|Albert Clawson has been a property manager for Mica Realty since 2002. A graduate of Regent’s College in New York, Clawson was previously an information technology contractor for Ford Motor Co., General Motors, GM/Mexico, EDS, Digital, IBM and Lucent Technologies. He and his wife have one child.|
Six Republicans — Albert Clawson, Brad Hantler, Nicholas Kennedy, Klint Kesto, Bubba Urdan and Kristine Zrinyi — are competing in the Tuesday, Aug. 7 GOP primary election for the state House of Representatives 39th District. The winner will face the winner of the Democratic nomination on Nov. 6. State representatives serve two-year terms and are currently paid $71,685 annually.
The following are questions our staff recently posed to Clawson and his response to those questions.
BUDGET: After years of 11th-hour approvals of state budgets and criticisms of kicking the can down the road on critical fiscal issues, lawmakers have in two consecutive years passed spending plans that have scaled back state spending through tough cuts in certain areas. If elected to the state House of Representatives, what would be your budgeting priorities and why? Do you believe further cuts are needed, and if so, where? Please state where, if anywhere, investments in key areas are necessary?
CLAWSON: While some cuts may be appropriate, the state is compelled to use the monies we have in the most effective manner possible. By modernizing the workflow and reducing paper forms, significant savings can be had — not only by the state but by easing the burden on individuals and businesses. Some investments in computerized systems will be needed, as well as in retraining state workers, but the benefits that will be realized are staggering.
EDUCATION: Officials representing public school districts have decried what they have said amounted to a $470 per-pupil decrease in education funding instituted during the first year of the 96th state legislative session, particularly when districts had already been grappling with serious structural deficits in the years leading up to implementation of the 2011-12 fiscal year budget. Tell us what you believe needs to be done to be sure our schools are funded adequately. Aside from funding issues, what reforms to the state’s educational system are needed to ensure Michigan’s children receive the education they deserve?
CLAWSON: Our educational system is failing our students. As a state, we all too often do not match the education provided with the interests and needs of our students. This is not fair to the students who have other interests and goals, and diverts resources away from students who need additional preparation.
At one point, a student could graduate from high school and immediately qualify for a well-paying job that could support a family. This should still be the goal. For students who are not interested in pursuing a college degree immediately after high school, they should be given the opportunity to finish their school with a journeyman card as a plumber, carpenter or other skilled trade. For those interested in computer and networking skills, graduating with certifications from Cisco, Red Hat or Microsoft is well within their potential. Interested and motivated students could complete their high school courses as a certified LPN, EMT, firefighter or law enforcement officer. Instead, we churn out student after student then send them off into the world where they have to find additional funding to complete courses they could have finished before graduation.
I also believe that the educational system can be modernized. Imagine a system were every student in every school could take a course in any language that interested them without the need for each school to find and hire a teacher to teach only one or two students who were interested. A school that has one or two students who are ready to study artificial intelligence or robotic design, but may not be able to find or afford a teacher to cover these subjects. Through the use of distance learning, a teacher in Marquette with a gift for explaining difficult concepts in math could provide primary and remedial teaching via video to smaller or financially troubled districts that may not be able to pay for a full-time instructor but could afford to pay for a single class — freeing up resources that will maximize the benefit to the school as a whole. Such an arrangement would ensure that the best teachers are matched up with the students in the most need of those particular teaching talents and would provide financial benefit to schools and teachers alike, without increasing the total cost of the programs. In fact, such a program would in some cases provide more educational opportunities for students while reducing the total spent.
PERSONAL PROPERTY TAX: A spate of measures to either repeal or phase out the state’s personal property tax (PPT) have received the attention of both chambers of the state Legislature this year, prompting concerns among some about how those dollars would be replaced for local communities reliant on PPT revenues. Do you support a repeal or phase-out of the PPT? Why or why not? If a repeal or phase-out is passed, how, if at all, should the state replace those revenues for local units of government?
