Sawyer Dem to face off against Niles incumbent for 78th District seat

Published 4:20 am Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sharon Tyler and Cindy Ellis, both candidates for state representative for the 78th District, agree on one thing: the issue of most importance on the mind of voters right now is jobs.

Their approaches to fixing the problem differ.

If Tyler, the Republican incumbent in this election, a Niles native and former executive director of the Southwest Michigan Economic Growth Alliance, is re-elected to another term in Lansing, she’ll have moved up from freshman status.

Ellis, her Democratic opponent, hails from Sawyer, chairs the Au Sable Creek Watershed organization in Illinois and for 25 years ran a rehabilitative company helping injured workers return to their jobs.

“Those people who do have jobs are feeling very unsecured about keeping their jobs,” Ellis said. That insecurity spreads to distrust for the legislators who face resolving the unemployment issue and the partisanship that divides them, she said.

Ellis said as she has spoken with voters, she’s hearing “just how concerned they are about the partisanship in government and what impact that’s having on the average, everyday person.”

Should Ellis come out the victor after voters hit the polls Nov. 2, she said her approach to building jobs in the area would start with the implementation of a return to work resource program.

“(The program) will help people who are unemployed or seriously underemployed, evaluate or assess what kinds of jobs they are able to do,” using a “state of the art”  job matching software program, Ellis said.

“I think there’s a bit of a disconnect,” Ellis said, a barrier between the unemployed and the opportunities to acquire the skills needed for the jobs that are available and will become available.

The program would be one to interact with local community colleges and businesses.

“The more resources you throw at this problem, the better,” Ellis said.

She added the program would be paid for using her first year’s salary as state representative.

For her part, Tyler said she has been listening to the concerns of her constituents through morning “coffee hours” and believes the key to putting residents back to work is in looking at the regulation and taxation burdening businesses.

“You’re looking at the Michigan businesses surcharge, you’re looking at the personal property tax, you’re looking at regulations,” she said.

The issue, she said, goes hand-in-hand with another issue on voters’ minds — education.

“The other key is the education,” Tyler said. “A lot of people don’t look at it as a combination. Education is part of the retention and creation of jobs, from ‘Do we have a skilled workforce?’ or ‘How do we retrain our employees to get them into the 21st century?'”

She added she’s been busy working on possible tax credits for students to keep them in the state for a minimum of three years and another for teachers, having co-sponsored a $2,000 tax credit.

“They provide out-of-pocket expenses and they need that assistance, and $2,000 is just a small amount,” she said. “I would love to see that complete and I think it’s only fair.”

Both Tyler and Ellis say they have been actively talking and listening to voters — but one thing that hasn’t been seen is either of them talking to each other. The two candidates have yet to hold a debate this campaign.

Ellis said voters “expect the debates,” but said Tyler has refused to participate in a League of Women Voters debate scheduled for Oct. 14. Tyler said she had a previous engagement for the roast of Lake Michigan College President Robert Harrison already scheduled for that time. She added a few other organizations had hoped to hold debates but were trying to schedule their events during the week, when she was in session in Lansing working on the state budget.

“When you’re on budget, you don’t know if you’re going to be there seven days a week,” Tyler said.

A debate, according to Tyler, is scheduled for Friday at the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, but Ellis said at press time she had not received information about it and wasn’t sure if she’d be able to attend due to a scheduling conflict.