Voters in Michigan’s 10th Congressional District have four candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot. WDET’s Pat Batcheller interviewed each of them. Click on the audio player to hear his conversation with Harley Mikkelson, the Green Party candidate. Mikkelson is a retired state government employee. Here’s a transcript of the interview:
Pat Batcheller: Why are you running?
Harley Mikkelson: I’m a person who believes in government. So many of our politicians don’t seem to believe in government. They want to cut taxes and actually destroy some of the programs that have made this a great place to live. There’s this attitude of a lot of politicians that socialism is bad. But they don’t realize that every country involves a little bit of socialism. In our country, the things that have made us great are things like our public schools, our public roads, libraries, our police and fire departments, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. These are the things that made our country great, and they’re all social programs. Every country in the world is part socialism and part capitalism. People need to realize that and not be afraid of words. I want to tell people that government really does good things. I worked for government departments most of my life. And we worked hard serving people. That was our job. I hate it when government employees are knocked. Our government employees do a fine job. And we actually need more government employees, I think.
Pat Batcheller: Have you run for office before?
Harley Mikkelson: Ever since I retired, I’ve run for several offices. I ran for governor, senator, and Congress several times with the same message: government employees do a good job and we probably need more of them.
Pat Batcheller: What issue is most important to you, and why?
Harley Mikkelson: The most important thing to me is to cut our defense department. Right now, we spend more money on defense than the next four countries combined. And we’re not really any safer for all the money we’re spending. In fact, we’re probably less safe. I hate to see us sending things like jet planes and bombs to a country like Saudi Arabia that is invading their neighbors. We need to stop this. That money could be better spent right here in this country. We could easily cut $200 billion out of our military budget and that would still leave us with the most powerful military in the world.
Pat Batcheller: Are you concerned that would weaken our military?
Harley Mikkelson: No, not at all. Like I said, if we cut $200 billion, we’d still be spending twice as much as the next country. More than China and Russia combined. It’s ridiculous what we spend on defense.
Pat Batcheller: What would you do with that money?
Harley Mikkelson: I would hire a lot of new teachers. If we really want to improve this country, we need a well-educated population. I’ve been advocating that we hire a million new teachers at all levels. Pre-school, elementary, secondary and college. That’s what’s going to make our country powerful and great in the future. The money we invested in education in the 1950s paid big dividends in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and made us the most prosperous country in the world. We need to do that again. Invest more in education.
Pat Batcheller: When you meet voters in the district, what do they say to you? What’s their biggest issue, and how would you address it if elected?
Harley Mikkelson: The two most important issues, I think, are jobs and health care. People are worried about health care. It’s ridiculously expensive in this country. We pay twice as much for our health care as any other industrial country. That needs to be reduced. And, they’re worried about jobs. I think automation is eliminating jobs left and right, and if we don’t do something, which would probably involve the government hiring people—we need to find work for people—jobs are rapidly being eliminated. Our local Walmart, our local McDonald’s, now it’s machines taking over for the people. Pretty soon, we won’t have any of those kind of service jobs left. So we’ll need to create jobs for people to do. And there’s plenty of things that need to be done. To prepare for the society of the future, we really need to educate our people. That brings me back to education.
Pat Batcheller: The government has said that we’ve gained an average of about 200,000 jobs or more for the last several years. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in almost 50 years. When you say we’re losing jobs, where are we losing them?
Harley Mikkelson: We’re losing them all over the place. I just went into McDonald’s. The counter people are being replaced. The gas stations, pretty soon, it’s only going to be a plastic card there. There’s not going to be any people at all at gas stations. They’ve even developed machines to pick strawberries. Even our farm jobs are being eliminated left and right. Our farmers nowadays are factory farmers. We don’t farm in a factory, but we farm like it’s all automated. Our combines can harvest hundreds of acres a day. I grew up in a farm community. We used to have all kinds of people involved in farming. Now there’s practically nobody doing actual farm work, the work of raising the crops. All you have to do is look around and see the jobs disappearing. Pretty soon, we won’t have anything in banks. You call up anybody and it’s a computer that answers. Pretty soon, the computers are going to be talking back to us, and we’re not even going to know if it’s a computer or a person on the phone.
