With the state Senate primaries quickly approaching, candidates Elizabeth Brater (D-Ann Arbor), Richard DeLong (R-Scio Twp.) and state Rep. John Hansen (D-Dexter) are preparing to fill the 18th-district seat.

Though the race may not heat up until May, the candidates are already focused on claiming the seat of Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith (D-Salem Twp.), who is running for governor.

Brater and Hansen emphasized education as a key issue in their campaigns, although they addressed the solutions by different means.

“My whole life was spent in public schools,” Hansen said. “We’ve got darn good public schools in Ann Arbor. I want to be the voice for strong public schools throughout the state.”

He added that his experience, over 35 years in public education and schooling, earns him respect in the school issue.

Brater said the focus should be on early education, and that “the one out of five dollars spent on corrections” should be used to make sure education is adequately funded.

The candidates also emphasized the need to address environmental and transportation issues, including inappropriate land use and construction of new roads.

“Some of our townships have extremely large lot sizes for residential building, a bad land use,” DeLong said. He added that clustered housing – preserving open space while allowing development – would solve inefficient use of land in areas that have 10-acre minimums on residential building.

Land use was an important issue to Hansen, who said the issue would be the most important one to Washtenaw County voters.

Reallocation of criminal systems funds is on Brater’s agenda, concerning not only education but also health care to the mentally ill.

“The governor closed 15 out of the 20 mental hospitals. People who would be in mental hospitals are in prisons,” Brater said of correctional facilities. “We need to make sure that people are getting health care in the health systems, not criminal systems.”

Brater is running for the state Senate after completing three terms in the House from 1994 to 2000. She added she will continue the work she began in the House concerning the environment.

“You can’t build your way out of traffic congestion. We need to give people options,” Brater said. She added she supports affordable public transit, such as the bus system, because new roads lead to more congestion.

DeLong has served as Washtenaw County commissioner for 10 years and is approaching his five-term limit.

Hansen is reaching the end of his second term in the House. He said he chose to run for Senate this year due to his House term limits, which would end in 2004, the off-year for Senate elections.

The deadline for candidates to enter the race is May 4. The primaries will be held in August.

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