GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Libertarian candidates running for Michigan governor met at WOOD TV8’s studio for a debate, urging a smaller government with less control over a number of matters.
The candidates are veteran and retired teacher John Tatar and real estate and title businessman Bill Gelineau.
Introducing himself, Tatar said he was “tired of the Republican and Democratic nonsense that’s been going on over the years.” He said his goal was to restore the sovereignty of the people.
Gelineau described himself as a longtime Libertarian activist who has long worked to improve politics by making more voices heard. He said he would work toward small government and believed in bringing people together to reach solutions.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A LIBERTARIAN?
With this being the first time the Libertarian Party has qualified for the primary ballot, the gubernatorial candidates were asked to clarify what their party is all about and what the race means for them.
Tatar said it was about ensuring a smaller, constitutional government. He said Republicans and Democrats haven’t changed anything in the last 150 years and that Michigan has declined.
Gelineau, a two-time chair of the party, said there hasn’t been anyone from a third party on the primary ballot in Michigan since 1970. He said his and Tatar’s presence on the ballot will provide voters with broader perspectives.
ROADS AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Michigan’s notoriously poor roads have long been a point of discussion in Lansing, and gubernatorial candidates have long been promising to fix them.
Gelineau said the problem is two-fold, with the first being the road-funding formula, which he said is too piecemeal and location-based. The second issue is where the money for infrastructure should come from. He said his program would downsize the state’s corrections systems and redirect money to the roads.
“If we cull off $750 million (from the corrections budget), we can add to what we’re currently spending,” he said.
Tatar said the materials used on the roads should be upgraded and more permanent fixes instituted. He added the state should reprioritize roads and infrastructure in spending.
Asked about upgrading water and other underground utility infrastructure, Tatar said it was a long-term project that needs to start from the top down.
Gelineau urged a sustainable model. Referencing his real estate experience, he urged moderating development and requiring responsibility for infrastructure on that front. He pointed to the Lake Bella Vista water system in Kent County as an example of private ownership and management working well.
NO-FAULT AUTO INSURANCE
Like the roads, reforming Michigan’s no-fault automotive insurance has been a thorn in Lansing’s side for years. Everyone agrees reform is necessary to lower premiums, but no one agrees on what should be done.
Gelineau said he supports maintaining the state’s unlimited catastrophic claims fund, which is unmatched in the nation. He said he was concerned about the differences in insurance costs for treatment of injuries caused by a car crash versus some other source.
Tatar said he would review the catastrophic claims fund, which he said should come from insurance companies and not the state, and he said he wanted to throw out the no-fault policy. He said people should be able to shop for insurance that was right for them in a freer market, which he said would lead to a decline in prices.
“When you have a mandate that they have to have a certain insurance, then the insurance companies have a free ride to charge whatever they want and get away with it,” Tatar said.
MEDICAID WORK REQUIREMENTS
Michigan’s Medicaid expansion, called Healthy Michigan, serves more than 600,000 people. Recently, the state approved new work requirements for people in that program.
Tatar had questions about those work rules, wondering who exactly would decide whether people on Medicaid were or were not able to work. He added people on Medicaid should have more access to alternative or holistic options.
Gelineau also had problems with the work rules, saying they were “unrealistic.” He added people on Medicaid often have limited access to employment.
“I would like to see us make a real initiative to bring jobs into the inner cities,” he said. “That’s really where part of the problem lies, is there are an awful lot of people living in poverty who don’t have access to the kind of job that would allow them to not be on Medicaid in the first place.”
Asked whether Michigan schools got enough money and whether they would change anything, Gelineau said he would.
He said he anticipated a wider variety of education options in the future and that the Libertarian Party had long worked toward private education. He acknowledged, however, that most people are served by public education and said he would find more money for schools in the Strategic Fund.
Tatar said the funding formula should be reviewed. A former teacher, he urged the return of industrial arts programs and hands-on skills training to help alleviate Michigan’s shortage of skilled trade workers.
Tatar said he would also expand Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s Marshall Plan, which encourages more people to become skilled trade workers with a pipeline starting in high school.
“There are a lot of kids that would prefer to be doing something with their hands than sitting in a classroom writing on a piece of paper or trying to do some sort of college prep work. There are students that don’t want to go to college, that want to get out in the field and produce,” Tatar said.
Gelineau was not a fan of creating another government program, in this case the Marshall Plan. He said he questioned a state directive to train workers on behalf of the community.
Gelineau said he’d rather have Michigan “drop the cap” restricting the amount of income that can come into the state.
“I think a better approach in terms of how we find these jobs and how we find these workers is to make Michigan a great place for employers to be. Employers will train their own workers,” Gelineau said.
From Parkland High School in Florida to Sante Fe High School in Texas, shootings that have killed students have gained national attention this year and spurred questions about gun laws and school safety.
Gelineau said he believes gun ownership and self-defense is a natural right that can’t be taken away. He vowed that if elected, he would veto any measures that would change Michigan’s gun laws.