Pat Batcheller: You mentioned farming. The 10th District includes a lot of farmland. What concerns, if any, do you have about the impact of tariffs on farmers?
Harley Mikkelson: I’m really concerned about tariffs. Tariffs are going to increase prices for everybody and they’re going to destroy the markets we have. Tariffs may be necessary to provide protections for certain industries. I think we need to protect our electronics industry and our manufacturing somewhat. But large tariffs like the president has imposed really are going to hurt everybody in the long run. I don’t like the way the president imposed these tariffs. If he was going to impose them, he should have done it gradually. Instead of 25 percent on steel, say maybe 2.5 percent this month, and in six months, if things don’t improve, another 2.5 percent. I just don’t like the way the president is going at things.
Pat Batcheller: Our listeners have identified four issues they say are most important to them in this election cycle—education, water quality, transportation, and gerrymandering. You’ve already mentioned hiring a million teachers. What else could you do to improve education?
Harley Mikkelson: What we really need to do is start kids to school at a younger age. Pre-school is really important. One of my daughters is a teacher. Not every child comes to school well-prepared. We need to get them better prepared. Some parents are really lacking in child development skills. We need to get those kids in school sooner so they’re not left behind. That’s my major focus, pre-school education, and later then, all through life. If we give them a good start, they will succeed more in elementary, secondary, and college.
Pat Batcheller: How would you protect the water?
Harley Mikkelson: Well, I think we need to strengthen our Environmental Protection Agency, both at the state level and the federal level. It needs to be monitored. Everything needs to be monitored. And we need to pay attention to the water we’re drawing out for irrigating farms and stuff. We need to pay attention to the chemicals our farmers are using. We’re just finding out that [the weed killer] Roundup is more dangerous than we thought it was all along. I’m really concerned about farm chemicals and the amount of waste at our large factory farms. I don’t think necessarily that the farmers are at fault, but there could be significant damage to our water supply if any of the waste isn’t contained properly. We need the federal government and the state government to closely monitor our farming practices. And if it needs to improved, we need to have the government finance these improvements at a very reasonable rate, because we don’t want to put our farmers out of business.
Pat Batcheller: How would you improve transportation or transit in the 10th District?
Harley Mikkelson: What we really need to do is encourage people to move back into cities. We need to get to the point where transportation becomes viable. We need to have people living along transportation routes so mass transit is available to everyone. We just can’t build roads fast enough for everybody to have their own individual car anymore. When I drive through our major cities, it’s ridiculous, you can walk faster than you’re driving.
Pat Batcheller: Do you support or oppose Proposal 2, establishing an independent commission to draw political boundaries. Why or why not?
Harley Mikkelson: I support it. We need to make our congressional districts be as fair as possible to everybody. I don’t know if that will completely solve our problem, but it’s a step in the right direction to make our country a more democratic country.
Pat Batcheller: What makes you the best candidate to represent the 10th District?
Harley Mikkelson: It’s my attitude about government. I’m not anti-government. Having worked in government, I realize that it’s done good for people. And really, it’s our government and our system of laws that have created the framework for this great country we have. We need to stop knocking the government. And we’re not going to improve government by cutting taxes. I need people to understand that. If you want better government, you need to pay for it.
Pat Batcheller: What haven’t we talked about that you’d like to add?
Harley Mikkelson: We haven’t talked about immigration. I don’t think we need a border wall.
Pat Batcheller: Can you elaborate?
Harley Mikkelson: Our country can provide jobs for millions more. I think we need to have some sort of amnesty for all our undocumented people living here now, and we need to be more welcoming of the people who want to come here for a better living. Our country has more jobs available than we have people that are unemployed right now. And we could have millions more. We should not be limiting immigration, we should actually be increasing it, we should be welcoming these people and welcoming refugees to our country.