Michigan Townhalls

District Overview
This is a transcription of an interview posted on 1/29/2018 by the podcast show The Candidates. You can listen to the interview here.

  1. Tell us a little about yourself and about your background.
  2. What inspired you to run for the State House?
  3. What's life like in Michigan's 71st district, and what are some of the challenges that people face there?
  4. What is the importance of the Great Lakes to the State of Michigan and its economy?
  5. How can we help retrain workers whose good paying jobs have either been outsourced or have become obsolete due to automation?
  6. How do we convince people to pay attention to the state-wide races?
  7. What are some of the issues that continuously come up when you're speaking with voters?
  8. What are some first few step that you would recommend for people to take in order to make a difference in their communities?
  9. How can people help you win your election?
  10. Where can we find you online?

Welcome to the Candidate's Podcast! My name is Ryan McGuire. The Candidate's Podcast is a show where we interview Democrats who are running for all levels of public office. On today's episode we'll be speaking with Beth Bowen. Beth is running for the Michigan State House in District 71. You can find Beth online at http://www.VoteBethBowen.com. Without further ado, here's our interview with Beth Bowen.

McGuire: Beth Bowen, welcome to the show.

Bowen: Thank you so much for having me.

McGwire So you are running for the Michigan State House in District 71, and I was hoping you could tell us a little about yourself and about your background.

Bowen: My background is in communication and education. I am a technical writer. I have a degree in composition and communication, and I've spent the last almost 20 years being a technical writer, writing in business, education, financial services, lots of different industries. And I've also trained, done a lot of technical training especially, so breaking down very technical concepts and not only delivering the knowledge that people need, but also that value at why is it that you need to know this, and how is this going to impact your work life, and how is it going to make it better.

McGwire: And what inspired you to run for the State House?

Bowen: I was inspired by several different things. First of all, I was disheartened by the outcome of 2016, and so I started looking for ways to become involved to raise my level of impact. And so I started volunteering, doing community organizing, working with non-profits, that sort of thing. And I started asking myself, what can I do that would have even more of an impact? One of the things that I like to tell people is that as citizens of the United States we have two fundamental responsibilities: the responsibility to vote, and the responsibility to serve as a public servant in office.

McGwire: And then what's life like in Michigan's 71st district, and what are some of the challenges that people face there?

Bowen: Well it's interesting, 71 is just west of Lansing, which is the state capital and also the home of Michigan State University. So we live in an area where it's very liberal, education focused, very cosmopolitan in Lansing. But District 71 encompasses most of Eaton County, which is the county just west of Lansing.

There is one township, where I live, Delta Township, which is actually a Lansing address and it's snubbed right up against Lansing, and often times people really identify much more with the Lansing area. But then you've got fifteen other townships in the county - not all of which are in the House District but most of them are - that are actually very rural, very agriculture based, small business, small industry, that sort of thing. And so you've got about 90, 92% of the district that might have different needs and different outlooks, different lifestyles, different pace of life than a third of the population that lives in this one township up close to Lansing.

So it's an interesting district, it's what they call a purple district, you know it's kind of half red, half blue and that sort of thing. And if you look at my campaign logo that's why I added purple to my logo, to represent we're a blend here. We blend in our ideas but at the same time we all want good schools, we all want good jobs, we all want our families to grow up safe and happy and have opportunities. And so that's where we can all meet in District 71 even if you say, 'Well I live in the southwest corner - which is closer to another city, Battle Creek, than I actually am to Lansing - but I am a part of this district that reaches all the way up to Lansing the state capital.'

McGwire: One of the issues that you list on your website is protecting the Great Lakes. Can you talk about the importance of the Great Lakes to the State of Michigan and its economy?

Bowen: It's really hard to overestimate the importance of the Great Lakes to Michigan. We are entirely within the Great Lakes water basin, so all of the water that we drink, that we consume, anything that has to do with water in Michigan, is tied to the health of the Great Lakes. And not just the health of the fishing industries - although those are very important, the fishing, the shipping industries, any other kind of industry that gets its power or its existence from the lakes. But we're talking about the health of people, animals, our ecosystem, just our way of life here.

