MATTHEW SHEPARD, Tom Barrett and Kelly Rossman-McKinney spoke at the SRCC Topics @ Twelve luncheon on Tuesday, Oct. 30.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
Michigan’s Senate race for District 24 was featured during the Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce Topics @ Twelve luncheon on Tuesday, Oct. 30. The public event was held at the Comstock Inn & Conference Center in Owosso. The four candidates running for the seat include Kelly Rossman-McKinney (D), Tom Barrett (R), Katie Nepton (L) and Matthew Shepard (U.S. Taxpayers). Rossman-McKinney, Barrett and Shepard attended the luncheon. Nepton was absent.
District 24 includes over 275,000 residents and encompasses Clinton, Eaton and Shiawassee counties and portions of Ingham County. Michigan senators serve four-year terms with term limits and are elected at the same time as the governor.
Matthew Shepard is running for Michigan’s 24th District Senate Seat, and is also a write-in candidate for the District 7 Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners seat and Perry Board of Education seat, too. He is running as a member of the U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan.
While speaking during the SRCC luncheon, Shepard emphasized his opinion for abolishing abortion “to regain favors from God.” Shepard would like to reverse “the unconstitutional” Roe v. Wade – and shared that abortion is his primary concern in running for the senate seat. He continued on to explain that he would like to “eliminate unnecessary taxation” by possibly implementing a “fair tax or flat tax to do away with excess taxation.” He would like to see government limited so there is less “interference in our daily lives.”
Shepard also stated that he plans to vote against all of the statewide proposals because he does not think there are enough checks in place “once these are put into the constitution.” As for Michigan Proposal 1 to legalize recreational marijuana for persons 21 or older and enact a tax on marijuana sales, Shepard said that he is against Proposal 1 and does not want to see people driving under the influence of marijuana. He is also against Proposal 2, which involves the redistricting initiative to end gerrymandering through an independent (nonpartisan) resdistricting commission, suggesting that there is a “need to have some sort of reconstruction, possibly by turning back to our original boundaries.” Shepard also shared that he does not think that “same day registration,” which is included in Proposal 3, is possible.
Kelly Rossman-McKinney has also been actively working for support to gain Michigan’s 24th District Senate seat. Rossman-McKinney is a Democrat. As a successful small-business owner who started her own public relations firm as a single mother 30 years ago, Rossman-McKinney formally announced her bid for the senate seat from the very table where she began her business. “I am accustomed to working with both sides of the aisle,” she shared at the luncheon. Her partner, John Truscott, was actually Republican Governer John Engler’s press secretary, and Truscott Rossman public relations agency is now “the best known, largest bipartisan business firm” of its type in the state. “I was at the top of my game,” she said. Rossman-McKinney retired from her business to pursue her candidacy. “I did not need another job or another career.” However, she was initially inspired by Rep. Tom Leonard’s proposed plan to hike the personal exemption for state income tax returns since she adamantly believed it would blow a “million dollar hole into the state budget,” with no corresponding plan for infrastructural (roads) or educational improvements. “I believe you step up and serve or shut up and take a seat and let others serve,” she shared.
Rossman-McKinney also offered her appreciation of Rep. Ben Frederick (R) by explaining his involvement in a package of bills related to fair and affordable auto reform to “reduce insurance rates, maintain catastrophic care,” and more – citing that Frederick was instrumental in working with this “bipartisan package” introduced one year ago, though the bill has not received a hearing as of yet. Michigan’s excessively high auto insurance – the highest in the country – is an issue Rossman-McKinney wants to address.
Tom Barrett is a Republican member of the Michigan House of Representatives (from the 71st District) after being elected in 2014. At that time, he narrowly beat out his competition by a margin of 148 votes. He was then reelected in 2016.
Barrett has served in the Army for 15 years, including three deployments. In talking with those in attendance at the luncheon, he shared that his candidacy is endorsed by Rep. Ben Frederick. Barrett continued by stating that he is “excited to be running.” He said that his background is actually not political since his career was previously with the military, though he continues to serve part-time in the Michigan Army National Guard. Barrett does have a political science degree from Western Michigan University.
Barrett expressed his interest in supporting veterans, stating that when he first ran four years ago it was because of the alarming veteran unemployment rate – with veterans “struggling to find jobs … so instead of complaining about it, I ran for public office.” He has since chaired two different House committees and was pleased to share that the bills he has worked on have seen “overwhelmingly bipartisan” support. Twenty-one bills in his four years of office have since gone on to be signed into law.
Barrett also talked about his involvement with a bill for paper ballets for voter tabulation (2018 House Bill 5644), which was signed by Gov. Snyder earlier this year. “I have a track record of accomplishing good government priorities for our state,” he said. He also encouraged people to “look at my voting record.”
After a brief introductory discussion period, each of the three candidates went through a series of questions that had anonymously been submitted by those in attendance. SRCC President/CEO Jeff Deason stated that “sitting in a political office is not for the faint of heart … Overwhelmingly, they’re doing it because they’re trying to make a difference and to make life better. They take a lot of flack for decisions that are tough and difficult.” Deason thanked the candidates on behalf of the chamber.
One question asked was over reaching the younger generation. Rossman-McKinney said she thinks social media is “one of the most successful ways to connect with them,” and that many youngsters are disgusted with the current political atmosphere. She is hopeful that the upcoming generation will “step up their game in a more civil way.”
Barrett said that he “might technically qualify as a millennial,” though he prefers not to claim that distinction. He thinks that social media can be a useful platform, but it can “also be disruptive and harmful in a lot of ways.”
Shepard discussed that he finds Facebook “very impersonal.” He suggested becoming “more personal with the next generation,” perhaps through churches or schools.
Another question directed at Rossman-McKinney asked her to explain the difference between lobbying and public relations. She explained that she is an “accredited public relations professional,” and has taught at both Grand Valley and MSU. “Public relations really is maximizing messaging to your target audience and minimizing oppositional messaging to your target audience,” she said – sharing that public relations can connect with anyone including reporters, business leaders, community leaders or millennials – depending on the client. She also stated that she and her business partner are actually both registered as lobbyists “in an effort to abide by all business laws.” Public relations is a field of practice, related to marketing, that manages the spread of information between a given organization or business.
Barrett was asked a question on his stance on vaccines and he responded by sharing that, though Michigan has had regulations in place for 30 years, the health department has added an administrative rule that made vaccination requirements more complicated for parents and he does not believe that “we can abide by that.”
When asked about the repeal of the prevailing wage law in Michigan, Shepard said that he “believes that people deserve to be paid what they are worth.” Barrett stated that he had voted yes on repealing the bill because he believes in a competitive bidding process. Rossman-McKinney said that she strongly supports prevailing wage because she feels it attracts more skilled workers to the state, since people are not attracted to move here based on minimum wage positions.
A number of other questions were asked and it became clear that Rossman-McKinney and Barrett are quite oppositional on various issues. Deason again thanked each of the three candidates for attending and adding clarity to concerns that many voters are currently interested in.