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Attorney, Teacher, Veteran, Mayor: Who Will be our next 14th Congressional District U.S. Representat

14th district candidates

By Jacquise Purifoy, Esq.

Getting citizens out to vote in primary elections can be a challenge and candidates don’t always have the funding behind them that would allow us to hear from them.  I was able to reach most of the candidates to ask them a few questions about their plans, should they be elected.

The candidates for the 14th Congressional District of the U.S. House of Representatives are former Congressman Hansen Clarke, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, State Representative Rudy Hobbs, and veteran Burgess Foster. The 14th Congressional District zigzags from the Grosse Pointes, through part of Detroit, across mid-Oakland County, and up to Pontiac. Hansen Clarke served as Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2010-2012. Brenda Lawrence has served as the Mayor of Southfield since 2001. Rudy Hobbs currently serves as a State Representative in the Michigan legislature, and Burgess Foster is a veteran and educator from Detroit.

Hansen Clarke

1. Since leaving office, what have you been doing to serve constituents in the 14th Congressional District?

After leaving Congress, I knew I wanted to keep making a difference in people’s lives and continue to work towards improving education in our community. I became an adjunct professor of law at the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Law, where I was able to meet some of the most gifted people in the region. It was an honor to help them on their path towards success.

I suffered a tragic loss when my cousin overdosed on alcohol and painkillers towards the end of my term in Congress. My cousin’s death was hard for me; however, with the help and strength of my family, I was able to see that there is still more to do to help restore hope in our community, and that we can work together to prevent anyone else from having to suffer in despair like my cousin did. This experience helped me to decide to run again.

2. What do you see as the 3 main priorities for the 14th Congressional District, and what is your plan to move these priorities forward?

I will work for federal policies that create a better climate to expand businesses, create jobs, and encourage startups. Education is essential to achieving success in the 21st century economy, so I will continue my work to improve literacy rates in our communities, increase access to early childhood education, and help make neighborhood public schools the cornerstones of our community. I will work to forge partnerships between public education institutions and private industry to ensure that students are well-prepared to meet the needs of local employers.

Improving our region’s economy and expanding opportunities goes beyond education. In Congress, I have been a strong advocate for creating a truly regional transportation system, as well as attracting federal investment to improve our region’s infrastructure. I will continue to work to bring federal money to improve our roads and public infrastructure, thus helping to jumpstart our economy by creating jobs and improving the business climate.

Excessive federal red tape is slowing down our economy by hampering business growth. In Congress, I will work to remove redundant and unnecessary regulations that are directly causing harm to our economy. Additionally, federal trade policy creates an uneven playing field for Michigan businesses and workers and undercuts our manufacturing sector. I am concerned that the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership could further harm U.S. manufacturing and ship more jobs overseas by allowing foreign countries to impose non-tariff barriers on U.S. exports. I will work for more responsible trade, tax, and procurement policies that encourage local job creation.

3. As a former committee member for homeland security, how do you plan to work with federal, state, and local law enforcement to combat crime in the district?

While in Congress, I was able to effectively work to bring federal resources to the district through the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to help hire police and improve community policing. I support stronger gun-control laws and improving access to mental-health services, as well as ensuring that drug addiction is treated as a disease and not a crime by instituting drug treatment courts for non-violent offenders.

Crime and substance abuse in our community are often symptoms of the hopelessness and lack of opportunities that trouble many people, especially young men of color. We must break the school-to-prison pipeline, and the key way to do that is to invest in literacy, job opportunities, and pathways to financial security for all. I was proud to introduce a Congressional resolution to help address the crisis of illiteracy in the African American and Hispanic communities–a direct predecessor to President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. I also was the first person to ever introduce “ban the box” legislation at the federal level to give returning citizens a fair chance at gaining employment instead of returning to the streets.

4. Do you believe women should receive equal pay? If so, what is your plan to ensure women and men receive equal pay for equal work?

The gender wage gap is an affront to our American values of fairness and equality. I cosponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act when I was in Congress, and if re-elected, I will work across the aisle in Congress to promote wage equity.

However, we have more to do to fully eliminate the wage gap. In Congress, I cosponsored the Healthy Families Act to provide paid sick days to employees. If mothers do not have to forego pay in order to stay home to care for a sick child, we can improve the economic security of women, improve public health in our cities, and decrease healthcare costs. Also, the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee working mothers paid time off to care for a new child. We can do better. I support the FAMILY Act to create change for all Americans who care about their families and their health.

