A Harrisville man is one of three vying to be the Democratic candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives 106th District.
Robert Kennedy said he's running as a candidate "of the people, by the people, for the people." That means he's refusing any campaign funds from political action groups and won't be indebted to special interests.
That's just the start. Kennedy said he favors campaign finance reform to curb the effects of dark money from political action committees. He also wants a law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and favors repealing a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
"I think the LGBT community deserves the same civil rights protections that all of our other citizens have available to them," he said, using the acronym that stands for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Northeast Michigan's voters are concerned about the economy, Kennedy said, and they're telling him they want their kids to be able to stay in the area after graduation. He wants to create new and build on existing vocational education programs that train high school students for skilled trades, and help community colleges improve their own programs as well. Students in middle school and high school also need to see the many job opportunities available to them.
First, Michigan needs to change its economic philosophy from trickle-down economics and giving tax breaks to businesses and corporations, Kennedy said. Instead, he'd like to see tax breaks for businesses tied to job creation, and help the economy grow like it did in the 1950s and '60s by helping the middle class.
"My philosophy is, we need to have a tax code that's favorable to the middle class, and then we can build the economy from the middle out," he said. "The reason for that is there's more people involved, we have the masses of our people in the middle class and the working class, and if they are doing well they have the disposable income to support these small businesses, these companies and so forth."
Investing in infrastructure is vitally important to Northeast Michigan, and good roads have a lot of impact on the area, Kennedy said. They affect tourism, the economy, schools and everyone who drives on them. He's dismayed Lansing hasn't dealt with the problem yet, and it's going to take new revenues to fix them.
"The thing I would make sure on that is that it doesn't unduly affect the middle class, that's where we have to spur the economy from," he said.
About half of the homes in the 106th district can't access high speed Internet, and Kennedy said he believes the state needs to get involved. By offering incentives and licensing requirements similar to those offered for electricity and phone connections, the state could help create educational and economic opportunities in the district's rural areas.
As a science teacher, Kennedy said he's seen how positive outdoor experiences inspire the next generation to better care for natural resources. As a representative, he'd push to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, and would support a gradual transition to producing more electricity using renewable energy. He'd also support a temporary ban on horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. He wants the Department of Environmental Quality to review and shore up its regulations, and wants to give local governments the power to ban the practice through local zoning ordinances.
Protecting and promoting the district's natural resources includes traditional activities like hunting and fishing, Kennedy said. He has many family members who hunt and spent time at the family deer camp when he was young. Ecotourism is picking up as well, with more people coming to the area to hike, kayak and ride bikes.
Kennedy was born in Alcona County and grew up in Oscoda. His parents had a grocery store there. He attended Alpena Community College after high school and earned his bachelor's degree in education from Michigan State University. He taught for 38 years, and served six years in the Michigan Army National Guard.
Now retired, Kennedy said he and his wife Margy like to garden and take canoe rides. Their two daughters are grown and living out of state.
Kennedy said he's never held public office before. He knows how to serve the public from his time as a teacher, and learned how to compromise when negotiating contracts as a member of the Michigan Education Association, twice as chief negotiator.
"I think it's a very winnable district," he said. "I think the Republicans are going to have a real hard time standing on their record, their tax shift they implemented in 2011 where they increased taxes on the middle class, they increased taxes on retirees, on the people that are working for a living wage when they did away with the Earned Income Tax Credit. I wouldn't want to be running on their record."