate change and the data behind it.

“It has a lot to do with the way God cares for this Earth,” Meekhof said.

Howard, however, said more needs to be done to address climate change at the state and federal levels.

“I think there’s a lot of evidence in the scientific community that shows we have a problem,” she said. “I think we have some serious problems with the way we’ve used and overused resources.”

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