Archived Story

District 78 candidates face off in forum

Published 11:48pm Thursday, July 19, 2012

BERRIEN SPRINGS — Dave Pagel, chairman of the Berrien County Board of Commissioners, pitted his life experience against two younger men contesting the Republican nomination for 78th District Michigan House of Representatives.

Either Pagel, David Mann, an Andrews University student who is the youngest-ever Niles City Council member; or Brian Savage of Baroda, a food and beverage manager at Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, will receive the GOP nod in the Aug. 7 primary.

One will advance to the Nov. 6 general election to face the Democratic nominee: either Gerry Welling of Niles, who does building inspections for Koorsen Fire and Security, an Indianapolis corporation with a Mishawaka office, or Jack Arbanas of Buchanan, a professional pilot who formerly owned Marz Sweet Shop, for the two-year seat held by Republican Sharon Tyler of Niles.

The incumbent, who attended the League of Women Voters forum Thursday night at Berrien RESA, is leaving after two terms to seek Berrien County clerk.

Three Oaks Village Manager J. Patrick Yoder moderated.

Candidates treated each other cordially even on opposite sides of issues and espouse an aisle-crossing “gentility” to move Michigan forward.

They aspire to a more moderate Michigan, such as President Gerald Ford and Gov. William Milliken or, in Mann’s case, the mythical Mayberry sheriff Andy Griffith played on television.

Questions covered everything from job creation, Obamacare, citizen apathy, privatization, medical marijuana, adding 500,000 to Medicaid rolls and term limits to disparity between Detroit spending more than twice as much per pupil than Edwardsburg while the state spends $32,000 per inmate.

Some suggest schools seek designation as prisons for better funding.

It’s considerably more than surrounding states and, candidates agreed, exceeds many constituents’ annual salaries.

“Experience matters,” said Pagel, 57, a four-year commissioner after 14 years leading the Berrien Springs school board, plus farming, 34 years in the apple-packing business with up to 20 employees, raising two sons and two daughters with Sue and coaching youth sports.

“I’m not making a political career out of this, it’s about service and giving back to the community. I will walk in ready to make decisions.”

Welling, who also has an English degree and emphasized education, said, “I’m not interested in following, I’m interested in leading. I question everything and if it doesn’t work, I want to change it. I don’t want to do something just because we’ve been doing it for 30 years.”

“Those who treat medical marijuana as the boogeyman are self-serving,” Arbanas said. “It gives sick people relief and I’m OK with that.”

“I agree with Jack,” Pagel said. “There has been abuse and the system is not working. Let’s tighten it up so proper people can use it.”

“The problem with the current law is it’s too vague,” Mann said.

“The people of Michigan decided,” Welling said, “so why haven’t we worked harder” to implement it effectively.

“I see it a lot first-hand,” Savage said. “The law is very gray and hard to enforce. Reforms need to be made so it works for both sides.”

Savage is the son of two police officers and volunteers as a Berrien County reserve officer. He attended Joliet Junior College in Illinois before settling in Michigan five years ago.

“I want to bring businesses and young professionals back to the 78th District and be a voice for the future. I don’t want to get caught up in petty politics,” Savage said.

Seven co-sponsors include Leader Publications, Rotary Club of the Three Oaks Region, Dowagiac Rotary, Berrien Springs Eau Claire Rotary, Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce and Harbor Country Chamber of Commerce.

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