The three candidates — Republican Roger Victory, Democrat Jeanette Schipper and Libertarian Mary Buzuma — are running to replace Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, who is term-limited. The district seat covers all of Ottawa County.
The candidates fielded nearly 20 questions during the 90-minute forum on a variety of topics like education, infrastructure and mental health care.
Voters will decide which candidate wins the seat Nov. 6.
Buzuma, a Grand Haven native, said she wanted to run to provide a third option for voters. She said Republicans would want to work with her because she's not a Democrat, and Democrats would want to work with her because she's not a Republican.
If elected, Buzuma said her first priority would be to eliminate or at least provide more transparency to things like the Michigan Strategic Fund and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. She said a lot of things in Michigan's budget could be eliminated and leave funding for important areas like mental health support and infrastructure.
"I do not think that it is government's place to compete with private investment to grow the economy," she said. "These jobs that they promise have not materialized."
Buzuma also said she wants to eliminate unnecessary regulations and licensing laws. Her third priority is eliminating the war on drugs, and she is in favor of the statewide ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana.
"This is your chance to say you're fed up with the status quo," Buzuma said. "Libertarians are based on the moral principle of self-ownership. Government's only role is to protect you from force or fraud. I believe government tries to do too much.”
Schipper, a Lansing native, has lived in the Holland area for 30 years, and currently lives in Park Township. She works for the Western Theological Seminary and describes herself as a mental health advocate.
"I believe what brings us together is so much stronger than what divides us," she said. “We have collective values, we care about humanity, we care about one another, we care about our faith, we value how we each live here in Ottawa County. That’s why I want to be your representative. I want to elevate your voice in Lansing."
Schipper said her first priority if elected would be mental health services, making sure there is a tab on her website for individuals to find resources to access those services. She supports the goals of Ottawa County's Community Health Improvement Plan, and wants to increase access to emergency mental health care.
She also supports “Medicare for all.”
"We currently pay into that infrastructure, and all we need to do is expand that," she said. "That will bring down the cost of health care if more people are paying into it. It will also bring down the cost of auto insurance if we don't have health insurance tied to that."
Schipper said she also wants to ensure public education is properly funded, and that there are programs to incentivize teachers to come to Michigan. She also wants to address affordable housing and living wage problems in the county, issues she said go "hand in hand."
Victory, currently the representative for the state House 88th District and a fourth-generation Ottawa County farmer, said he is running to preserve the county’s values.
"This is a special place," he said. "We work hard to support our families and we’re strong in our faith. As we grow, we need to continue to hold on to those values. We can fix roads, respect taxpayers and support skilled trades."
Victory said his No. 1 priority would be looking to lower auto insurance rates, as that is the primary concern he is hearing from his door-to-door visits with voters.
"We have the highest rates in the nation and no reform has taken place in 30 years," he said. "I believe after 30 years the system needs some reform. If no corrections take place, it will collapse under its own weight."
Victory said investing in skilled trades is connected to more than one issue, including having workers to fix the roads and having workers to fill other jobs in the community. He also said reforming the Michigan Department of Transportation would be an important step in addressing infrastructure woes.
"I’m running as Farmer Rog for state Senate," he said. "Not as a career politician, but as someone representing the real people."