Senatorial race calls for choices in primary


By Cynthia Price
Legal News

The primary next Tuesday will offer two choices on each side of the aisle for candidates to vie for the position of state senator representing Michigan’s 34th District.

It is worth noting that if you do not have a photo I.D., you can still vote, but it requires signing an affidavit; you may ask the elections officials at the voting place.

The 34th includes all of Muskegon, Oceana, and Newaygo counties. There is a large rural component, but Muskegon County has the greatest population.

Competing on the Democratic side are Poppy Sias Hernandez and Collene Lamonte; and on the Republican, Jon Bumstead and Holly Hughes.

Following is a brief look at each of the four:

Poppy Sias Hernandez is a well-known community leader in the Muskegon area. She attended  University of California Berkley for her B.A. in English Literature /Ethnic Studies, and more recently returned to Western Michigan University as a Thurgood Marshall Fellow, and got her masters in Organizational Change Leadership. She was a well-known health educator with the Muskegon County Health Department, where she worked for 5 years. The mother of two has recently tarted a consulting firm, Poppy Consults.

“My top priorities are addressing our current crisis with public education; public health; jobs and economic development; and lastly the infrastructure issue. I’m actually the only candidate who has worked in three of the four areas I want to address. And I really don’t see these issues as separate – I think we can do more if we look at them together and have a more integrated approach,” she says.

“As a health educator, I focused a lot on prevention. I researched the challenges we face here in Muskegon County: we rank among the highest in the state as far as access to quality health care, but among the lowest in actual health behaviors. My vision is that we expand the continuum of care to include more health care prevention early on – substance abuse, obesity, tobacco, pregnancy prevention – so people are accessing the system in a non-crisis way. When people need to go to a doctor or  hospital, they’re already part of the system, and we’ll already have prevented some problems.”

When she was asked to run, she was hesitant, having just started her consulting business. But when she looked at the makeup of the Senate, she said, she saw no one who looked like her. “I’ve become highly skilled at navigating spaces that aren’t built for me,” she notes. “Entering the Senate, I’ll occupy a minority space, and I’ll be advocating for people to be able to occupy that same space.”

Collene Lamonte,
a former state representative for the 91st District (which includes all of Muskegon County except the City of Muskegon and some other adjacent areas), is a former schoolteacher. Originally from Macomb County on the East side of the state, she and her husband faced economic challenges during the downturn of the mid-2000s, and relocated here for a job.

Lamonte taught at Muskegon schools, first for the alternative high school and then science for freshman classes, including physics for a special program. She was motivated to run for state representative because of her love for education. “I was happy teaching – I had just started teaching the physics for the International Baccalaureate program. Then Gov. Snyder got elected, and in his first budget, he cut one million dollars out of the per-pupil funding for students. What I saw was a train wreck coming, something that would affect my ability to do my job, but more importantly affect the kids.”

During her one term (2013-2014), Lamonte advocated for strong unions as well.

“I believe our state has three major obligations, good infrastructure, providing public safety, and educating our children, and I?have to say that the last is my top priority,” she says. “But I believe that the education system has to be the cornerstone of any economy that we expect to thrive. We saw the deal in Detroit where Amazon pulled out because they said we didn’t have the ability to provide them with the skilled workforce. And for many, our public schools are at the heart of the community. We have to do a better job funding it.”

Lamonte emphasizes that her background allows her to hit the ground running. “There’s such a huge learning curve for first-time legislators, but I’ve been through that process already. I know how to draft a bill, I know what to look out for, I know who the stakeholders are,” she says.

Jon Bumstead has also served in the legislature, from 2010 to 2016. A Newaygo native, Bumstead studied building trades at the Newaygo County Career-Tech Center and started his own construction business, concentrating on custom homes.

He says, “When Sen. Hansen termed out as a representative, I didn’t have government experience though I was involved on different boards, but I just tried for it and got it. If you work in business, state regulation affects you more. We needed some changes in the tax structures, we got rid of the business tax. And it worked, we’re now at 3.5% unemployment, whereas before it was 15%, and the business climate is much better. But as I go around I see people looking for help so now I think the need has become getting people ready in the skilled trades.”

At the same time, he sits on the board of the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly and has a strong commitment to protecting parks and natural resources and their economic contribution. While a representative, he was on appropriations and oversaw the budgets for the Dept. of Natural Resources and Dept. of Environmental Quality. “I think we’re going in the right direction with the economy and we need to continue it so that we can fund the DNR and DEQ and make the connections there, and continue to fix the infrastructure,” he says.

Holly Hughes is still serving as a state representative and she says her priorities are the same as always.

Hughes was a resident of Norton Shores and Muskegon Heights early on, but from fifth grade until she attended Michigan State University, she went to Fruitport Schools. At college, she met her husband and moved to the Montague area. They own and operate MasterTag, which makes plant information stakes and other products.

In addition to several successful bills (the Rebekah Bletsch bill to require that convicted criminals listen to victim impact statements was discussed in a recent Examiner), Hughes is proud that she started the Veterans Job Fair. “We survey the veterans about their needs, and follow up all year long with veterans whose resumes we have,” she says, noting that when they started the fair people were lined up for the positions, but now there are more open jobs than candidates, requiring more emphasis on skilled trades education.

In addition to roads and other infrastructure, Hughes strongly supports no-fault auto insurance reform.