|Nancy Cassis is a former school psychologist who began her political career as councilwoman for the city of Novi between 1985 and 1993. She served a second stint on the council from 1995 to 1996, when she joined the state House of Representatives. She served in the state House until being elected in 2002 to the state Senate, where she served two terms.|
Kerry Bentivolio and write-in candidate Nancy Cassis are competing in the Tuesday, Aug. 7 Republican primary election for the U.S. House of Representatives 11th District seat. The winner will face the Democratic nominee for the seat in the Nov. 6 general election. U.S. representatives serve two-year terms and are currently paid $174,000 annually.
The following are questions our staff recently posed to Cassis, and her responses to those questions.
Bentivolio did not make himself available for a candidate interview.
BUDGET: As a member of Congress, you will help determine the federal government’s budget, which this year is quickly approaching a dubious milestone: The fourth consecutive year in which there are deficits of $1 trillion or more. In addition, the federal debt is nearing the $16 trillion mark. What spending priorities do you have, and where would you cut back the country’s ledgers to get the U.S. on a more sustainable fiscal path?
CASSIS: Obviously I’m going to look to my past experience and all the budgeting I did over 14 years (in the state Legislature). Wherever there is opportunity to reduce spending and to eliminate government waste, those would be my first priorities. We absolutely need a balanced budget (constitutional) amendment, and I am solidly behind those efforts.
For too long, we have not had a balanced budget, or even a budget. You seem to go year by year, and that’s just unacceptable.
I’m not into saying, “I would eliminate this department, that department…” and so on. I don’t have enough information right now. But I can tell you that, when I was in the (state) House and Senate, I saw golden opportunities to reduce spending anywhere from 5 to 10 percent without harming the basic purposes of those departments.
I also voted against programs that I saw as inappropriate for the government to be spending dollars on.
In the Human Services budget, there were new programs initiated. One was called “How to Parent,” “How to be a Husband.” Legitimately, I argued those were more appropriate with the private sector or charitable organizations like the Salvation Army, churches or synagogues, so I voted against it. Any time a budget went over the inflationary increase in a particular year, I voted against it. I was really a fiscal hawk. I will take that experience and those skills with me to Congress.
Of course, you work with a staff, and the staff you hire is very, very important. You want people who are willing to really do the research to be able to give you the answers you need at any particular time. I would certainly work with them, as I did with my legislative aide, who was a terrific director. He looked over all these budgets and gave me the information I needed to make a good decision.
So a balanced budget is important, reducing spending and not increasing the deficit and beginning to really cut it back. This really affects the future of our families, our children and our grand-children.
ECONOMY: Slowly but surely, signs of economic life are emerging after years of a prolonged recession that devastated the nation’s economy. Yet we still face employment of over 8 percent nationally and 8.3 percent here in Michigan. What more needs to be done to bring the American back to the thriving economy it once enjoyed?
CASSIS: Importantly, government doesn’t create jobs, but it can facilitate improving an economic climate and environment and creating, out of uncertainty, greater confidence for businesses to begin to invest, expand and hire. To that end, I think what handicaps businesses and makes them hesitant to hire right now are all these burdensome regulations and restrictions.
They are faced with what the outcome of Obamacare will be, for example, and the enormous expense of that. We think that will lead to them actually letting go of employees instead of hiring. Then there’s Dodd-Frank, which really has created a difficult situation from a lending standpoint. It really has weakened some of our banks and created less opportunity for businesses to invest. These are all things that need to be addressed in economic policy.
I was very saddened to hear President Obama’s speech that (said) basically it’s government that has allowed you entrepreneurs to be successful. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this is going to be a defining election, an absolutely defining election. We’re either going to go down that slippery slope toward socialism, or we’re going to build back up toward supporting the private sector, private entrepreneurship and the capitalist system that made America great economically, and made us prosperous.
It’s the restrictions, the burdens, the uncertainties with Obamacare and so on, that are making our small businesses, in particular, really not want to take a risk. They just can’t see now a more stable, certain future. Until that begins to unfold, I think we are going to be at this stalemate and see this employment above 8 percent.
I’m very concerned about Michigan in that respect because we were the hardest hit in the whole recession. We’re seeing signs of manufacturing beginning to come back, and that’s a good sign. For every one manufacturing job, three more jobs are dependent on that one job — the retail sector, people being employed and then being able to buy goods and services. All of that is very much integrated here. So jobs are extremely important.
