Proos, Griffee to face off for 21st District nominationPublished 9:23pm Thursday, July 29, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Editor’s Note: This is the last of several stories in the Star’s primary election guide to help voters learn more about candidates. Each issue covers a different campaign race.
Michigan certainly is on the edge of a changing of the guard. As the state faces a new governor and longtime congressman Fred Upton faces the challenge of a new opponent, the 21st State Senate District is facing new leadership with a new senator.
Longtime state senator Ron Jelinek has ridden out his seat for the district and now two Republicans are vying in the primary election for his seat.
There is a familiar face and a current state representative running for Michigan 21st District seat: Republican John Proos, and former Indiana State trooper and contractor, Republican Todd Griffee.
From the House floor in Lansing, Proos answered some questions on what he wants voters to know about him and his stand on the issues facing Michigan residents now and in the future.
“I think the biggest thing they need to know is my dedication to make Michigan” a better place to live, work and play, Proos said.
Problem solving, he said, is an important part of the job of public service and something voters want.
Focusing on “moving forward” and a supporter of “smaller, more effective government,” Proos said, “I think the most important thing that we can be doing in our public policy arena is for Michigan legislators to recognize that Michigan government doesn’t create jobs. Instead, we create the playing field and set the playing field that allows businesses and jobs to compete and succeed.”
Michigan”s tax structure, he said, “has made it more difficult to compete,” resulting in “significant job loss.”
As he knocks on doors, hoping to encourage more voters to put him in the senate seat come November, Proos said he hopes to encourage state lawmakers to “get out of the way of those businesses doing what they do best.”
Jobs seem to be at the forefront of Proos’ platform as he said he believes once Michigan residents get back to work, fueling the state’s economy and bringing the state back to fruition, issues like education and infrastructure will begin to improve as well.
Asked how he manages the work that sits before him now, as state representative as well as his campaign for senate, Proos said, “You take care of your family first, the job which I was hired to do first (and then) campaign and (make the) effort to get develop that relationship.”
If Proos is the seasoned political candidate, Todd Griffee is hoping to encompass that of the anti-political rhetoric, everyman candidate.
The 43-year-old Griffee is a former U.S. Army Military Police officer, leaving the military with the ranking of captain and a former Indiana State trooper with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Notre Dame. He’s also a small business owner and it’s his real world experience that he’s hoping will get him to Lansing and make changes that will impact voters.
“Rather than be an angry voter,” Griffee said, “you know, what can I do about it?”
What Griffee did was get involved with the surging Tea Party and pushing for “smaller, less intrusive and more localized” government rather than “big government, progressive, one-cookie-cutter-fits-all type of legislation.”
When faced with the contrasts in experience with his competition, Griffee said experience is precisely the issue.
“We don’t want people with experience,” he said, commenting on Proos. “We want people with real life experience. We don’t want to go to Lansing and get changed by it. We want to change it.”
His military experience, Griffee said, has equipped him to “focus on mission accomplishment.” And owning his own business has given him first-hand experience on “what over-taxation” and regulation can do to business owners. The smoking ban, he said, is just one example of a law filtered down from Lansing that is causing some businesses to go out of business.
“It seems like they pass laws and they don’t look at the consequences,” he said. “They have no concept of what people are going through.”
Going door to door in the hopes of connecting with voters, Griffee said what he’s finding is “people are upset, and I can’t blame them.”
A building contractor, Griffee said he’s grateful he had a trade to fall back on in this economy. That trade was necessary after he was forced to resign from the Indiana State Police.
Griffee is not afraid to talk about the incident that landed him in court, facing felony charges of attempted battery and criminal recklessness after an incident in October 1996.
Off duty and at the Linebacker Lounge in South Bend, Griffee said he came out of the bar that night to find two people on the ground, being beaten by two men.
“The bottom line is, I risked my life to save somebody else’s life,” he said.
Griffee said he told bystanders to call the South Bend Police Department and tried to pull the keys out of the truck being driven by the two men, which was still running in the middle of the street.
“I’m on duty 24/7,” he said. “A felony was being committed in my presence and I was obligated to take action.”
He said he identified himself as an Indiana State trooper as the two men came up behind him and “savagely beat me with mag lights … it was a viscous attack that continued.”
Griffee went for his pistol.
“As soon as I got a clean shot I took it,” he said.
Griffee was acquitted, refused to take any plea agreements and though he finds it “sad that it’s distracting, that the papers spent so much time on this issue, that they didn’t spend time on my platform,” he said the experience should show voters “that I’ve got a backbone.
“I have been passed judgment on,” he said. “I have faced a jury and was acquitted.”
And if Griffee beats Proos in the primary, come November, he said, “(people) are going to see a lot more of me.”
The lone Democrat in this race is Scott Elliott, a Benton Harbor area business owner and art gallery owner. He will be on the election ballot in November.
Where to vote
Polls open from 7 a..m. to 8 p.m.
Niles City residents vote in the following locations:
• Ward 1/Precinct 1 – Niles Senior High School, 1441 Eagle
• Ward 2/Precinct 2 – Niles Senior High School, 1441 Eagle
• Ward 3/Precinct 3 – Niles Fire Station1345 East Main
• Ward 4/Precinct 4 – Westside School, 111 Spruce
Niles Township residents vote in the following locations:
• Precinct 1 – Fairland Church, 1811 River Bluff Rd.
• Precinct 2 – Police Complex, 1600 Silverbrook Ave.
• Precinct 3 – Nile Charter Township, D.P.W 322 Bell Rd.
• Precinct 4 – Community Evangelical Free Church, 120 E. Bertrand Rd.
• Precinct 5A – Morris Farm Fire Station, 2001 Morris Drive
• Precinct 5B – Morris Farm Fire Station, 2001 Morris Drive
Know your district:
The 21st Senate District
District includes the following counties and townships: Berrien, Cass, Almena Twp., Columbia Twp., Covert Twp., Decatur Twp., Geneva Twp., Gobles Twp., Hamilton Twp., Hartford, Keeler Twp., Lawrence Twp., Pine Grove Twp., Porter Twp., South Haven, South Haven Twp. and Waverly Twp.
Total Population: 271,916
Above voting age: 200,379
African Americans: 32,570
Other minorities: 14,121
Foreign born: 4.1 percent
Veterans: 14 percent
Wealth and Income:
Median home value: $93,300
Median household income: $38,809
Median family income: $45,822
Percentage living in poverty: 8.7 percent
Management, professional: 26.7 percent
Service occupations: 14.7 percent
Sales and office occupations: 23.4 percent
Farming, forestry and fishing: 1.3 percent
Construction, extraction and maintenance: 10.1 percent
Production, transportation and material moving: 23.8 percent
Graduate or professional degree: 6 percent
Associate’s degree: 7.3 percent
Some college, no degree: 22.6 percent
High School graduate: 34.1 percent
Ninth-12th grade, no diploma: 13.4 percent
Less than ninth grade: 6 percent
Source: Michigan Information and Research Service Inc., based on data from the 2000 U.S. Census