MONROE - Sharon Lemasters said she is right there in the trenches with the public. State Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom (R., Temperance) said her record proves she's an advocate of the people, especially kids.
The two will square off Nov. 5 for Michigan's newly designed 17th Senate District, which encompasses Monroe County and parts of both Washtenaw and Jackson counties.
And with term limits ensuring that voters will elect at least 27 new legislators to the Michigan Senate, it comes down to a race between a fresh face and an established one.
Ms. Lemasters, 48, a Democrat, said she is most concerned about laws that have been passed taking control away from local government. The Berlin Township clerk said lawmakers in Lansing should leave the business of local government to local officials.
“I strongly feel that no one knows our communities as well as we do. Let us run our own house,” she said, adding that the state budget, adequate educational funding, and a comprehensive prescription program are also important issues facing the state.
Ms. Hammerstrom, who in 1998 was the 11th woman elected to the state Senate, said she has tried to serve as a voice in Lansing on behalf of both the developmentally disabled and children. She is currently the chairwoman of the Families, Mental Health, and Human Services Committee and hopes to serve as chairwoman on the Health Policy Committee.
“One thing I've heard is that Michigan is a leader in providing care to mental health patients, but I realize there are things we can improve,” said Ms. Hammerstrom, 58. “The way we provide services does not coincide with the way we provide funding.”
Ms. Hammerstrom said she often hears about the elderly not being able to pay for prescriptions and how state aid is not available for elderly people who choose to stay at home.
Both candidates say they recognize a shortfall in Michigan's budget. The state's 2003 budget is already working with a more than $600 million shortfall.
The issue of the economy is also important in the neighboring 16th District where state Rep. Cameron Brown (R., Sturgis) is vying against Democrat Dudley Spade for the seat opened up by the term-limited Sen. Philip Hoffman (R., Horton). The district includes all of Lenawee, Hillsdale, Branch, and St. Joseph counties.
Mr. Spade, whose brother Doug Spade is vying to keep his seat in the state House, said he is especially concerned that the amount of money coming into the state is not sufficient to meet the demand of expenditures. And he said tax cuts won't stimulate the economy enough to curb the deficit.
Mr. Spade, 46, is the director of information systems and technology at Starr Commonwealth, an organization that provides a wide array of services to children, youth, and families from locations throughout Michigan and Ohio.
“I'm anxious to take my skills and talents of being able to make a system more efficient to the state Legislature,” he said. I bring a lot of experience that I think will be the right experience, which means coming in with the understanding from the position of families and kids.”
Mr. Brown, 48, said the economic strength of this new border district is essential because it rests on “the doorstep of the state.” He added that by securing jobs in Michigan, the state won't risk losing them to neighboring Ohio and Indiana. To do this, he proposes putting together an economic summit.
“We just need to do everything we can to provide jobs in Michigan,” he said. “The first thing we need to do is sit down and identify strengths and weaknesses. We need to do an analysis on this border district and out of that we'll have a better sense of where to go.”
The current state representative said that although he could run for another term in the House, he feels the Senate is where the greatest needs lie. He added that with a lot of new faces in the Senate, his background and experience will be instrumental.
“The day of the professional politician is over in this day of term limits,” he said. “The experience of those 27 [new senators] will be very important.”