It's 20% of the fresh water of the entire world, resides in the Great Lakes. And the people of Michigan always take that very seriously, we're very fiercely protective of it. Most of us grow up going to the Lakes, in the summertime going to the beaches and enjoying the wonderful white sand beaches that we have here, especially on the west side of the state. But also the Great Lakes are part of our identity, so it's also a psychological attachment that we are the Great Lakes State, that the Great Lakes form our State.

Now, I know you're not from Michigan and so you probably aren't necessarily familiar with the map of Michigan. Those of us who live in Michigan and go to college and say, 'Hey, I'm from here, where are you from?', you whip out your Michigan map by showing someone the palm of your right hand. Michigan, the lower peninsula of Michigan looks a lot like your hand, it's called the mitten, and you can point out on your hand exactly where you are from. 'Oh, I'm from down here,' 'Well I'm from up here' and that sort of thing, so that's a very uniquely Michigan thing. And that outline is made by Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and a little bit of Lake Erie. So like I said at the outset, it's hard to overestimate how important the Lakes are to us for health reasons, for economic reasons, just for reasons of identity.

McGwire: Another issue that you list on your website is adult education, and you say on your site that "Michigan needs to be on the forefront of solutions for downsized and outsourced manufacturing workers". And I think when people think of Michigan in regards to jobs, their minds automatically go towards the auto industry in Detroit and in Flint. What are some of the ways in which we can help retrain some of these workers whose good paying jobs have either been outsourced or have become obsolete due to automation?

Bowen: Because of my background as an educator, I look at education as the source of correcting a lot of problems that we see economically in the State of Michigan. And you're right, we have put a lot of eggs in the basket of the auto industry, and we saw what a disaster that had become during the recession when you have one tentpole industry, and it starts to flail. Those ripples go out throughout the whole state, and throughout the country. And so what we need to do is to diversity, we need to retrain people who have come to know one skill and give them multiple skills.

But it's also about giving them skills that are needed today. So someone who went into the skilled trade in, say, the 80s, that skill was in demand, it was important, and they had a good paying job. And now we're saying, yes, it's not that your skill isn't important, but your skill is being taken over by automation or different ways of doing things. And so now we need to retrain to gain a new skill, and maybe it's a tangential skill but something that's related to what you're doing and you're just building on what you already know.

Or maybe it's a skill that's completely new and different but gives you different opportunities for advancement. Like maybe you learn some business skills and you become your own boss. You start your own business, maybe it's a brick and mortar business, maybe it's an online business, but then you get to call the shots. You get to recruit the clients and have more control over your own future and employ other people and make those decisions over how you're going to automate, or how you're going to downsize. So it's about training but it's about empowering people, it's giving them the tools to make their lives better.

We talk about the American Dream, we talk about pulling people up by their bootstraps. This would be giving people those bootstraps to pull themselves up to make a better life, a different life, to pass on something new to their children, but also to adapt to the new economy. Manufacturing is still a number one industry in Michigan followed by agriculture, but technology is rising and those skills are important and those are the skills of the future. So we need to keep up, and I say Michigan should be on the forefront of that because Michigan has a history of being on the forefront of innovation in terms of manufacturing and education and I'd like to see us continue to be that.

McGwire: Can you tell us why it's so important for Democrats to win these state-wide elections? With so much craziness going on at the national level, I feel like these state races sometimes don't get the attention that they deserve. How do we convince people to pay attention to these state-wide races?

Bowen: It's not just the state-wide races, I would argue that even county-wide, township, city, all the way down to precinct delegates are vastly more important than the higher level ones. The more local an office is, the more direct impact it's going to have on someone's life. And so yes, we need to bring more focus to all of these lower level ones and maybe bring people in who thought 'Well I can't possibly do that' or 'I don't possible have the time to do that'.

So again I refer back to education. Educate yourself on who is representing you, what their jurisdiction is, what kind of decisions that they make that affect your life in terms of how tax money is spent, where it's spent, who is in control of different things. Whether they're going to say yes or no to medical marijuana, that is something that in the state of Michigan is decided at the township level or at the city level.

So educate yourself, go to the meetings, read the minutes, get to know your elected officials because we all think about our Congresspeople and our Senators and the President being the public servants and they work for the people. But everyone who is elected has that mantle of public servant and working for the people. So every level of elected official has the same boss, if you will, the people. All the power resides in the people in a democracy.

