As the gubernatorial race heats up in Michigan, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor and current mayor of Southfield, Brenda Lawrence, visited campus yesterday afternoon to talk about the issues she and running mate Virg Bernero face in the upcoming election.
A crowd of about 20 people — comprised mostly of members of the University’ chapter of College Democrats — gathered in a conference room at the Michigan Union for the discussion. Lawrence began by walking around the room and introducing herself before taking a seat and starting her talk on the “Main Street Michigan” agenda touted by Bernero, who is currently the mayor of Lansing.
This is the first time two mayors have run for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, but Lawrence expressed her feeling that their experience — Bernero has held his position for five years, and Lawrence for nine — will act as an advantage.
“We are working, we are on Main Street, we know what the issues are because we live them every day as mayors. We have to fix them,” she said.
She stressed the importance of education “as an economic stimulus,” and especially the importance of funding the Michigan Promise Scholarship. The scholarship was cut from the state’s budget for the 2010 fiscal year, but Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm revived it in her budget proposal for 2011, this time as a tax credit that would be awarded to graduates of state universities who choose to work in Michigan for a year after graduating.
“A mentor of mine said that in corporate America and in leadership, you follow the money a person spends and you’ll find their priorities. And so education will be a priority of ours,” Lawrence stated.
Several students in attendance also brought up the Promise Scholarship, saying it’s an issue that needs to be addressed by the new administration.
LSA junior Nina Bhattacharya said there is a subset of families that do not make enough money to pay for college tuition but do make enough to be disqualified for federal financial aid.
“The Michigan Promise Scholarship was something that was achievable for us,” she said.
On the topic of education, Lawrence also spoke about measures to cut high school dropout rates in order to lower incarceration rates in Michigan, which she said were some of the highest in the country. One way to accomplish that, she said, is to hold parents more accountable for their children’s education.
“I think parents should get a report card as well as children. Do you attend PTAs? Are you involved in the school? And I know there are all kinds of challenges — working parents, single heads of households — but there’s always a way to work that out,” she said.
Lawrence gave private schools as an example, explaining that many successful private schools require parents to attend a certain number of activities at the school per year.
Lawrence called attention to the differences between herself and Bernero and their opponent, Republican nominee Rick Snyder.
She commented on Snyder’s refusal to hold a debate with Bernero, calling it an “absolute insult” to voters. She criticized his commitment to the state and his business decisions as the former CEO of Gateway, saying that Snyder, an “elitist who has lived a life of extreme wealth,” eliminated jobs and outsourced others overseas.
Lawrence also discussed the “brain drain” and stressed the importance of small businesses and startups as catalysts for an economic turnaround and called on college graduates to help.
“We’re going to have to start creating jobs,” she said. “Understand that amazing talent and ability that you may have is an opportunity for you to make a job for yourself and those around you.”
Lawrence, who is from Detroit, spoke briefly about her native city, saying many of the problems there were a result of bureaucratic red tape. A more “connected and responsive” government could help eliminate these problems, paving the way for developers and potential business owners to invest in the city.
Detroit would also benefit, she said, by more stringent code enforcement for aesthetic improvement.
The city “once had beautiful communities that are now just totally blight,” she said. “But it starts one house at a time. I’m passionate about that.”
She also noted a lack of mass transit systems — like bus or train systems — in cities throughout Michigan, and suggested that developing them would be a great benefit. Every major successful city, she said, has mass transit options for residents, which sometimes helps them find and reach their jobs.
Brendan Campbell, an LSA junior and president of College Democrats, said he enjoyed Lawrence’s talk and is excited for what she has planned for the state.
“It’s really inspiring to see someone who’s willing to invest in the state of Michigan, someone who’s been running a city successfully for the past nine years, and someone who has the experience to lead Michigan in the direction we want to see it go,” Campbell said.