CLAWSON: I support a phase-out of the personal property tax. It is not fair to ask businesses to spend significant funds to purchase equipment that enables them to do business, then repeatedly pay additional monies for years to come. This serves to discourage companies from moving into Michigan. At a time when we need to do everything in our power to attract new business to the state, we cannot afford to keep things as they are.
Local communities have reason to be concerned, however. By phasing out the PPT rather than an outright repeal, they will have time to adjust and — more importantly — phase in the revenues that will follow economic growth as companies move into a more favorable business climate. We need more high tech companies. We need software and service developers, server farms, and online universities. We need order fulfillment centers for sales giants and startups alike. We need small- and medium-sized CNC shops and microfabrication facilities. We need to produce solar cells, wind turbines and low-head hydroelectric components. We need to attract fuel cell producers, genotyped pharmaceuticals and climate-specific paints and coatings. By making it easy and more lucrative for smaller companies to come and take risks on new products and ideas — coupled with the obvious attraction of abundant fresh water supplies — the PPT monies will be more than replaced through the economic growth.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Four years after the passage of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) following voter approval in the 2008 general election with overwhelming support, local communities are still grappling with its impacts and how to go about addressing its provisions. Explain why you do or don’t believe additional regulations or measures need to be implemented for the MMMA? Do you believe a recent proposal in the state House of Representatives calling for the legalization of so-called “dispensaries” has merit? Why or why not?
CLAWSON: The voters have spoken, medical marijuana is something that is favored by the residents of Michigan and their will must be implemented. There are concerns on the part of neighbors, communities and law enforcement that must also be addressed. Whether the proposal for the dispensaries becomes the solution that settles the question to the greatest satisfaction of all involved is a question that must be resolved. In order to come up with a plan, everybody has to sit down together and work out their differences. The end goal is to allow medical marijuana to be reasonably and responsibly available when prescribed by a licensed physician. Exactly how this is accomplished is something that needs to be worked out in a fair manner that hears every voice.
ROAD FUNDING FORMULA: The state’s current road funding distribution formula places more emphasis on the miles of roadway in a county than on traffic density, which tends to favor rural, out-state counties. Please explain why you do or don’t believe that scenario is appropriate. What funding distribution formula changes, if any, should be implemented? Explain why you do or don’t support increases in state fuel taxes to close the gap between available funding and infrastructure needs?
CLAWSON: This cannot be an either/or situation — miles vs. density leaves out key questions such as route importance, local climate, water and soil conditions and costs to maintain or replace (roads). Key roads and bridges must be maintained, regardless of (whether they are) rural or not. Heavily traveled roads with significantly higher economic impact need their own prioritization. Consideration of evacuation and response routes that gain importance of disaster is yet another critical need. Relying on state fuel taxes is not the complete or final situation as improvements in fuel economy or switching to electric vehicles results in a net loss, even as the roads must be maintained.
One possible solution is to institute electronic micropayments to match actual wear and tear to specific parts of the infrastructure. With a transponder, an empty truck crossing a key overpass in the summer might be charged a few fractions of a cent that are specifically earmarked for that specific bridge. A fully laden truck navigating a stretch of asphalt freeway in the dead of winter might be charged half a cent for a particular stretch as the forces are significantly higher. In this hypothetical scenario, funds are automatically generated to repair specific segments of our roadways based on usage, as well as wear and tear.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the district at this time, and how do you propose to address them?
CLAWSON: The three most important issues are No. 1, encouraging economic growth; No. 2, providing more relevant and beneficial education to the children; and No. 3, providing transparency of government. Some of my proposals are indicated above, and I am always willing to discuss specifics at any time.
WHY YOU? Why specifically should voters choose you over your opponent?
CLAWSON: Michigan needs people in Lansing who understand the potential and application of the new technology. We must have people who understand advancements in science and industry and ensure that our legislation does not stand in the way. The daily benefits that technology will bring to our state are limited only by imagination and unintended consequences of legislation that obstructs, rather than encourages. I will bring the vision and experience needed to ensure that Michigan needs to grow into our future as a technology leader.