Archived Story

Republican candidates face off in forum next week

Published 8:00am Thursday, July 3, 2014

With the primary election a little more than a month away, the time for Cass County voters to discover more about the candidates running for the state’s open 59th district seat is slowly dwindling.

Next week, though, citizens will have an opportunity to see the four men vying for the Republican nomination in person. The League of Women Voters of Berrien and Cass Counties has invited them to participate in a public candidate forum, to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, at the Cass County COA Center in Cassopolis.

Cosponsoring the event are Dowagiac Rotary, Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce, Leader Publications and Delta Kappa Gamma Society International.

The candidates, John Bippus, Aaron Miller, Roger Rathburn and Bob Sills, will be on the ballot Aug. 5 for the Republican nomination for a seat in the state house of representatives, replacing term-limited incumbent Matt Lori.

The recipient of the nomination will go on to face Democrat Mike Moroz, who runs unopposed for the seat during the general election in November.

The 59th district covers the entirety of St. Joseph County, and a large portion of Cass County, including the city of Dowagiac and the townships of Calvin, Jefferson, La Grange, Marcellus, Mason, Newburg, Penn, Pokagon, Porter, Volinia and Wayne.

The League of Women Voters has organized similar candidate forums in prior elections in both Cass and Berrien counties, said Susan Gilbert, communications coordinator with the organization.

“It’s hard to decide who to vote for when there are four candidates and you don’t know who they are or what they stand for,” Gilbert said. “This forum will help with that.”

Next week’s debate will be held much like prior league events, with each candidate given two minutes to deliver an opening statement, followed by a series of questions presented by co-sponsors of this year’s forum. Members of the audience will also be able to pose questions to the candidates, though they must be submitted in writing to the organizers first.

“Time limits for answering questions are strictly enforced,” Gilbert said. “It’s a very strict schedule. The moderator has the discretion of ending their time early if they start to peter off.”

Moderating the debate will be Cass County Commissioner Bernie Williamson. Although the league typically chooses nonpartisan people for the position, they decided to go with Williamson due to the fact that the candidates are all Republican, Gilbert said.

“She brings an enthusiasm for the position,” Gilbert said. “She has a real presence and is a great public speaker. It takes a strong person to be a moderator, and she has what it takes.”

The candidates will face a diverse array of questions, since most will be pulled from the audience. However, one topic that will likely be brought up is concerning state road funding, which has been a hot issue among voters this year, Gilbert said.

This is the only candidate forum the league has arranged for this year’s primaries. They will host a series of debates prior to the fall elections, including one between Moroz and the candidate who secures the Republican nomination in 59th district race.

The League of Women Voters is encouraging all interested citizens to come out to debate, to get a first hand look at the politicians in action.

“What better way to distinguish between the four candidates than to see them in person, answering the same questions,” Gilbert said. “It’s a good way to see which of them are prepared and can think on their feet.”

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