ADRIAN — The federal government’s role in local education, economic development and infrastructure divided the candidates for Michigan’s 7th Congressional District seat at Tuesday’s candidate forum at Adrian High School.
Speaking to those gathered for the forum hosted by the Lenawee County NAACP at the Julianne & George Argyros Performing Arts Center, incumbent Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) squared off against his November opponent, State Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline).
“Responsibility for education is in the states and in the local
communities,” said Walberg, a member of the House Committee on Education and Workforce, “and the federal government should do everything possible to stay out of the way.”
Driskell, who previously served as mayor of Saline, said she believes fostering equal opportunity for all students should be the primary goal of public education and that the federal government can be a partner.
“I do think the federal government can be a partner and do that without a mandate,” Driskell said. “But there are tools that need to be provided to all students and all students need to have an opportunity to have a good education. I think programs like Head Start, which has been documented to show major success for low income communities, really have made a huge difference.”
Walberg said he was proud that he and his colleagues were able to pass into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (S. 1177), which he said gives states and districts more control and funding, as well as limiting the federal Common Core mandate.
“I think our responsibility is to turn back the authority, the opportunity and accept the fact that just as many good ideas are here as are in Washington,” Walberg said.
As with education, Driskell believes the federal government could also be a partner in fostering business growth and employee wellness.
“There is undue regulation, but there is also a reasonableness factor there,” she said. “We want public health and safety. I think that’s a fundamental role of good government.”
Walberg also believes there is a role for the federal government to play in economic growth, which he and his GOP colleagues in Congress have included in their “A Better Way” proposal.
“If we give incentives for entrepreneurial effort, allow small businesses to achieve, reduce unnecessary — and make that clear — unnecessary, regulatory climate that costs almost $2 trillion just for compliance today for our small businesses, reduce unnecessary taxes — spread it so we all share — we grow the economy,” Walberg said.
The two candidates voiced only minor differences over immigration, race relations and on the future of Social Security and Medicare.
Both candidates supported securing the U.S.-Mexico border and comprehensive immigration reform, while emphasizing the importance of immigrants to America’s culture and economy.
“Of course, we need to make sure we have secure borders, but I also think we should be having, at the same time, a comprehensive immigration reform package move forward,” Driskell said, citing the economic contributions made by immigrants and calling for a path to citizenship for law-abiding immigrants who are already in the country. “Twenty-five percent of our venture capital companies are founded by foreign born entrepreneurs. So there is a huge capacity for economic development if we make the right policies and we do make the right decisions and work in a bipartisan way to have success for our country.”
Walberg agreed with Driskell on the economic benefits of immigration, while emphasizing legal immigration, which he hopes to encourage by getting rid of the “red tape” that slows down the immigration process.
“I think there’s a comprehensive plan that’s needed, starting with making sure our people understand and believe that we’ve secured the borders,” Walberg said. “I think in turn, we need to understand that without immigrants we don’t have the resources for the jobs that are here.”
Walberg said he thinks there needs to be a “cooling off” period to stop “some of this anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric that’s out there.”
“They’re in the agricultural industry and construction industry and high tech industry. There are people that could add to this melting pot in very positive ways,” he said.