So we need to raise that level of awareness to say 'well it's important for me to know who my township supervisor is, that person who lives here in my township with me, not in Washington D.C. or in Lansing or Detroit or somewhere else. And I can know that person and that person can know me and then we can talk about what our priorities are and our goals'. So it's making it easier for people so that they understand that it's not hard to go within my own township, to carpool or to find other like-minded people, and to make an impact at that level.

McGwire: I'm sure that you've heard a ton of stories while you're out on the campaign trail. Can you tell us about some of the issues that continuously come up when you're speaking with voters?

Bowen: Yes, several of the issues that I have heard repeatedly in Eaton County and in District 71.

One that I've heard that doesn't get a lot of spotlight and that I have not actually added to my website yet but it's one of those things that I'm hearing over and over, is a problem that we have with foster parents, not having enough foster parents for all of the need for foster children. I've heard it in a couple of different venues.

There are a couple of different programs that people can volunteer for, to help with this. When a child is in need of a home, they cannot stay in their own home because of safety reasons, because of any reason that is determined, and they need a place - either just for the night or for a weekend or something like that - they need a home where they can sleep, where they can feel safe. And you don't necessarily within a weekend develop a family relationship with a child, but you can at least give them some safety, you can give them food, you can take care of those basic needs. And that's a real need in our county, in several counties in this area.

We have a program called CASA, it's Court Appointed Special Advocate, and these are volunteers who are assigned to a foster child or a set of siblings, and they work only for the child's interests. And the court is very very strongly in favor of listening to what the CASA volunteer says about the child and what their best interests are. And the CASA program is a non-profit, if you volunteer for the training you'd don't pay for the training at all, it's all the program and you just go through the training and then you spend 5-6 hours a month in writing up your reflections on your time with the child just to make sure that that child gets what he or she needs, or that sibling set gets what they need. So that's a big one that I keep hearing multiple times.

Another thing is small businesses that are struggling in our smaller communities. One woman I spoke to owns her own salon in a small town and she was saying that because she is a business, she pays a higher rate for her utilities than residents in housing right next to her building. So it's a problem because commercial utilities are more expensive for small businesses but if she is a really small business and I stopped into her salon in the middle of the day and she was sitting there, she didn't have any clients at the time. So if you don't have any clients then you're not bringing in any money but the lights were on, so she's spending money on electricity. Small businesses need support, they need either relief from utility issues depending on their income bracket, that sort of thing.

Another thing that I have heard in talking to people around the district is trying to compete with larger chains. So small grocery stores in small towns, you're not going to have a Walmart in a small village, but they could still put out of business that small grocery store that is in the village that's convenient, that you can run out to in the evening and it would be just a 5 minute trip rather than a half hour trip to get to the Walmart. The problem is that the small grocery store can't offer the variety because they don't have the buying power that a Walmart does.

And so how can we remedy that, how can we level that playing field? Is it just about variety, is that what customers are interested in? Or are there other things that we can equip small grocery stores, small businesses with so that they can compete with the larger businesses. I'm not anti-business at all. I think business is important to give people jobs, to provide products and services to consumers, but we also need to make sure that there is a balance, there is an equity. Not everyone lives in an urban area and even some people who live in urban areas don't have grocery stores that they have access to.

So those are several issues that I have heard multiple times, addressing education, the economy, all the kitchen table topics that you are going to hear pretty much everywhere.

McGwire: We ask this question to every guest, there are a lot of people out there who are just starting to get involved in politics who previously never paid a whole lot of attention. What are some first few step that you'd recommend for those people to take, in order to make a difference in their communities?

Bowen: That's a great question and it's a journey that I took over the past year and a few months. And I can tell you that sometimes it is kind of intimidating to take those first few couple of steps, to say you know I think I am going to start understanding what's going on, looking around, finding like minded people. But maybe that's the intimidating part, is trying to find other people, so maybe the first step could be to, again, educate yourself, read up on what's going on, and not just read up on what's going on in the news. Not just what's going on today, but also find out what has happened historically over the past 50 years.

And also, educate yourself on the civics of our country. I know I, for one, have not had civics since high school, I would imagine most people have not. And so, you have these ideas about how our government works with the three branches, and the checks and balances, and that sort of thing. But refresh yourself about that.

