A breakdown of Ottawa County State Representative candidates

Although many see November 3 solely as the day Trump might be voted out, or as the day Congress may or may not flip, there are plenty of other elections happening. Even though they might not be as dramatic, these elections also deserve Michigan’s acknowledgement and preparation. One of the most important elections that Ottawa County faces this November is the election of state representatives. 

According to a U.S. News article on the role of state legislation during the pandemic, “It’s the state legislative races that determine policies that affect citizens on a day-to-day basis. With Congress stymied on legislation, states are taking the lead on matters such as abortion, transgender rights, higher education funding and K-12 testing, public sector unions and legalizing marijuana.” While the United States Congress may be more active now than it was in May, the article makes an important point: real change, especially during crises like COVID-19, happens locally. Because of this, it is important for residents of Ottawa County to stay informed on who’s running for state legislature and what promises they make. 

There are three state representative spots that residents of Ottawa County vote for. At the moment, they are held by three Republican incumbents, all of whom are running for reelection: Luke Meerman, Jim Lilly and Bradley Slagh. Each incumbent faces a Democratic challenger, one for each district: Franklin Cornielle against Luke Meerman in the 88th district, Anita Marie Brown against Jim Lilly in the 89th and Christopher P. Banks against Bradley Slagh in the 90th. 

So who are these candidates, and what issues do they fight for? Luke Meerman, first of all, runs for conservative, rural Michigan ideals. He and his family live on a small generational farm, and his support for and expertise in agriculture has earned him an endorsement from the Michigan Farm Bureau Agri-PAC. On his Facebook page, Meerman lists his pro-life stance as his primary issue, and he often reminds voters that he is the only candidate in his race to have been endorsed by Right to Life in Michigan. His campaign also focuses on religious freedom (which, in his words, means that “we cannot ignore that fact, nor the danger of political correctness that seeks to take away our religious freedom… I will fight for your right to live out your faith in your life, your job, and your community”), protecting taxes from rising, local over federal government, family values and the virtues of freedom and patriotism. Meerman is also endorsed by the DeVos-connected Michigan Freedom Fund and Great Lakes Education Project.

Franklin Cornielle, on the other hand, comes from a military background, and similarly builds his campaign on patriotism, but emphasizes the defense of the country and law enforcement. His campaign is largely critical of Meerman, whom Cornielle condemns for his recent protests alongside many men who later were found to have plotted to kidnap Governor Whitmer and his refusal to speak out against the exposed plot. He also criticizes Meerman for not denouncing white supremacy, while Cornielle does. While his primary issues are lesser known, as the challenger with fewer endorsements, Cornielle seems to have built a campaign against homophobia and racism and in support of “migrant farm workers who suffered abuse,” as well as Whitmer’s COVID-19 executive orders, according to the Progressive Voters Guide.

Next up, in the 89th House district, incumbent Jim Lilly drives his more professional campaign with his brand as the “solutions-driven leader.” His issues mainly focus on simplification of the tax code in Michigan, deregulation of the state’s economy, support for early childhood programs and workforce training initiatives, infrastructure investment and the defense of pro-life policies. Lilly comes from a background of banking and finance, which  he emphasizes assists him in making the smartest economic decisions in the House.

Anita Marie Brown, on the other hand, emphasizes issues such as mental health care, equality and justice for women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community, universal pre-K, an education budget that supports teachers, the protection of the Great Lakes and the general environment and finally, the expansion of the COVID-19 response. She has grown up on Michigan’s lakeshore and has experience in Michigan’s local businesses, schools and social services. Brown now lives on the shore with her husband, as a grandmother to 17 grandchildren. She’s specifically worked as a foster care worker, counselor, therapist, relief youth specialist and in-school suspension supervisor, inspiring her fight for education that supports teachers and vulnerable populations.

Finally, the incumbent for the 90th district is Bradley Slagh, who graduated from Hope College with a degree in business administration and teaching, which he used to build a career in the banking industry. He lists his primary issues as the pro-life protection of the unborn, investment into infrastructure for roads, water, broadband and sewer, the reduction of state and local ordinances and regulations that may increase the costs of business, prevention of tax increases, the protection of Second Amendment gun rights, and quality education that includes access to all types of school (private, public, home-schooling, etc.). Like Meerman, Slagh is endorsed by the Right to Life of Michigan and Michigan Farm Bureau (AgriPac). He is also endorsed by Ottawa County’s sheriff and prosecutor. 

Finally, challenging Slagh in the 90th district is Christopher P. Banks. Banks is an African-American progressive candidate who has been a resident of Holland for more than 26 years and has worked over 20 years in manufacturing and 10 years in the automotive industry, according to MLive. He is also an ordained minister who has worked with the elderly and incarcerated. Banks is an avid supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and has denounced Trump for his refusal to condemn white supremacy. He has also criticized Betsy Devos’s performance as Secretary of Education. His main priorities are ensuring a living wage for Michigan workers by raising the minimum wage to $15, ensuring quality education through standardized curriculum, high caliber teachers and smaller classrooms. He also supports universal health care. Banks is endorsed by the Michigan AFL-CIO (State Federation of Labor). 

While it’s easy to arrive at the voting booth and simply select candidates by party lines or incumbency for the lesser-known elections, it is more important than ever to stay aware of state politicians. That way, the county can hold the more productive legislative bodies accountable and remind them that constituents are watching.

Grace Davidson ('21) is a Staff Writer at the Anchor.

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