candidates

Anita Brown, left, and Erik Nordman, right, are Democrats running for the state House 89th District. The winner in the Aug. 4 primary will face incumbent Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, who is unopposed in the Republican primary.

A pair of local Democrats — Erik Nordman and Anita Brown — are facing off in the Aug. 4 primary, with the winner earning the right to challenge incumbent Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, for the 89th District house seat in the November general election. 

The district encompasses Grand Haven, Ferrysburg and the Village of Spring Lake; and Crockery, Grand Haven, Robinson, Blendon, Spring Lake, Olive, Park and Port Sheldon townships.

Both Democrats have ties to Grand Valley State University — Brown is an alumna while Nordman is a professor of biology. 

We asked the pair to answer a series of questions. Their responses are listed below:

Anita Brown

Age: 47

Residence: Olive Township

What is your background?

I have my bachelor’s in criminal justice from Grand Valley State University and a master’s in psychology from University of Phoenix, and I just completed my Specialty in Drug and Alcohol Addiction certification through Western Michigan. Prior to completing my degrees, I was basically an outreach coordinator in my area, and I give it that title because individuals were always reaching out to me for information on how to complete documents, find resources in the area, maybe they didn’t know how to pay their electric bill so how to get in touch with The Salvation Army. So, I was always utilizing my skill set and my knowledge to help other individuals in my community when they reached out to me.

When the time came around and someone asked me if I would be interested in running, I was like wow, yeah. I always talked about running for an office — actually, it was for mayor when I was younger, and I told my husband that one day I would run for a political office because there needs to be change in the way the system is working for our area. And here I am. They came and asked and I accepted.

Why are you running for office?

When I was reading a profile of the current 89th District office holder, I realized that sometimes repetitiveness occurs because there is no challenge, so you go with the flow. I believe that with the amount of population growth in our West Michigan area, and the diversity, we need change to address the growth. We cannot continually go with the same, old thing, because the same, old thing isn’t going to work anymore.

What experience makes you feel prepared to run for office?

I believe the experience that I have is based on my educational and my life experience. Knowing and understanding what makes our district work so well and knowing and understanding the flaws of our system by experiencing them myself — I’ve raised five children in this community (and) I had to reach out and utilize programs for myself. Knowing all of that prepared me to understand and know we need change. We need to revamp our health care. We need to change the structuring — no one has touched on this topic but the way the system, the MDHHS, is set up, it’s flawed. It does not allow families to get on their feet because when you make so much money, you’re kicked off the system before you’re able to get back on your feet.

I believe that by living everyday with individuals who feel the effect of how this system is set up and the way that our community is being serviced and speaking with people in the area, I understand what changes need to be made.

What are three major platforms important to your campaign?

Mental health care. That is a very big thing for me. We need to have a more standard health care system that is made for everybody. I’ve worked with individuals recently who were turned down for services because they had insurance, and I couldn’t wrap my head around that. They were only accepting uninsured individuals because they were getting funding from the state. So it’s kind of a double-edged sword with mental health agencies out here. We have a lack of resources for mental health, and the health care system really needs to be revamped.

My other issue would be cultural knowledge. We need to train our members that go into offices and school districts — they need to have cultural competency. It is a must. You cannot assume that one shoe is going to fit everybody. It doesn’t work that way. That one would fall under criminal justice with the diversity of equality and racism.

The third thing would be working with this COVID-19, with this pandemic, preparing the educational system and the structure that is coming up. If people are looking at numbers — and if you think about this, the general population does not sit down and look at data. They do not look at numbers, so they need layman terms, and I think that’s what I have to bring to the table. I can read the data and understand the data, but when I talk to somebody out there, I’m going to talk to them in layman’s terms. So my third thing would be giving them an understanding of how the educational system is going to be revamped and remodified for this upcoming year, and help them have an understanding of why. People don’t like to have things put on them. I think I have an understanding of what our community needs and I’m able to reach some of that level because my background in psychology and mending relationships and building bridges will give me that upper hand to work in all diverse areas of people.

What are some major issues facing West Michigan right now?

One of the biggest issues facing us in West Michigan is going to be the unemployment. Right now, the unemployment rate — more than 32 million people in this country have lost their job since the COVID. When I was reading and listening as of April, in Michigan, the unemployment rate is 22.7 percent. So I would say there needs to be a big focus and an alignment set up to revamp the industry in our area for small businesses. Take the money that people should not have gotten for their larger corporations and make sure that it gets put into the small businesses that are closing, because they can’t handle the second round. I believe we’re still in the first round of the COVID, but I believe fostering our economic growth is a big thing that should be done.

How do you think you could win in a historically conservative-leaning district?