Let me make it very clear. One of my top priorities is to repeal Obamacare and start afresh.
You always have to have a solution when you say “repeal.” Everyone wants to know what you’re going to do. I’m a problem solver. I think there are some pieces of common ground that we could articulate in individual pieces of legislation, for example.
One, certainly keep (the Obamacare provision on) preexisting conditions. Secondly, allow for competition in the insurance and go across state lines. I also believe that states should be able to innovate and come up with programs that may be affordable for their citizens; they are closest to it. There are arenas here that we can find common ground that would be important.
NATIONAL DEFENSE: It’s been over a decade since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and over a year since Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. Yet the country remains embroiled in a war in Afghanistan and other conflicts in the Middle East to a lesser extent. What, if anything, would you do differently in the realm of national defense and protecting the country from terrorists? What are the threats from abroad that concern you most, and why?
CASSIS: We live in troubling and perilous times. The PATRIOT Act has kept us safe since 9/11, so absolutely I support that. I support strong national defense in concert with our allies and friends. What we are seeing across the world today, for example let’s start in the Middle East. There is Islamic radicalism really rearing its head over and over. Iran becomes probably the biggest threat to the Middle East of all the countries. Nuclear proliferation that Iran keeps testing, (to) all of the Middle Eastern countries, as well as the United States, it’s a threat. It’s a real threat.
Couple that with hundreds and hundreds of years of cultural and ethnic conflicts and tensions in the region, really it will continue to occupy our interests and our national security.
When you look then at Afghanistan, again they are radical. That’s the home of the Taliban; al-Qaeda certainly has cells there. In general, our mission, according to the Pentagon, has been to prepare and train the Afghan army to be able to take on the defense of their own country. But there is much corruption in that country, and that concerns the United States greatly.
But over time, I think there is enough sensitivity among Americans that they would like to see a gradual withdrawal of our troops from that arena. I could see that happening, but it is going to take time. You can’t just pick up and move out all at once. There has to be some sense of security that they are ready and able to defend themselves. Then, continued sanctions where they absolutely do not live up to the expectations of the billions of dollars that are being poured into that country.
America has always been seen as the bulwark of democracy and freedom. We have been very much on the cutting edge of being the strongest country in the world technologically because military now, in many respects, has been dependent on technology and people on the ground. I would also be very alert to cyber espionage and ensure that we are funding the effort to be on top of that.
I think spending on defense issues is critical, always however, mindful that we are spending the dollars appropriately and that there are assurances that those dollars are being spent wisely in our best interest. That’s one of the major differences between my opponent and myself. I believe that, if you are not strong, you become vulnerable.
BIPARTISANSHIP: Rancor between the two major political parties is seemingly at an all-time high when there are serious issues for the country to tackle, leaving hopes dim that major things can be accomplished in a bipartisan, cooperative way. Explain how you would go about working with the other side of the aisle on critical issues facing our nation. Tell us one thing you would be willing to compromise on with the other side of the political aisle. What’s one issue on which your party’s platform should more closely resemble that of the other political party?
CASSIS: I think our voters today are very concerned about the absolute lock-jam in how problems are being solved at the federal level. They’ve lost patience, and they are angry at Washington. They are angry at the executive, as well. I share their discomfort and their anger.
As someone who also was in a partisanship role for 14 years, I have had extensive experience in working both in the majority and when I was in the minority. In the minority, I was able to accomplish things because of a relationship with individuals who could make things happen.
For example, the Wixom (Road) and Beck Road interchanges (on I-96) were, by design, (funded with) language I inserted into the transportation budget in 1997 because of a relationship I had made with Sharon Gire from the Democratic Party, who was the speaker pro-tem that day. So it is relationships that you create.
Having said that, I will never compromise my basic core principles in order to gain a particular outcome that I don’t believe is in the best interest of the constituents back home, whom I represent. But there can be common ground found.
I think we are at a point, with this new election, with the potential for a changing of the guard, electing a Republican president, Mitt Romney; adding to Republicans in the U.S. Senate; and keeping the House, this logjam can be broken down. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
As long as I did not have to in any way compromise core conservative beliefs, I think there are areas where we can find common ground, albeit on matters that are very important to this district. I know that, in matters important to this district, they are finding ways of reducing spending, getting the deficit under control and beginning to look at how we reform taxes in the best interest of all. We aren’t going to have 100 percent agreement, but I think where there are areas, especially in reforming this health care situation, there are grounds for compromise — not, however, a full-scale, one-size-fits-all mandate, but breaking it down into discrete pieces of legislation where we can agree. I think that’s the best example where we can have a meeting of the minds.
