Western Herald – Michigan Legislators Speak at Open Forum
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Michigan Legislators Speak at Open Forum

By Katherine Peach
Western Herald

With the elections fast approaching, six candidates running for Michigan legislature will meet for an open forum at the Little Theater on East Campus.

The forum will focus on how the candidates plan to affect state funding for WMU in the midst of a budget crisis.   The forum will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and is open to the public.

The six candidates for the Michigan legislature are from the 60th, 61st, and 63rd districts. Robert Jones-D serves in the House for the 60th district and is the only incumbent candidate. The other five are Jase Bolger-R, Julie Rogers-D, Charles Ybema-R, Phyllis Smith-D and Larry Deshazor- R.

Larry Deshazor is running in the 61st district. Deshazor said that the event is a great chance for the community to get the candidates’ views and to question their stance. He said any time candidates get to talk to the public is important.

“WMU is a major player with 8,000 people employed,” Deshazor said. “To draw attention about their future, that’s the bottom line, to get WMU considered fairly.”

The Friends of Historic East Campus (FHEC) is hosting the forum to ask the candidates about the rise of tuition costs and the increasing burden on students, said Dick Barron, the media relations board member for the group. He said the idea is to bring awareness of the importance of increased state funding for the university to the candidates.

“We need to create an awareness that there are 24,000 people here that share the region of southwest Michigan,” Barron said. “There is a better way to allocate the money that there is and also better way to fund education. Although Western is a major research institution it doesn’t get an appropriate share.”
Each candidate received the same three questions two weeks prior to answer at the event. They will have four minutes to respond. The FHEC contacted local leaders, economists and educators for input on what to ask the candidates to get their position on funding issues, Barron said.  He said the candidates need to be aware since they are wrapped up in so many other issues.

“Now it’s under-funding that is felt by the individual and family which makes it an elitist education country,” Barron said. “Many people can not readily fund education.  We need to sensitize those people that are standing in for us at the legislature.”

Barron said that until the bigger issues are dealt with, the smaller issues aren’t going to get any attention.
The Friends of Historic East campus has the ultimate goal to preserve and bring the original buildings on east campus back to production. The 19 board members have worked for the past decade lobbying for preservation and financial support for the renovations independent from the university.

“To have a safe, functioning building in the image of a long heritage, it’s a win-win combination,” Barron said. “Don’t think of an old pile of bricks costing money, think of something you can use.”

Now the group has over 1,200 members from across the country.  Barron said the group works with other local groups such as the Student Friends of East Campus and the Vine Neighborhood, which are very active in the community and have representation on the board.

“Let’s make sure that we get the same kind of attention to Western’s needs that Grand Valley gets,” he said.
The group is creating a new task force with university employees to create a solid vision of how the buildings can be put to use, Barron said. The virtually vacant buildings are the physical representation of where WMU originated and have historical significance, Barron said.

“We can’t look to the state for support and it must be private and public support,” Barron said. “We really want student involvement. We don’t want to be ashamed of our school and see buildings that are rotting away. We need to save them.”

For more information about the events the FHEC hold or how to be involved in the group visit the site www.wmich.edu/foec.

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