The Race for the 97th Enters the Final Phase
by Dr. Robert Townsend
The primaries are over and the race for the 97th is now a matter of two candidates and the general election. Coming off a resounding victory in the primary, I wanted to set the tone for the remainder of the campaign. The voters of the 97th have picked two excellent candidates out of the original field of 7. Either of us would serve the district well, my opponent Jason Wentworth and I have much in common and several areas of difference.
I’d like to point out a few of them. Specifically our backgrounds, skill sets, views on the second amendment and abortion, and the influence of endorsements and campaign contributions. While we agree on many points, we will be very different in our representation of the 97th District.
The Background of the Candidates
Both my opponent and I have an excellent education in our chosen fields. We both served in the Army, my opponent as a SGT in the MP’s and me as an E-4 medic and an MSU trained ROTC Commissioned Officer. We both worked in public safety, my opponent as a police officer, I was a paramedic in Lansing for most of the 80’s. We are both family men, enjoy the outdoors and shooting sports. We both received identical positive ratings from the NRA.
Where our backgrounds diverge is in employment and experience. We are both in management, but my opponent has worked for others, mostly in jobs that emphasized regulation and procedure rather than innovation. I’ve worked for others, learned from them and went out on my own to build businesses and create jobs. Denali Healthcare, my practice, was started back in 2010 with one office, by the end of 2015 I had 10 offices- I built it by identifying new markets and meeting the needs of those markets. 20 years ago, when I was my opponent’s age, I was right where he is now. Since then I’ve gone beyond a cubicle, built businesses, had successes and failures and built them back into successes again. I have stretched my horizons and been burned for it once or twice, I learned from those experiences and went on to greater success.
The biggest advantage this gives me over my opponent is that I am the one that constantly asks ‘Can We do this Better???’ and the courage to try. This has been my key to success in business and life. It is a reason I can bring leadership from the 97th District to Lansing, rather than go there to be another clog in the machine for a ‘Business as Usual’ model of government.
The Second Amendment
My opponent and I both received a rating of B- from the NRA. A clearly positive rating for sure, but not an A. The reason we were both marked down is similar, we both favor background checks, training for CPLs, and I for one am not a strong proponent of ‘Constitutional Carry’. My thoughts on this are that as Americans, guns are part of our culture and we have second amendment rights that allow for ownership of firearms. We also have an obligation to use them safely and responsibly. While it is a right to have a rifle in your hand, it is more appropriate to have a rifle in your hand in Clare during deer season than it is to strap one to your back and go shopping at SaveWay in Ann Arbor.
As noted, we both have the blessings of the NRA and are pro-second amendment. The question is, what are the candidates going to do with it? My opponent will take it to the Republican Caucus, where he will be another of many pro-second amendment representatives in a chorus of voices. I will bring it to the Democratic Caucus where I can be a voice of reason and if needed, opposition, when firearm related bills are being created. Again, one of many vs one amongst many. Where can the 97th best make its voice heard?
Endorsements and Financial Support
Both my opponent and I have endorsements. His come from Republican PAC’s with large amounts of money. An example is the Michigan Freedom Fund- The DeVos Family. The DeVos Family of Grand Rapids spent an average of $28,500 a DAY in the last 56 days prior to the primary supporting candidates. My opponent received over $9,000 (more than I spent to date on the race) from them alone. There are a number of other big money donors backing him. My campaign is self financed and supported by small donations from people all over the 97th District. There is nothing wrong with PAC money, but the amount flowing into the coffers of my opponent will change this race.
How much is my opponent willing to spend to get a $71,000 a year job? The more important question is ‘Why are people willing to spend so much to get him elected?’. The answer quite clearly is not the job, it is the influence that comes with it. While my opponent is an honorable person, and I am not suggesting he can be bought, the question becomes why are powerful and monied donors reaching all the way to Mid Michigan to support his run? What do they hope to gain, and WHY HIM? There is a story about a wise old Southern Judge hearing a divorce case. One of the attorneys came to him in chambers and offered him $1000 to rule his way. The judge, an honest man, was furious. Not so much at the attorney, but at himself. ‘What FLAW in my character did you detect, or what impression did I unknowingly give you by my words or actions that made you think you could bribe me?’. Once again, why my opponent? Why not Link, or Johnson, or Gilmore? Are the people of the 97th ready to let a wealthy family from Grand Rapids play king maker with our District? A family that is supporting ‘their’ candidates, and spends more money a day on Republican candidates and causes than the average Amway worker makes in a year?