Right now, there’s such a partisanship and divide in our government, so I do not believe that people in this point in time are looking at the position of a Democrat and the position of a Republican. I believe people are more in a place where they want change. They’re listening to see which candidate is going to accommodate their ear in the changes to be made. Like I said, the large amount of diversity across our state and in Western Michigan alone — I believe that the increase in diversity has a lot to do with that there’s no one race that’s going to be Republican, there’s no one race or culture group that’s going to be Democratic. I believe that it’s going to be based on what does the person that’s running have to offer and how are they going to get us there?

For me, I believe that I’m going to immerse myself in any cultural group, any situation, and I can talk, I can speak to them. That’s the thing that I believe I have the ability based on my background and based on my education. That’s going to be a key component: reaching the voters where they need to be reached. I do not believe it’s going to be talking to them and going, “Oh, 29 percent here and 50 percent here, and we need to do this.” No. Talk to all of them on the same level. Let them hear your words.

The lakes — we do not need to be dredging our lakes. Leave Lake Michigan alone. Focus on the key things: the education, the health care, rebuilding our economy in Western Michigan, supporting small businesses, paying attention to the one bad apple in our police force that can make the whole force look bad. I believe cultural competency training should be part of a mandate for people that are in public offices, teachers in education as well as people in the service community and policing. They should be mandated to take courses like that upon entry into those roles and services.

What one message would you want readers to take home with them about your campaign?

I don’t want their money, I want their vote. I had somebody come to me and go, “Wow, I don’t think you’ve been getting a lot of money in your campaign.” And it hit me and I was like, you know, I cannot leave my house and go running around. I would love to go run through every community and see people, but my husband has COPD — he’s a health risk — and our governor has stated that we are not to be out running around and doing all of that, right? So I’m going to respect the government’s orders and I’m going to respect my husband’s health.

For me, and I was speaking to somebody on this last week, I don’t care about the money. I don’t care about putting the street sign in your yard. I care about you reading on me online and understanding who I am and what I have to offer because when people are trying to make a dollar reach right now, the last thing I want to do is ask you for that dollar so I can buy a street sign so you can see my name.

Some people may say, “Well, you need the money to win.” No, I need your vote.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

You asked the question: What is my background in politics? I listen to a lot of representatives speak. “Oh, I’ve done this, I’ve done that.” But my everyday life of living — and I believe that a lot of Michiganders can say this — balancing your life everyday is politics. Understanding how you are functioning, what’s going on around you — that’s politics. So I may not have held an office before, but I sure am familiar with the politics and what our 89th District needs.

Want me to tell you the craziest thing of all? When I was approached and I went online and I reviewed the position and what it required of me, but before I did that, I looked up the definition of democracy. I was like, “Yup, I’ve always been a Democrat.” But the other part of it was someone can say, “What? You didn’t understand that?” I didn’t step into the arena to see how much money you make when you get this position. I had no idea it was even a paid position. I was going to volunteer myself to do this. So that’s the crazy part, you know.

But I just feel like we need someone in our district that’s going to represent the whole and not just some.

Erik Nordman

Age: 47

Residence: Spring Lake

What is your background?

My day job is as a professor of natural resources management at Grand Valley State University. As a professor, I teach environmental economics and natural resource policy. I’ve been at Grand Valley for 14 years. I live in Spring Lake with my wife, Jennifer, and our two children. My professional work as a professor is very related to public policy about environmental protection, environmental stewardship, economic development, so I’ve been tied to the policy and political world closely, and that really inspired me to get more involved in politics and local government.

Why are you running for office?

Well, I had been following some of the events that have been happening at the state level in particular and really thought that the values and the interests of West Michigan residents like myself weren’t being represented in Lansing. So I had talked with a friend of mine from the Grand Haven Running Club who is involved in politics — was actually a state representative and is now a county clerk — and we had some conversations on runs and getting more involved in. She kind of encouraged me that if I felt comfortable to take a stab at it, and this opportunity came available to run for office as a state representative. I figured this was the right time to do it.

What experience makes you feel prepared to run for office?

My training professionally is in the social sciences and so that involved a lot of listening to people and hearing about what their experiences and values are regarding all kinds of topics, whether it’s related to pollution cleanup or economic development and things like that. So being a good listener and taking seriously those values of people. I’ve done that in the survey work that I’ve done. I’ve run stakeholder workshop meetings where I encourage stakeholders for different projects to have stake in a project. I’m able to bring together diverse perspectives and have a civil and engaging process where we hear different issues and listen to each other, and I’ve been very successful in facilitating those kinds of projects.Those are skills that I have that I bring to the table.

Also, as a scientist, I have a pretty good understanding of not only natural resource sciences, environmental sciences, but social sciences as well. And science is really critical for understanding all kinds of issues related to the pandemic, about PFAS water pollution, about how water levels and things like that. Providing the ability to listen to peoples’ needs and have a scientific background makes me a well-qualified candidate.

