The League of Women Voters of Ann Arbor interviewed candidates for the Michigan House of Representatives from Districts 52 through 55, as well as the candidates for Washtenaw County treasurer and Washtenaw County clerk Thursday through videos uploaded to their website. 

The League of Women Voters of Ann Arbor is a non-partisan organization aiming to increase participation in local government, educate people on the democratic process and influence public policy through local advocacy. 

Ann Arbor is part of District 53 and is currently represented by state Rep. Yousef Rabhi. Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor is running against Republican Jean Holland, both of whom participated in the event. The two candidates gave opening statements and answered questions submitted by members of the Washtenaw County community. 

One of the questions posed asked about Michigan’s environmental challenges, including the contamination of the Kalamazoo River, the presence of PFAS in drinking water and the effects of climate change. 

Rabhi said companies that pollute must be held accountable and rectify the damage.

“What happens is polluters are able to get away with polluting … because we don’t have strong polluter pay laws in the state of Michigan,” Rabhi said. “… Even if we know who the polluter is, we know that they were negligent, we know that they polluted, we still can’t force them to clean up … because the state laws are created to protect manufacturers and big business. We need to change that.” 

Holland agreed companies who pollute should be held responsible. She expressed doubt about the connection between climate change and human behavior, though there is widespread scientific consensus that global warming is due to human activities. More than 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree, and most leading scientific organizations have publicly endorsed this position.  

“I absolutely am in favor of ‘If you make a mess you have to clean it up,’” Holland said. “I’m not so convinced about the climate change thing. I’m not certain that we as humans have that much effect over climate change. We had our ice age and it’s been warming up ever since, well before we came along. But, those things that we can control, those things that we can legislate, the penalties should be severe for people who destroy or contaminate our environment.” 

The candidates were also asked about the April 30 protest when armed demonstrators entered Michigan State Capitol to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders related to COVID-19. 

Holland said people have a right to carry their legal firearms anywhere they choose, including in the State Capitol. 

“I support what is legal,” Holland said. “I myself have a concealed weapons permit. I take great pride in being able to handle a firearm safely … I don’t agree with the protestors not wearing the masks, I do not agree with the protestors if they were to damage any property, but I 100 percent support their right to carry their firearms wherever they come.” 

Rabhi disagreed. He said guns should not be allowed in the Capitol as they were used to intimidate legislators. 

“I was in the room when those armed political terrorists came to the Capitol to display their guns, their camo, their military equipment that they had,” Rabhi said. “… These are people that are, frankly, not stable. These are people that are racist, these are people that are there to do political intimidation.”

Other topics discussed by Rabhi and Holland included access to voting, improving state infrastructure and the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rabhi discussed the need to increase the accessibility of voting, including changing signature-matching laws. He said funding must be allocated to improve state infrastructure, particularly roads, and that he supported Whitmer’s approach to controlling COVID-19. 

Holland did not think infrastructure improvements should be funded by increased taxes, but rather by reallocating funds from various departments. She agreed people should social distance and wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus, but said Michigan must also facilitate a return to “normal” life. 

In a separate video, the candidates for Washtenaw County treasurer were interviewed. Republican candidate Paulette Metoyer was invited but did not attend the event. The incumbent and only other candidate, Democrat Catherine McCleary, introduced herself and gave a brief statement. 

McCleary discussed her accomplishments as incumbent treasurer and the necessary changes she wants to make following the COVID-19 pandemic, including online payment systems. 

“Many years ago, I initiated a foreclosure prevention program which saves hundreds of properties every year,” McCleary said. “… My staff has brought in eight million dollars for Washtenaw County, and this year I withheld 300 homes and businesses from tax foreclosure. The COVID-19 pandemic has created hardship for our residents in the county, but it also has created an urgency to rethink old practices and make changes.”

Two of the three candidates running for Washtenaw County clerk and Register of Deeds participated in the video: incumbent Democrat Lawrence Kestenbaum and Independent Doristeen Taylor. Republican candidate Gary Greiner was invited but did not attend the event. Those who wish to vote for Taylor must write in her name, as she is not listed on the ballot. 

Kestenbaum has been the county clerk since first being elected in 2004. 

When asked what issue was most important in her decision to run, Taylor said fighting voter suppression.

“How I plan to address that issue is make sure people have sufficient time to vote and access to vote,” Taylor said. “Because some people do not have the internet service and some people move around, so we have got to make sure people can register wherever they are at, like (being able to) register at the site or over the phone.” 

The League of Women Voters asked the candidates about challenges with finding enough poll workers for in-person voting and ensuring that people are able to vote in all areas of the county. 

Kestenbaum also explained how he is involved in ensuring the election runs smoothly. 

“Putting on elections in Michigan is a collaborative process between local clerks and the county clerks, we provide the ballots and the tabulating and they are the ones who hire and choose poll workers,” Kestenbaum said. 

In District 52, incumbent state Democrat Rep. Donna Lasinski is running against Republican Greg Marquis. Both candidates attended the event. 

In District 54, state Rep. Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti., is running against Republican Martin Church. Church attended, and Peterson was invited but did not attend the event. 

In District 55, Democrat Felicia Brabec is running against Republican Bob Baird. The current Representative, Rebekah Warren, is not running for reelection. Both candidates running for election attended the event. 

Daily Staff Reporter Emma Ruberg can be reached at 

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