Candidates talk issues

MARQUETTE – Who wasn’t in attendance at an Upper Peninsula Children’s Coalition forum held Thursday night at the Peter White Public Library in Marquette might be as compelling as who was.

The forum – spearheaded by the U.P. Children’s Coalition, a nonpartisan advocacy organization concerned with identifying issues impacting children and families in the U.P. – featured candidates vying for seats to the Michigan Legislature as well as the state’s First Congressional District.

Noticably absent at the forum were Republican candidates, as half the seats on the stage in the library’s Community Room remained empty.

Invited candidates included: Republican Jack Bergman and Democrat Lon Johnson (U.S. House of Representatives Michigan’s 1st Congressional District); Republican Lee Chatfield, incumbent, and Democrat Phil Belfy (Michigan House of Representatives 107th House District); Republican Beau LaFave and Democrat Scott Celello (Michigan’s 108th House District); Republican Kevin Pfister and Democrat John Kivela (incumbent) (Michigan’s 109th House District); Republican Gregory Markkanen and Democrat Scott Dianda (Michigan’s 110th House District).

Absent from the forum were: Bergman, Chatfield, Belfy, LaFave, Pfister and Markkanen.

Questions for the forum were solicited from the general public, including invididuals, representatives from community organizations and the candidates themselves. A Candidate Forum Committee completed the questions and the UPCC reviewed them, modified them to make them clearer and added some questions, said Karlyn Rapport, American Association of University Women public policy representative.

Questions asked at the forum fell under four categories: economic security, education, family and community support and services, and health. The questions were bookended with opening and closing statements by each candidate.

Prior to the start of the forum, Rapport addressed the audience, as well as Chris Zenti, UPCC chair.

Although the forum has a long history, Rapport said this year there were some changes to format.

The candidates were notified in July, after announcing their candidacy, by certified letter and asked to save the date. She said following the August primary they were contacted again via certified letter.

A third letter was then sent out that explained the forum’s format and protocol.

In a phone interview Friday, Rapport said with the exception of one candidate, no candidates responded prior to the forum to say they would not attend.

She said two candidates indicated they had other events to attend closer to home, while another candidate said they planned to campaign “door-to-door.”

Rapport also said despite repeated attempts to contact the candidates – which outside of certified mail, also included phone calls, emails and Facebook messages – no one responded.

On Tuesday, in relation to the Republican candidates attendance at the forum, Rapport said she contacted state Sen. Tom Casperson for help.

“I urged him to contact Republican candidates and request participation,” she said.

Rapport said she reviewed the format with Casperson, and he indicated he felt the format was fair.

In a phone call Friday, John Yob, a Bergman campaign adviser, said Bergman looks forward to attending The Mining Journal’s debate Monday and that he had participated in a prior TV6 debate, but that he was unable to attend each event across the first district.

Rapport said Friday the intent was to have a nonpartisan forum.

“I tried my best to get them to the table,” she said.

She said organizers tried to make the format fair for everyone.

Rapport added perhaps the focus shouldn’t be on who didn’t show up to the forum, but on the candidates who did.

“We are grateful so many Democratic candidates showed up to give us their viewpoints,” she said.

The forum drew around 150 people as every seat in the Community Room was filled, and a handful of residents stood in the back. It lasted about an hour as Democratic candidates fielded twice as many questions than organizers initially planned, making up for the absence of their opponents.

Rapport said she was pleased with the turnout and that it shows residents are concerned about the future of children and families.