You know me as a fiscal conservative, a fiscal hawk, so I took a “no tax” pledge. No new taxes. No expansion of taxes. Yet I’m somewhat aware that, on the federal level, there may be attempts to raise some taxes and also reduce spending. That would be very problematic for me. We need to take a look at entitlements, and I’m sure that will be something of controversy between myself and potential individuals because entitlements and giving favorite treatment to some, picking winners and losers, is something I’ve spoken up (about) and advocated against in the (state) Legislature.
Another area is colleagues who just decide to press the “present” button instead of taking a stance. I believe our constituents deserve better than just voting “present” and not taking a stance. You need to constantly be very closely connected to your constituents, and that means going back home, holding town halls, coffee hours. Whenever you’re asked to be at a function — whether it be a Boy Scout Court of Honor or a 50th wedding anniversary or a group meeting at the library — you make yourself available so you really know what your constituents are thinking and feeling so you can take their voice back to Congress so that you do not just vote “present.” They did not send you to Congress to vote “present.” You need to vote “yes” if you agree and explain why; and “no,” you need to have the same kind of transparency. It’s very important, and our constituents expect that of us.
HEALTH CARE: What measures would you put in place to insure that Americans get greater access to health care?
CASSIS: Affordability is certainly an essential part of that. Health savings accounts started early, and individual responsibility for that is vital. I think education in our schools to get young people aware that they will have responsibilities for themselves and their families, and to prepare for it and how you go about doing just that.
My sense of it is that there are things we can do to encourage greater competition to lower health care costs, and to be ever vigilant on what kind of overall diagnostic tests are needed, and which just become routine tests but drive up the costs. I would leave it up to the doctors. I would leave it also up to individuals to be able to have choice in who they medically want to go to, choice with their own doctors.
Very important too is to start stressing healthy behaviors and perhaps incentivize those healthy preventive type of behaviors that will lead people to go for regular check-ups, stop smoking, live a healthier lifestyle, exercise and so on. So I would definitely champion prevention and good, healthy living styles that will lower the cost of health care for all.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues to the 11th Congressional District at this time and how would you address them?
CASSIS: First and foremost, I think job creation is exceedingly important. Too many people have dropped out of the job market or there are those that continue to look and struggle to find jobs. A healthy job environment means that our small businesses are healthy, willing to invest, willing to expand. Along those lines, some of the burdensome restrictions and regulations need to be looked at and reduced.
Also, our banking sector, a greater willingness to lend and extend credit to start-up businesses, and also those that want to expand. I’m particularly impressed by Huntington Bank and their leadership because they are supporting small businesses that create these jobs.
Also in terms of government’s role, there may be a case made for incentivizing businesses through our tax code — not creating winners and losers, but knowing that they sometimes need the leg up to get going, the gazelles of businesses that are just starting out. But with this provision, when you incentivize or you grant subsidies, that there is an expectation of how they will perform. If they don’t live up to those performance outcomes, there is a claw back provision that they will have to pay back whatever taxpayer dollars were utilized in giving them the opportunity to move forward. A claw back is very important, and I tried to do that as the chair of (the state Senate) Finance (Committee).
First of all, jobs. Secondly, the repeal of Obamacare. It is critical because it is the biggest tax on middle class Americans that we have ever seen, and it is going to hurt businesses and individuals. It was a very, very poor solution to what we would try to call affordable health care.
Thirdly, absolutely get a grip on this over-spending, deficit spending, and take a very hard look at where government waste is occurring, address it and eliminate it.
WHY YOU? Why should voters choose you rather than your opponent?
CASSIS: In this race, I am the only candidate who has been tested, honed and vetted with legislative experience, background and a proven record of achievement, especially in terms of fiscal responsibility, tax policy and the education of our youth.
These are perilous, troubling times. This is no time, nor can we afford sending, an amateur, a novice to Congress. I am ready to hit the ground running. I do not need training. I think I have the skills, qualifications, to represent the new 11th District in Congress competently.