MARQUETTE - Incumbent Bruce Heikkila is facing an Aug. 5 Democratic primary challenge from Jason Schneider for a seat on the Marquette County Board.
There is no Republican candidate running for the seat in the Nov. 4 election. The term of office is two years. District 3 covers Precincts 1, 3, 4, and 5 in the city of Marquette and the south portion of Marquette Township. Both candidates live in Marquette.
The candidates were each asked to provide some details about their backgrounds they think voters should know, why voters should choose them and what top three priorities they would have in office if elected. Word limitations were imposed on answers.
Heikkila described his background: "I've served on the county board for 10 years. I'm married to Jackie (Anderson) Heikkila, have one daughter, Sarah (Heikkila) Mills, and two grandsons, Gavin and Mason Mills. I am a lifelong Marquette resident, graduating from Marquette Senior High School and Northern Michigan University with a degree in accounting and finance. I have owned and operated local businesses for over 35 years in construction and real estate."
On why voters should choose him, Heikkila said: "I'm asking for your support and vote, because I have the experience (ten years on the Board), knowledge (NMU accounting and finance degree), and skills (operated successful local businesses for over 35 years). I have the time and talent it takes to be an effective commissioner.
"Some of my accomplishments over the past ten years are: Balanced the county budget with no tax increases to taxpayers, promoted job growth through companies such as Argonics, Superior Extrusion and Michigan Renewable Carbon (formerly Renewafuel), and helped to negotiate and secure leases of county property.
"I've also worked to increase funding for area senior centers, the Meals on Wheels Program, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and promoted cooperation between local cities and townships in the formation of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail. I'm currently working on assisting local communities to obtain financial assistance for this winter's freeze-ups, and evaluating the county jail to improve efficiency and safety."
Heikkila detailed his top three priorities.
"The promotion of job growth is one priority. The Economic Development Corporation (Board), on which I serve, can assist with economic development by helping local businesses and new employers. It's important that we provide family-sustaining jobs, so families and our youth don't have to leave the area to find work.
"Secondly, the county pension plans and retirement health insurance plans are currently underfunded. We have started to fund these liabilities through reserve accounts. If we do not properly fund these programs, we will have to cut services in other areas to meet these obligations in the future.
"Finally, there are challenges at the (Sawyer International) Airport that need to be addressed. We have set up a stabilization fund and leasing buildings has been a huge help in generating revenues for this fund. There are also empty buildings at Sawyer that are in need of repair or demolition, and we have obtained grants to remove many dilapidated buildings. My real estate and building experience has helped the county in evaluating these buildings. These, along with many other issues such as the big box store tax reduction losses, (potential) We Energies (Presque Isle Power Plant) closure, affordability and reliability of power in our area, roads, unfunded state mandates, and other issues will challenge the board in the coming years.
"I know that I have done a good job over the past 10 years, and I am ready for the tasks in the future. There's no substitution for experience and knowledge and I possess both. Please don't hesitate to contact me with your concerns."
Schneider described his background saying: "I've been a resident of Marquette for 18 years. I moved here from California and stayed because I love it. I graduated from NMU (economics/history) and since then I have been an entrepreneur running a few of my own small businesses and helping numerous others. I believe strongly in community service and am fortunate to have served as (a) Marquette City Commissioner, the president of the Marquette Food Cooperative and as a Peace Corps volunteer."
On why voters should select him, Schneider said: "I would hope that voters support me because I bring a different perspective of who we are as a community and where we are going. I don't shy away from difficult decisions and value the opinions of others, even when they differ from my own.
"The quality of an elected body comes from its diversity and willingness to work together. As a city politician I have a successful track record of working with people even though we may not see eye to eye. I think it's important to have differing opinions represented in government to ensure diverse ideas are heard, understood and, when possible, implemented.
"I care deeply about our community and believe in giving back - it's natural for me to represent my district to improve the policies effecting the county's future."
Schneider said his top three priorities if elected would be economy, community and communication.
"The younger generations are the future of our economy and we're exporting our kids faster than iron ore and trees. Our economy is changing, and it's changing fast. The younger generations are the ones that are going to steer it. We need to give them all of the support we can and then let them run with it.
"Working together as a community is extremely important to me. We're a county of 22 municipalities that should be working together. If elected, I hope to represent all of them in finding ways to work together better. There are grudges and past resentments that get in the way of doing good work and I would like help break down some of these barriers so we can all work together as a larger community instead of so many separate ones.
"People should have better access than ever before to interact with their government and keep informed. I feel that local government is pretty confusing to most people and I intend to make it easier by making records more accessible and making it possible for people to see what's coming up."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.