By Paul Natinsky
As the 2018 mid-term congressional elections rapidly approach, races around the country are heating up, including Michigan’s 8th District, which includes all of Ingham County, Livingston County, and north Oakland County. The district runs from north of Detroit through the Lansing area, and encompasses a mix of suburbs and farms and conservative and liberal leaning voters.
Incumbent Republican Mike Bishop has served two terms representing the 8th and captured 56 percent of the vote in the district in 2016. He faces businessman Lokesh Kumar in the Aug. 7 primary. Libertarian candidate Brian Ellison is also in the race along with Democrats Chris Smith and Elissa Slotkin.
Among the field of candidates challenging Bishop, Slotkin has received the most media attention and fundraising success. According to a Detroit News report, Slotkin raised $801,000 last quarter, the most of any U.S. House candidate in Michigan. She is also reported to have slightly more cash in reserve ($1.34 million) than Bishop ($1.3 million). Slotkin’s Democratic primary opponent, Chris Smith, is reported to have $48,646 on hand.
Slotkin’s fundraising support is in large part composed of an influx of out-of-state contributions. A loosely formed group of businesspeople and others in solidly “blue” states such as California, Vermont and Massachusetts view contributions to candidates in their home states as redundant and have instead directed their financial support to swing races in the Midwest. So far, according to a report in Reuters, the Purple Project has raised $210,000 for candidates in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, including Michigan’s 8th District contest. The Purple Project and its allies are hoping to win the 23 House seats needed to elect a Democratic majority, while Republicans work to retain gains made in the past few election cycles. At this late date, pundits are widely reported to be calling the race a tossup.
We posed the following question to each candidate, why should the Chaldean community support you?”
Mike Bishop, the incumbent, is a lifelong Oakland County resident. He currently serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means, which is responsible for issues including tax reform, health care, Medicare, Social Security and welfare. He previously served as Michigan’s Senate Majority Leader. While in the Senate, Bishop sponsored legislation that created the Michigan Child Protection Registry and the Michigan Identity Theft Protection Act. He also served two terms in the Michigan House of Representatives. Bishop worked as Chief Legal Officer for International Bancard Corporation and taught at Thomas M. Cooley Law School following his time in the Michigan Legislature. Before government service, he was a private attorney representing families, small business and local governments. Bishop received his law degree from the Michigan State University College of Law and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. He is a graduate of Rochester Adams High School and is raising his three kids with his wife, Cristina, in Rochester, Michigan. Bishop credits the Chaldean community with providing him support and advice. “I have always been gratified by the friendship and support I have received from my Chaldean neighbors who I have worked with closely to strengthen our community. Throughout my time in service at both the state and federal levels of government, I have relied on the help and guidance of Chaldean leaders to assist me in developing the policies that benefit the people I am so proud to serve. My Chaldean friends and neighbors can be certain that my door and my mind will always be open to hear their concerns, and they will receive nothing but my best effort in moving our entire community forward,” said Bishop. Lokesh Kumar is a Michigan businessman who graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 1987. He has owned a manufacturing business in Lansing since 2000, and lives in the Lansing suburb of Okemos with his family. Kumar pledges to work with federal, state, township, and city officials to fix our roads urgently; work to re-negotiate NAFTA, and invest federal funding into manufacturing jobs for the 8th District; work to reduce income tax to a flat rate of 15 percent, while reducing federal budget deficit; work to make schools safer, stronger, and effective with more federal resources and work to provide better housing, resources, and social security for seniors and veterans. Kumar said he will hold quarterly meetings in every county to talk with constituents in-person. He identifies with recent immigrants and entrepreneurs, having had personal experience as both. “Many households from the Chaldean community in Michigan are small business owners and entrepreneurs. I can relate to all the challenges they face, having been an entrepreneur myself,” said Kumar “Many Chaldeans in Michigan are recent migrants from areas affected by wars. I too know a thing or two about the immigration process. After my college in 1987, I worked in US and Europe as a non-resident engineer. Thanks to my employer and mentor, I eventually became a citizen after a very lengthy and arduous legal immigration process. The process took 10-plus years, but it works. So, I have faith in the system. I am proud to be an American, and fortunate to have raised my wonderful family in Michigan for 20 years. I will endeavor to maintain a business friendly and accepting environment for all immigrants so we can all succeed when we work hard. These are the core American values that made America great.”