“I’m concerned that we talk about these things as if rights can then just be kind of frittered away because we’ve got a problem. And the fact is there’s always been problems of violence and there’s always been issues. I think these large recent issues really give an excuse to attack what I believe is a fundamental right and that is the right to own and bear arms,” Gelineau said.
He said he believes the school shooting problems stem from a “cultural issue” and suggested focusing on safety measures, including in the way buildings are built and possibly adding a “better line of a defense,” like officers.
He also said parents and gun owners should be held accountable by law for safely storing weapons.
Tatar said gun education is key. He said parents should educate children about weapons, and if they fail to do so, schools should.
“I think as a state we need to go back and teach kids how to handle guns, what they’re all about. I think there’s a lot of this mystery out there about ARs and other types of weapons and people are afraid of these things because they haven’t used them, they haven’t learned anything about them,” Tatar said.
Tartar said in high school, he was involved in ROTC rifle shooting competitions and continued that in the military. As a father, he taught his kids about the guns he used.
“I also think arming the teachers, if necessary, is important,” he added.
Gileneau disagreed about arming teachers.
MARIJUANA: LEGALIZE IT OR NOT?
A measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use will be on Michigan’s ballot in November, a decade after voters approved medical marijuana.
Tatar said he supports marijuana for medical use and would like to see recreational marijuana decriminalized, but not legalized. That means the government would have some control over marijuana use, but you cannot be jailed for it. Tatar said recreational marijuana should be treated like alcohol.
“If somebody is driving drunk, then he’s going to pay the penalty. … If somebody’s driving when he’s smoking, he should pay the penalty for that,” he said.
Gelineau went a step further, saying recreational marijuana should be decriminalized and legalized.
“I believe marijuana, like gun ownership, is a fundamental right,” he explained.
Calling the drug war a “generally terrible idea,” Gelineau promised to pardon anyone who has been convicted of a drug crime that did not involve a violent act, including drug possession.
“It’s just a waste of public resources. We ought to have the courage to say, ‘Let’s get those people into a program so they can be productive citizens.’ Get them out of prison,” he said.
Both candidates did not answer whether marijuana should be taxed. However, Tatar said he wants to legalize hemp, which comes from the cannabis sativa plant, but does not contain large amounts of mind-altering THC like marijuana does. Hemp has multiple uses from biodegradable plastics, twine and clothing material to an herbal treatment. Tatar would like to see it become a major crop in Michigan.
“I think that will help this economy in all directions,” he said.
The Michigan Supreme Court in July will consider another proposal that would change how Michigan draws its lines for the state House and Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, establishing a bipartisan commission to set district borders rather than giving that power to the political party that is in control of the Legislature.
Both Gelineau and Tatar said while the initiative is imperfect, they support it because it’s better than what we have now.
“It’s a terribly political process that goes on every 10 years. Libertarians really believe in a lot of different systems, whether it be multimember districts or proportional representation. There’s lots of ways that citizens can get involved in their government that we can do a whole lot better,” Gelineau said.
Tatar said creating a purely independent commission will be problematic, but something needs to be done.
“The political system that exists presently where the people in power can decide how they’re going to gerrymander the district to be sure that they’re in power the following election is definitely not … for the American voting process. We have to be able to vote for the people we want in office, and if the majority of people want a particular candidate, then it shouldn’t be gerrymandered in such a way that they can’t get their voice heard,” Tatar said.
MICHIGAN’S SUPREME COURT
The governor has the power to appoint justices to the Michigan Supreme Court if a vacancy arises.
Tatar said his appointee would need to understand and follow both the state and federal constitutions and existing state laws. He called Michigan’s current courts a “my pals’ system” that doesn’t work.
Gelineau agreed, saying the “clubby nature” of the system means only the people who make the rules understand what’s going on.
“I think we need some ordinary folks. People that know how to be fair, know how to listen, have an understanding of what our state constitution says, but can understand that real people are affected by this,” he added.
Immigration has been on the national foreground recently, with immigrant families being separated at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. The president reversed that move with an executive order and the government has been ordered to reunite all families within the next couple of weeks.
Gelineau said U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has been “so foul” that he wants to scrap it and start fresh with a new enforcement group.
Tartar said some form of ICE has to exist to maintain policing. He also said he would resist any attempt by the president to use the Michigan National Guard “as a weapon” at the border, pointing to how Congress must declare a national emergency or war to use the National Guard.
“There’s a lot of people who I think just don’t look at this at a human level,” Gileneau said. “And I hear things like, ‘People are coming here and they’re taking our jobs. And, oh by the way, they’re also taking our welfare money.’ It can’t be both. These are ordinary folks who are looking for a better life and I think we need to do everything we can do to be welcoming and to try to find a place for them in our society.”
He cautioned there must be a process to do that.
Tatar agreed. He said before considering deportation, people crossing illegally should be considered on a case-by-case basis based on how long they’ve been in the country, if they’ve applied for citizenship, who they are and what they’ve done for the country.