My donations are much smaller, generally less than $100. They come from people in the District, the ones that I am asking to represent, the ones that have a RIGHT to expect influence with me. My endorsements don’t come with checks. They are from people like Richard Fitzpatrick, former 4 term representative from Battle Creek who spotted me in the crowd from Las Vegas as a ‘fresh voice in Lansing’. Bill Barnett, the former 3 term Republican Mayor of Cadillac who describes me as a ‘free thinker and a democrat he could work with to get things done.’. Even a former Republican opponent Brian Johnson crossed party lines over the DeVos money to endorse me as the best choice for the 97th District. The only families that can claim I am ‘their’ candidate are the families of the 97th District, and thats the way I like it.
I will not call out my opponent to give this money back. More power to him. But I will challenge him NOT to make this race about money. It should be about ideas, and positions, and what we will do in Lansing. Could both of us agree on a figure that is more than enough to get our message out and put the issue to the voters in November? We’ll both donate the remainder to charity or another good cause. A political race should not be based on who outspends whom.
The Skills we Bring
My opponent works for the State. He’s familiar with regulations, he oversees people that help Veterans get their benefits. To my knowledge, he’s never owned a business, he’s never took the risk involved with building something from scratch.
Two of the greatest problems facing our state are pain management and addiction. This is MY MEDICAL SPECIALTY. Clearly I have seen first hand the challenges facing medical practices and patients dealing with pain management and addiction in this state. The approach used is that of law enforcement and prosecution rather than to addressing the issue from a patient centric medical approach. I may be able to bring some leadership to Lansing on the issue from the 97th. Another skill set I bring is an understand of medical marijuana as a medicine and a way to not only ease suffering but to reduce the amount of narcotics being used by Michigan Residents.
Abortion and Planned Parenthood
My opponent is endorsed by Right to Life. Good for him. I reviewed their endorsement documents and declined their accept their positions or their endorsement. A position only held by 18% of the population that believes abortion is inappropriate in nearly all situations- I believe the life of the mother is the only one on which they have any leeway. As a physician, I’ve never performed or assisted in an abortion, and I don’t agree with it as a form of birth control. But that is my choice. It should be yours as well.
Everyone is Pro-Choice on the issue of abortion, even the Right to Lifers. The difference in positions is who gets to make the choice. Those in the Right to Life camp believe THEY should determine the choice for everyone. I believe the woman and her doctor know her situation best, and they are the ones that should make the choice. My opponent and those endorsing him on this issue believe he should chose for them. If the issue involves his wife, sister or daughter, and they look to him to help make the decision, I fully support his involvement. If it is my wife, sister or daughter, I do not want him making choices for my family.
I don’t think the religious, moral or personal beliefs of those outside the woman and her family/doctor should hold sway, nor do I think the woman’s financial status should be the determining factor. It is the law of the land. If that changes as they want it to, rich women would still have the option of leaving the state or country to obtain an abortion. Poor women would be relegated to unsafe back alley abortion clinics. We lost enough young women in the 50’s and 60’s due to unsafe abortions. They are going to continue whether the laws change or not. We have an obligation to our citizens to give them safe medical options rather than risk sterility and death.
The voters of the 97th District have two excellent candidates, with many similar positions. The difference between us is going to be the style of government we favor, the experience and skill sets we bring, and the people that help us get to Lansing.
It is my opinion that my opponent’s strength is dealing with bureaucracy and regulations, he will work hard in a fixed set of guidelines and he will strengthen the voting block of the Republican Party. He will continue the type of government in Lansing we have seen for the last 8 years. If you are a Republican or nothing voter, like the way things are going now, or just plain hate change, he is your man. There are many powerful and monied interests that also want no change and a strong Republican voting block. They are sending a great deal of money his way to help him identify and impress you- the business as usual voter.
If you chose to elect me as your representative, I am not going to Lansing to blend in with the furniture. I’ve advocated for my patients for close to 30 years, so I am well practiced and skilled at it and ready to advocate for you and the 97th District. The Republican endorsements I’ve received show I am respected on both sides of the aisle and can effectively work with bipartisan legislation. While running as a democrat, I am in reality much more of an independent. I won’t be a block voter, I’ll be the swing vote- as such I’ll have more influence that the typical gridlock party line voter. You may not agree with each of my positions but at least you will know where I stand on them and why.