VOTE AUGUST 7th
DETROIT — As we near the August 7 primary, citizens in Michigan’s new 13th Congressional District have turned their attention to four Democratic candidates, U.S. Representative John Conyers, State Senator Bert Johnson, State Representative Shanelle Jackson, State Senator Glenn Anderson and John Goci, a school board member in Westland. The new 13th is comprised of River Rouge, Ecorse, Melvindale, Inkster, Garden City, Wayne, Redford and Detroit. Most candidates discussed uniting the working-class spirit of the diverse communities.
Congressman Conyers is a well-known veteran lawmaker with 47 years experience on Capitol Hill. He switched districts, in this race, to run in the new 13th. Conyers says he has spent a lot of time getting to know the communities he is now hoping to represent.
What is the biggest issue Michiganders face?
Jobs. …Full employment is still my goal. Our full employment bill is HR4277. We’re pushing for a hearing but doubt if republicans will grant us one. If we take over the House we can hold hearings. For the 112th Congress, I’ve instituted, led or strongly supported grants to restore the DIA, Airport improvement grants, the Wayne County Juvenile program received $400,000 and grants for parole violators…there’s a list. I want to continue on some of the things we’ve been working on. We want to expand healthcare and anti-foreclosure legislation that I passed when Democrats were in control.
Democratic public officials are blaming the Republican-dominated House and Senate for not being able to get anything done. What hope is there for voters?
Elect less republicans and more democrats and we’ll take over. We can’t stop them from refusing to hear our bills because they don’t like them.
What are the concerns of the constituents in your new district?
I’ve been to Romulus, Ecorse, Inkster, Westland, Wayne, I’ve never been to some of these areas before. I’ve spent a lot of time going to the churches on Sunday, talking to the mayors, local officials and union people. I don’t have any legislative changes to make but I am very alert to the fact that they need to get to know me.
People say you may be too old and need to retire. How do you respond?
It’s an easy thing, for anybody running, to say this guy is too old. The only thing is I have the seniority and connections to get things done. Anybody else coming in becomes number 435. I’m the first member of Congress to endorse Barack Obama. To give up those
connections, that’s one of the benefits of me having been around and working my way up through the ranks. I am far from ineffective or slowing down. If we can win the House back, I will be the senior member and will become Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. We’re in good shape. I take it one Congress at a time.
State Rep. Shanelle Jackson says “she is meeting people where they are” and going to the community for support. One of her goals is to sit on the Appropriations Committee, one of the most difficult to attain but sought after appointments, and bring money back to the communities she represents.
What type of leadership/representation do these communities need now?
Leadership that leads. The majority of communities will see their needs are the same. Even the more affluent communities are dealing with some of the same elements: Cuts to school districts, higher than normal unemployment rate. We see more poverty in suburbs than in urban areas. There is more in common than different.
What challenges do you foresee as a freshman in Congress?
Everybody has a first day. I will deal with the challenges of being a newcomer. Leadership leads. I passed four to five laws in my first year. I’m not suggesting it will be easy. I know with prayer and hard work I will be able to navigate.
What’s the greatest problem we face now, in Michigan and in Detroit?
Poverty. Poverty is the greatest issue we’re facing. One in six families in Wayne County lives in poverty. One in three families in Detroit. Michigan is in the top 10 for children living in poverty. It’s connected to jobs.
You’ve had some criticism about some of the legislation you worked to pass, yet have stood by your decision(s), particularly the bill to regionalize Cobo Hall. What do you see as your greatest accomplishments during your time in office?
Every single one of those bills, I’m proud of. I’m most proud of:
1. Mortgage foreclosure reform. It was the first of its kind in the nation. I received calls from lawmakers all over the country asking how we got it done and received national recognition.
2. I’m very proud of Cobo. That saved the city of Detroit $20 million a year. Because we were able to build a partnership with people who use Cobo Hall. There would have been some upgrades we would not have been able to get done (otherwise).
3. The work to get every citizen a fair chance to serve on the jury. (We) worked for five years and were able to get it done through Republicans, not Democrats. People of color were being removed disproportionately from the jury pool because they didn’t fill out the questionnaire at 19. Now they’re 40 and never being called for jury duty. To be able to pass a law to eliminate that … we’ll have a real jury of our peers.
Sen. Bert Johnson says he’s running for Congress because he wants to expand on what he’s done in state government. Johnson says in his three terms as a State Representative and one term in the Senate he’s had 47 bills passed. He says he’s most proud of the bill package regulating mortgage companies, better known as the Save the Dream Act.
He also says his bill on mandatory minimums to “stop filling prisons with people who are the mules” is one of his greatest accomplishments in office. “We gave judges the right to sentence them rightfully. It helps to delegitimize growth in the prison industry where folks think it’s a panacea.”
Johnson says he’s looking forward to representing the new district.
“It’s a very blue collar district with a lot of folks who’ve not been together before or in 30 years, but understand each other. The majority of the cities are working class and 57-58 percent are communities of color,” says Johnson.
Can you talk about the public lighting bill package and the controversy surrounding it, particularly your bill funding the public lighting authority?
My bill has not moved. Just last week they’ve asked me to move it more than once. I’ve refused to move it based on anybody running it through based on what they want.
There has to be a lot more work. It has to be put in front of people. They had hoped to pass it out of the senate this last week, (but) I wouldn’t agree to it. We’ve got to have the kind of hearings to give people information of what’s going on … All of these questions loom. That bill that I have was a standalone bill long before there was a lighting authority. That’s created a problem, which is why I haven’t moved it.
What’s the greatest problem that we face now, in Michigan and in Detroit?
Universally it’s still the economy, still jobs, and, in Detroit, that has manifested in high crime and other trauma issues such as mortgage foreclosures, mental health issues.
I was a little surprised about the problems plaguing veterans. Seniors are under fire, pension taxes, high prescription drug costs, lack of transportation, difficult time moving around. And for children, the issue of education and access to it is critical. I’ve seen reading materials that suggest one high school (Renaissance) graduates students that are college ready. Special needs (is also an) issue, issues surrounding access to government, people feel like they’re estranged from their government.
What will you do in Congress to address these problems, if elected?
One of the first things I want to do is push for federal funding to reopen McGregor Library (in Highland Park). It sits on one of the first streets in the city; there has to be some historical significance. I’m going to get that funded and get that thing open.
The very first thing I want to do is sit on the transportation committee.
The first resolution I want to offer is a bill to put a ban on assault rifles being sold to citizens. They are weapons of war. Only policing agencies and military personnel should have access to them. Our society would be better of without guns period.
Anyone can go to Gibralter Trade Center today and purchase (those types of weapons). The average citizen should not have one. (A ban) might be a problem for other folks; I know the folks where I live are being murdered by these guns. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be able to buy hunting rifles. The right to bear arms is real, (but) the right to be alive is even more real, for me.