What are three major platforms important to your campaign?

I would say No. 1 is I want to be able to listen to people's concerns and represent those concerns and values in Lansing.

No. 2 would be about resilience. The concept of resilience is about being able to bounce back from the many setbacks you might encounter. That’s important at the personal level and it’s important in our communities and at the state level. As an individual, there’s a lot of things we can’t control about our lives, whether it’s a recession and you might lose your job or you get sick with COVID-19. But having resilience in your personal life means being able to get job training to improve your skills through lifelong learning so if you do lose your job for some reason, you have opportunities to retrain and find another position. Building that individual resilience. Having access to medical care, so if you do get sick, you can get healthy again. Take care of yourself and your family. At the community level, we look at resilience in infrastructure, for example. We have high water across our district, and and approach is to build infrastructure to keep the water back, but that doesn’t work in the long run. You need to have resilient infrastructure that can deal with and accommodate these variable water levels — lakes and rivers. Work with the environment instead of against it. That goes not just for water infrastructure, but critical infrastructure, cybersecurity, electricity and our energy systems — things like that. We want to be resilient.

The third theme is empowering local communities to solve local problems to the extent that is possible and practical. I don’t believe that there’s a “one size fits all” approach to governing. Sometimes state-level policies are appropriate, sometimes the marketplace is the appropriate way to handle a problem. Giving and empowering local communities to solve their own problems is, I think, an underutilized tool in the governing toolbox, so I would support empowering communities to make their own decisions for local problems.

What are some major issues facing West Michigan right now?

As a hobby, I’m a runner. We have not been able to knock on doors and meet people face to face. There haven’t been many public events either — you know the Coast Guard Festival is canceled and Tulip Time and all of that. As a runner, I’ve been running through the community once or twice a week to meet people on the street from a safe distance and talk to them and hear about what their concerns are. People are telling me during these community runs are: No. 1, about their health and the health of their friends and family related to the pandemic; No. 2 is the economy, again related to the pandemic because we’ve had to shut down a lot of businesses, people have lost their jobs or are working scaled-back hours (and briefly, we’ve had record-setting unemployment but it’s getting better); and the third one is schools. We did remote learning for the end of the school year and there’s a big uncertainty about what’s going to happen in the fall, which depends on the trajectory of the virus and the pandemic. That’s really holding back peoples’ decision making — they don’t really know what their child care situation is going to be, if they’re going to be able to go back to work, what they’re going to do if somebody gets sick. So schools and how kids are going to be learning in the fall has a lot of ripple effects. So health, the economy and schools are the three things people have told me that they’re most concerned about, and those are the things I’m going to help look into and resolve when I’m elected.

How do you think you could win election in a historically conservative-leaning district?

Well, No. 1, I’ve been out there meeting people and listening to people, and I’m going to be representing the diverse views of our residents and voters. Yeah, many of them are conservative. Many of them are also centrist or maybe left of center. As I’m listening to all of these people, I will represent all of these views in Lansing. But also, West Michigan is a fast-growing area of the state, and I think with our local universities here, we attract a lot of young people. We have a thriving business community that attracts a lot of people from all over the country and all over the world, frankly. I don’t think it’s as monolithically Republican or conservative as it used to be, and I think the demographics are changing for sure. Even for my Republican and conservative friends and neighbors, I’m a good listener. I understand where they’re coming from, and I think we can find common ground to find solutions to problems that affect all of us, and we can find solutions that work for everyone.

I’m not an ideologue. I’m a pragmatic person who wants to solve problems.

What one message would you want readers to take home with them about your campaign?

I would say that a lot of the challenges that we’re facing related to the pandemic, related to schools, related to the economy require us to work together. Those are three interconnected problems, right? We can’t resolve the schools and the economy without resolving or managing the COVID-19 pandemic. The only way we can do that is to work together. We’re not going to get through this because the government imposes a solution on us. We can’t just go it alone either. We have to work together. We have to find ways to ensure the safety of each other, the health and well-being of each other, and we have to do that together.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

As a professional, we have some interesting work we did up in Muskegon Lake that will be coming out this month. We did an analysis of the cleanup of Muskegon Lake and we found that removing the pollution of the lake and restoring the shoreline to a more natural area or condition resulted in $7 million in additional housing value, and more than $25 million in annual recreation values. So environmental stewardship is a win-win and I think, in the 89th District, if we look ahead to when the coal plant is dismantled on Harbor Island in Grand Haven, we can start to imagine how what the future of places like that, these old, industrial places with legacy pollution, and reimagine those. What they could be and what the economic future could be if we clean up those places. That’s something that I’ve been working on and I think that could translate to policies I can work toward in Lansing for the community.

Visit the candidates' websites for more information about them: Erik Nordman's website is at votenordman.com. Anita Brown's website is at electanitabrown.com.

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