Well why is it that we have the courts, why is it that we have a legislature and we have the executive branch with the governor's office, what are their different functions? What are the functions of things like the DEQ here in Michigan - the Department of Environmental Quality - we have DHHS which is Health and Human Services. Why do we have these agencies and what do they do and what's their relationship to the legislature and the governor's office and that sort of thing?

So if we dive in and we find out more about how things are, and not just what craziness is going on in the news today, not only will that help you gain a deeper understanding of what's going on today, but also it will equip you to have conversations with people about 'Well, why is this happening?' 'Well, historically we've got this structure in place, this is how this is supposed to work'. And then you can step in and have those conversations. So when you arm yourself with knowledge, then you can feel more bold about going out and talking with people. And not just talking to them to convince them of anything, just talking and listening.

When I'm out on the campaign trail I emphasize listening a great deal. I am doing a lot of talking in this interview because it is an interview, but this is unusual for me. I let people talk and I listen. I gather those issues that they are interested in and I gather that information and then I also think about how could this person advise me if I'm their legislator and an issue comes up I can say I can reach out to Bob, I can reach out to Mary and say 'Hey, you're an expert on this, you had an incident with this, what do you feel about it, how would you like me to vote, what do I need to know about this to make an informed decision'.

And so the more we educate ourselves the more we can help each other make those decisions, become experts, and then you can do things like join groups, start canvassing with candidates and that sort of thing.

McGwire: How can the people of District 71 help you win your election, and is there a way for those of us who live outside of Michigan to help you out with your campaign?

Bowen: The people of District 71 can help me win, first my primary, by voting in the primary, making their voice known. In the primary elections a lot of people don't necessarily get out and vote, but there are a lot more candidates in the primaries so it gives you a lot more choice. And so coming out in August of this year, 2018, to express their opinion on the Democratic ticket - that's where I would be - and cast their vote during the primary, that's one way.

They can also volunteer, talk to people, put together coffee times, say 'Hey I'm going to get together with ten of my neighbors, can you come?' and then I can come and we can talk, I can listen, they can tell me what I need to know, and then they can get to know me as a candidate. And in this world of high tech online podcast skype and email and texting and all of that sort of thing, when it comes to government employees and elected officials it's still very much about those human connections, that face-to-face in-person getting to know someone.

And so as many people in District 71 who can give me that opportunity to come out and meet with them and they get to know me. Who am I? I am an educator, I am a writer, I am a Mom, I am a wife, I am a woman, I have been a musician in my past, I have played a musical instrument. There is a lot to me that you can get to know and we can trade stories and find out who each person is. And that's a big part of how people in District 71 can help me with my election.

People outside the district can search their contacts and see if they know anyone who lives in District 71, but you can also do things like just spread the word to other organizations who are looking to support the blue wave in 2018 and Democratic candidates.

There's always, when it comes right down to it, you can throw five bucks at my campaign. It doesn't take thousands of dollars to support someone who's running for office, I think that that is a common misconception is that you have to be rich, you have to be a millionaire, you have to be someone who's in industry, that sort of thing. No, your five dollars means the world to my campaign.

The term shoestring - yeah, we're doing it a little bit on a shoestring - but I don't think it should cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to run for office, I think that's a misuse of money. I think there should be less money in campaigning and more money in government to actually get things done. So you know five, ten dollars if you're outside the district, you can put that towards my campaign or any campaign that you want to support, and see a different candidate come to leadership.

McGwire: And where can we find you online?

Bowen: Well you can check me out at http://www.VoteBethBowen.com, that's my website. I also have a Facebook page, you can search for 'Beth Bowen for Michigan State Representative', I also have a Twitter account and an Instagram, all of the usual channels. I have a dedicated phone number 810-892-3842 for constituents that you can call or text me and that's also on my website.

So I want to be incredibly available at all time so that a voter doesn't feel like I'm removed celebrity who's out there in Lansing doing these things that are unimaginable. No, I'm a person who lives in the same neighborhood and you can reach out to me and say, 'Hey I found out something, I have some important information' or 'I have a problem'.

McGwire: Beth, thank you so much for joining us and best of luck in your campaign.

Bowen: Thank you very much, I really appreciate the time.