With the Flint water crisis still causing distrust among residents, concerns over the levels of potentially cancer-causing PFAS in West Michigan’s water, and worries over Enbridge’s aging Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac, water is a prevalent issue in Michigan.
While Gelineau pointed out the state’s role in what happened in Flint, both he and Tatar said big industries are to blame for pollution and need to be held responsible.
“What we need to do is go after those industries, and there are a lot of them out there that are polluting the waterways,” Tatar said. “It’s big industry that’s causing that problem. Big industry is causing that problem alone and is not required to take care of those problems.”
Gelineau said the state should increase liability for corporations so they will be required to fix a problem. He said big businesses should also be required to hold extensive insurance, which would drive them to improve best practices.
Gelineau said as governor, he would use the state industrial facilities tax to create a fund to clean up the thousands of toxic sites in Michigan.
The number of opioid overdoses is rising in West Michigan. Last year, opioid deaths hit a record in Kent County.
Gelineau said people need to understand drug addiction is not a character flaw.
“This is something that happens to people. It can happen anyone,” he said.
Tartar said the medical standard of care limits how doctors and health practitioners can treat patients, and that needs to change. Tatar said there are medical alternatives and opioids should be the last resort.
Gelineau agreed with Tartar about moving away from “a pure pharmacological approach” to solving pain problems. He pointed to studies that found marijuana could help.
In a 2015 report, Michigan earned the worst scores among all states for its government transparency.
Tatar agrees more transparency is needed, but both he and Gelineau called inquiries about incomes “ridiculous.”
“Transparency is what they’re doing in office. Not how they got there, but what happens once they’re in office,” Tatar said.
Tatar supports Freedom of Information Act requests that focus on all bureaucrats, not just politicians. He said the Legislature was “compromised” because lawmakers get perks from corporations. He called for a stronger oath of office that makes taking bribes or payouts with a promise to use your office to benefit a corporation or person a felony.
To curb corruption, Gelineau said he supports moving to the most efficient free market-based way to accomplish projects, as well as a more responsive government.
Early on during Gov. Snyder’s term, the pension tax was passed. It was unpopular, particularly with people who were preparing to retire, even though it was a graduated tax.
Tatar said he would immediately repeal Michigan’s pension tax.
“I think that the state of Michigan has plenty of money, they have shown by some of their wasteful spending, and I think that people who work 60, 65 years of their life to support Lansing, it’s time that they are retired from supporting Lansing,” Tatar said.
Gelineau disagreed, but said it should have been grandfathered in or applied over time.
“It’s time that we treated everybody the same under the law,” he explained. “I think differentiating people based on their backgrounds is a terrible idea.”
NIXING MICHIGAN’S INCOME TAX
“I believe taxes are theft. But I’m going to go a step further: taxes are evil. But not all taxes are equally evil,” Gelineau said, adding that city income taxes are the worst because they push investments away to to other cities.
Gelineau said Michigan was thriving more before it adopted an income tax in 1962. He also said he would model Michigan after the nine states that do not have an income tax.
Tatar said income taxes should go away and government should shrink in size, saying committees that started for advising and developed into something else occupying big fancy, buildings and office spaces.
“The wasteful spending in Lansing needs to come to an end,” Tatar said. “The Senate Office building, for example. They paid $41 million for a building that was appraised for $12 million. Who got $29 million?”
SCRAPPING A GOVERNMENT GROUP
If governor, Tatar said the first group he would get rid of is the Michigan Public Service Commission. He says three of its members worked for DTE Energy at one point, the commission isn’t listening to the people and it’s a de facto office that has no constitutional authority.
“If somebody’s complaining about they don’t want, for example the smart meters are a big issue and 5G is a big issue. (If) they don’t want that on their premises, in a republic, they shouldn’t have to have it. But according to MPSC, they’re saying the corporation can do what they want to do, so if they want to put a smart meter on your home and you don’t like it, too bad and you don’t have to use their electricity. And they have shut people off.”
Gelineau said he would ditch many of the things found in the Strategic Fund, including the state’s tourism campaign, Pure Michigan.
“Which I’ve referred to as pure BS. This is chamber of commerce stuff. The fact that people in Traverse City or Lansing or Grand Haven or right here in Grand Rapids would like to have folks come visit I think is just wonderful and as a member of a business association myself, we should be putting the money up to attract people in. It’s not the responsibility of a taxpayer, particularly somebody who is struggling to put food on the table,” he said.
In closing, Tatar said everyone is responsible for improving Michigan and he believes in the republic, freedom and liberty of the people.
“The only way we are going to get to liberty for the people is to return back to the republic and to the founding fathers, the constitution of both the federal and state and the laws of this land. We are not a nation of men, we are a nation of laws. And we are all bound by those laws, including those people in Lansing,” he said.
Gelineau said he think Michigan deserves another voice.
“If you want to make a point, I think you should vote for John. If you want to make a difference, I think you should vote for me, because I’m going to go after the Republicans and the Democrats and the system the way it’s been set up for a long time and we’re going to make them talk about some of these issues,” Gelineau said.