5. What makes you, as an artist and attorney, uniquely qualified to serve as a member of Congress?

Many people enter Congress with a law background, which teaches them to think within the system–paint inside the lines, if you will. My education as an artist has taught me to think outside the box and realize that just because a solution isn’t conventional, it doesn’t mean it wrong or impractical. I credit my education as a lawyer with helping me to relate the big-picture solution to the smaller steps needed to make it a reality.

Rudy Hobbs

1. As a state legislator, what have you been doing to serve constituents in the 14th Congressional District?

Most of my adult life has been dedicated to serving the people of Michigan’s 14th Congressional District. From teaching at an elementary school on the east side of Detroit, to working on constituent services for a local congressman, to my tenure in public office as a school board member and legislator, I have been giving back to the community throughout my adult life. During my time as state legislator, I have been a leader in getting Democratic legislative priorities through the law-making process. Recently, I introduced two critical bills, both of which will protect our citizens. The first was in response to a tragic death at the hands of security guards; the bill requires proper training for private guards where there is now none. The second bill creates a personal protective order process to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people, before they have committed a crime. With a bill like that, tragic shootings like the one we saw in California recently can be prevented.

2. What do you see as the 3 main priorities for the 14th Congressional District, and what is your plan to move these priorities forward?

My three main priorities as Congressman will be getting people back to work in good-paying jobs by bringing critical infrastructure projects to our region, making sure our neighborhoods are safe for our citizens and kids, and improving our education system. To accomplish these goals, I plan to be a staunch advocate for a regional mass-transit system and build a new bridge while making sure we have proper job-training programs in place to get our community back to work. I will work to bring grant dollars to our communities for school programs and take on the NRA if necessary to get common-sense gun laws passed. Finally, I will work to replace No Child Left Behind with a program that actually helps students achieve their potential and struggling schools get better by expanding pre-school availability and providing resources to our most challenged regions.

3. How do you plan to work with federal, state, and local law enforcement to combat crime in the district?

Effectively supporting our local law-enforcement efforts in Washington requires three things: 1) common-sense policies on gun control to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and other potentially dangerous people; 2) adequate funding of our law-enforcement programs and 3) flexibility to use those funds for local communities, who need to be nimble and responsive to the types of threats facing their citizens.

4. Do you believe women should receive equal pay? If so, what is your plan to ensure women and men receive equal pay for equal work?

As the father of three daughters, I am a staunch advocate for women in the workplace. I support initiatives such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and believe it is outrageous that, by present-day standards, my daughters will work for a mere $0.77 for every $1.00 made by their male counterparts. In the State House, I sponsored legislation to ensure Michigan workers have guaranteed access to earned sick days from work. This legislation was a critical step to ensure that the 43% percent of women working in the private sector, who now cannot take a single paid day of leave if they or their children fall ill, have the ability to care for themselves or their families and still earn a living. I plan to take the fight for equal pay to Washington and be an outspoken advocate for passage of equal-pay legislation, the Violence against Women’s Act, and health parity laws for women.

5. What makes you, as a teacher, uniquely qualified to serve as a member of Congress?

As a former teacher, I saw first-hand how our education system was failing our students. So many of the first and second graders at my eastside school were already behind by the time they got to my classroom. I know what it takes for our kids to achieve. I have seen it. I have done it. Moreover, I have been a voice for the voiceless in the Michigan Legislature already, and as a long-time staffer for a member of Congress, I understand how to get things done in Congress.

Burgess D. Foster

1. As a veteran, what have you been doing to serve constituents in the 14th Congressional District?

I have been on the ground, in the halls of public affairs, where it matters. When the Detroit City Charter had to be revised in order to make it more responsive, I was there fighting for term limits of up to 12 years so that new leadership from somewhere in Detroit could arise and offer up new ideas about to how to innovate in government and not clog up the system with political players. I also called for a smaller City Council. When the districts were redrawn during the 2010 census, Detroit lost representation in Lansing due to its smaller population size. Term limits and Council size have to be amended in the city Charter and I fought for common-sense change. I have been involved in Detroit Department of Transportation issues, fighting for an amalgamated entity or merger between SMART and DDOT so that bus fare could be lowered creatively while generating more revenue from increased ridership and higher dependability. I have attended Detroit School Board meetings, and I have written over 100 editorial comments in response to the Detroit News online forum.

