Pitching his political platform, State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, gubernatorial candidate, R-Canton, spoke to members of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans on Wednesday at the Michigan Union.
The students in attendance gathered to question the second-term state senator, who is known to be among the most conservative members of the chamber on issues ranging from Obamacare to road maintenance — in 2015, 56 percent of non-federally funded roads were in poor condition, according to the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council.
LSA senior Enrique Zalamea, president of College Republicans, said he invited Colbeck before frontrunner Bill Schuette because an internal straw poll of College Republicans indicated that he was the most popular of the Republican candidates. He said he was excited to give students a variety of views before the state Republican primary, which will be held on Aug. 7, 2018.
“It’s a really great thing when you see these gubernatorial candidates, people running for different offices, to really want to engage with the students,” Zalamea said. “We’re really looking forward to hearing about his policies and his plans for running for governor and his plans for implementing those policies.”
In his opening remarks, Colbeck spoke against bureaucrats in Lansing and Washington, D.C., for setting unrealistic policy goals and urged the audience to retake control of their right to make decisions on a local level.
“There are a lot of people up in Lansing, a lot of people up in D.C., that think they know better how to run your lives than you do,” Colbeck said. “I run into them on a regular basis and I’m sick and tired of them.”
Colbeck then opened the floor to questions. When asked how he plans to fund the government after he eliminates the income tax, as stated in his platform, Colbeck delineated a plan to slash unnecessary expenses. He explained economic development and reduction in welfare recipients would pay for a large part of the $9.7 billion budget hole his plan would leave. Colbeck also listed eliminating Obamacare, Medicaid grants from the government and stepping up enforcement against sales tax fraud as other measures.
Colbeck argued he can do all of this without cutting essential services like police, fire and education, and rallied against politicians who would rather spend and grab newspaper headlines than tackle the difficult issues head-on.
“I think we’re always chasing shiny objects sometimes in state government,” Colbeck said. “You’ve heard of ambulance chasers, there you’ve got your headline chasers.”
When asked about free speech on campus, Colbeck pointed to Senate bills 349 and 350, pieces of legislation he co-wrote that punishes those who block speeches or protests on campus. He argued against those who shut down controversial speakers and emphasized the importance of civil dialogue in a democracy.
“I want to have civil dialogue, because we don’t have dialogue in the universities where we’re supposed to have good, fair, balanced, open-minded discussions on this stuff here,” Colbeck said in an interview before the event. “We can’t allow people to shout down conversations, so I want to make sure we got an open dialogue, and if people want to engage, engage, but be respectful.”
LSA senior Benjamin Decatur, co-chair of the American Enterprise Institute Executive Council at the University of Michigan, agreed with Colbeck, adding he feels uncomfortable sharing his opinions in class because he perceives a closed-minded liberal wall surrounding him.
This past month, Decatur’s group brought controversial political scientist Charles Murray to campus, stirring protests and demonstrations across campus that culminated in some students disrupting Murray mid-speech.
“I think it’s definitely a problem,” Decatur said. “Speakers who differ from liberal orthodoxy get shut down or aren’t given the opportunities to speak, so it’s very important that we have protections in place so this doesn’t happen.”
Colbeck later moved on to a question about federal versus local control of education. He criticized what he saw as the education establishment trying to wrest control of education away from students and their parents. He praised initiatives like the Michigan Education Savings Program, which gives students and parents control over their accounts.
“These student student-specific accounts would actually be controlled by the parents and the students, not by some educrat or bureaucrat up the line,” Colbeck said. “And (the education establishment) opposed that. That took power away from them. So it’s literally a discussion of control versus funding, and they chose control.”
In discussions about immigration, Colbeck explained government’s first imperative is to secure the rights of the governed and said he was weary of allowing Syrian refugees in without stricter standards.
“I actually authored a resolution encouraging Governor Snyder to keep his finger on the pause button in regards to Syrian refugees,” Colbeck said. “Because I was briefed on how we actually screen incoming immigrants into the country, and there was no attention to the security in that process at all.”
In an interview before the event, Colbeck described the difference between him and his competitor Schuette as one of “bold colors versus pale pastels” to paraphrase Ronald Reagan.
“I swing for the fences,” Colbeck said. “Case in point of our differences is I’m talking about eliminating the state income tax. He’s talking about reducing it 0.35 percent. There’s a difference in approaches there.”
Regarding his recent expulsion from four committees in the Senate, Colbeck disputed the narrative of state Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive. Colbeck disputed the majority leader’s claim that he was angry about Colbeck campaigning in Meekhof’s district without asking him first, as is the norm in the Senate.
“Ultimately, the issue was that I was out there speaking about policy issues the Senate majority leader didn’t want me to talk about, that’s at least his perception,” Colbeck said. “All I was doing was I was saying hi to people.”
LSA junior Amanda Delekta, vice chair of College Republicans, said she thought the event was successful and a great opportunity for students to ask questions that cut deep into issues.
“I think it’s important to keep an open mind to go through the election process and the campaign process, see what the candidates are saying, bounce that off each other, compare and contrast and find the candidate that’s going to support the issues that are important to me,” Delekta said.