Elissa Slotkin is a third-generation Michigander who has served three tours in Iraq alongside the U.S. military, and working as a national security expert for both Democratic and Republican administrations. She has served at the White House and in top roles at the Pentagon, including as Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs under the Obama Administration. She is married to Dave Moore, a former Apache pilot, who retired as a colonel from the U.S. Army after 30 years of service.
Slotkin lives in Holly on her family farm. Her great-grandfather arrived on Ellis Island and achieved the American Dream by founding the family meat business, Hygrade Foods, which established its Detroit headquarters in 1949. Hygrade created a number of food staples beloved by Michiganders, including the famous Ballpark Frank, first sold at Tiger Stadium.
Slotkin did not comment directly on the Chaldean community. Instead, she outlined her thoughts on being a public servant.
“As a national security professional, I know what it means to put politics aside, put your head down, and get to work. To serve. I will always be governed by the simple idea that our representatives’ job is to be available and serve the public, but I think there hasn’t been enough of that in Washington recently. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been holding so many public events to meet folks in the community, and I hope you’ll join me at one soon. It’s time to send a different generation of leaders to Congress, and I hope you give me the chance to do it,” said Slotkin.
Chris Smith is a longtime resident of Ingham County who has taught public policy and law classes for more than 30 years, including the past 24 years at Michigan State University. He is the author of more than 40 books on public policy, law, criminal justice, and American government. Smith was raised in a union household and is a product of Michigan public schools. He and his wife, Charlotte—a Michigan native, educated their children in public schools in Ingham County.
Smith supports Medicare for all, no pipelines under the Great Lakes, ending sales of military-style rifles, free community college and technical training, raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, expanded opportunities for student loan forgiveness, reducing military commitments around the world and opposes arming teachers with guns.
He and his wife Charlotte have been married for 33 years. She has spent more than two decades in public service work. Their son is a recent law school graduate who serves in the Michigan National Guard. Their daughter is a college instructor married to a nurse.
Smith has strong views on fairness and humanity in immigration policy.
“I have spoken out strongly about immigration issues. My son-in-law is the son of refugee immigrants. When the current administration attacks immigrants and seeks to accelerate deportations in inhumane ways, this is personal for me because I know from my own family how much immigrants continue to contribute to this country,” said Smith.
“I am particularly concerned about inhumane, punitive practices that have expanded detentions and deportations without regard to our humane values and our asylum policies. We should avoid separating families. We should not be deporting people to locations where they will face persecution and the risk of death based on a misdemeanor offense that occurred in the United States, often years ago when someone made a youthful mistake based on immaturity and bad judgment. We also need to change the rhetoric in Washington so political leaders stop trying to divide us and instead find ways to unify the country and have us work together without regard to nationality, religion, race, and other factors. We need to be a nation that appreciates how people from all over the world have brought their energy, ideas, and hard work to the task of building a strong country. As I focus on evidence-based approaches to solving problems and emphasizing humane values, I plan to be an advocate of unity and understanding. Our diversity is a source of strength and we should not let politicians try to pull us apart through stereotypes and scapegoating.”
Brian Ellison was born and raised in Royal Oak, MI, graduated from Kimball High School and briefly attended Michigan State University. He served four years in the US Army, serving tours in Germany, Bosnia, Albania (Kosovo) and Fort Hood, Texas. He and wife and fellow soldier, Michelle have three children. The Ellisons moved to Michigan in August 2005. Brian began a career in the construction industry, working as a project manager, estimator, and operations manager for a disaster restoration company in Metro Detroit for several years.
Ellison said that he and the Libertarian Party are the best choices for the Chaldean community because he supports free market immigration, support for small business, and community focused government.
“I am a staunch believer in individual rights and freedom for all people. As such, I understand that freedom does not begin and end at any government border,” said Ellison. “Freedom is universal to all people regardless of their country of origin. As such, I do not believe in limiting the opportunities of those individuals who want to come to the United States in search of opportunity and freedom from oppression. The Chaldean community has a long tradition of immigrating to, integrating with, and contributing greatly to the communities that they join. I would like to see this type of growth and evolution within our society continue to evolve for many years to come.”
Ellison pledges to support small business owners. “Many Chaldean business owners (like any other small business owners) struggle with economic hardship, while trying to make their small businesses competitive in today’s market. Burdensome taxes and regulations can be crippling to small business and these types of government policies have succeeded to limit competition from many would-be start-ups for years. My staunch opposition to government interference in business in conjunction with my advocating for a reliance on free market solutions would be a benefit to the Chaldean community and its many small business owners.”