2. What do you see as the 3 main priorities for the 14th Congressional District, and what is your plan to move these priorities forward?

The three main priorities are health, education, and labor (jobs). No workforce can be competitive on a global scale if its nation is under insured or has no insurance. How can workers get vital medical services that help reduce pain, suffering, and illness without insurance coverage? The Affordable Care Act is working to make the US more competitive globally. A healthy country is a vibrant, productive economy of workers and entrepreneurs. Any good idea can be made better, and I will gather together nurses, doctors, and administrators to garner ideas about what could be done to lower deductibles and streamline services.

The next priority is education. Statistics show that many adult Detroiters between the ages of 18 and 40 do not have a high-school diploma. That does not bode well for recruiting a healthy (mentally, intellectually, and physically) workforce. I want to increase funding for adult education. Many places like Wayne County Community College only have so many seats available, but the demand outstrips the supply of seats and resources like instructors and free learning materials. Therefore, I propose an increase in federal funding for adult education to help single moms and “reentry” dads prepare themselves to join in and make the region–from Oakland County to Wayne County, from Pontiac to Detroit–more productive. Also, those who have student loans should have the ability to have those loans—which collectively number in the hundreds of billions of dollars—made more friendly by reducing the interest rates dramatically. These young professionals cannot qualify for a new house, car, and other capital goods while student loans are an albatross around the economy’s neck, weighing it down. I also would increase funding for all high schools in the US to become early-college high schools. This means that while in the 11th grade, students can start taking community-college courses, and by the time they graduate from high school, would ideally only need 1-2 years to complete a four-year degree, which translates into fewer loans later!

3. How do you plan to work with federal, state, and local law enforcement to combat crime in the district?

My vision in working with federal, state, and local law enforcement is to be more creative. I would make an application for a federal grant of about $80,000,000 for Detroit’s police department, via homeland security, to hire about 1,000 reserve police officers who would only work events such as the fireworks and special events like the Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four tournaments. A reserve officer works about 10 hours a month, if that. This would help create 1,000 jobs that would pay $40,000 per year for two years—it’s a grant only. These officers would have a job that would employ them, ideally, from May to December of every year, or for about 7 months a year during the summer and fall, when crime spikes. These officers would be located in super mini stations or closed-down schools to help patrol for broken windows, littering, and other small violations that lead to bigger crimes. I would also inspire the police to write nuisance tickets that let the neighborhoods know that small crime is a precursor to larger crime. Having officers that can patrol via bikes and on foot (mainly in the summer) will make the police an integral part of the community

I also think that Detroit should experiment with combining public-safety departments, instead of keeping them tightly compartmentalized. This means that the police and fire departments should be cross-trained, and new stations should be built that would bring these entities under one roof so that operating risk can be shared and costs to the tax payer can be reduced.

4. Do you believe women should receive equal pay? If so, what is your plan to ensure women and men receive equal pay for equal work?

Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, was a proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, which sought to make it a crime to discriminate based on sex. We need to enforce the laws of equality!

5. What makes you, as a veteran and educator, uniquely qualified to serve as a member of Congress?

As a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I have seen how it helps to keep troops from harm’s way, if it can be diplomatically worked out. War should not be the final arbiter of peace, but war is necessary to thwart invasion and domestic insurrection (remember, the Civil War was fought right here on American soil). I believe that what is happening in the Middle East is a perfect case study in finesse diplomacy: using referential tactics instead of boots and tanks on the ground. As an educator, I have taught history and civics, and while in college, I presented research at Yale on civil-rights advocacy in the House of Representatives from 1955-1965. I am what is referred to as a “disinterested politician.” This does not mean I don’t want to do the job; it means that I am not focused on power or position, but on policy and philosophy of law. It’s not about money to me; it’s about message. My nickname in Detroit is the “Idea Factory” because I can think about complex problems and form solutions from a multi-disciplinary approach. Somebody has to teach the Republicans a lesson on civic-minded leadership. I can foster ideas that will be liked by both parties, I am affable, and I can work with a diverse group of leaders, not thinking my party has all the answers.

Brenda Lawrence

Mayor Lawrence was unavailable for comment.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Christina Conyers, a Detroiter and niece of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Detroit, in the Nov. 4 general election, along with several third-party candidates.

The 14th District leans heavily Democratic, so the winner of the Democratic primary is expected to easily win the general election.

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