GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Three candidates are vying for the Kent County Commission’s open 15th District seat.
The challengers facing off Nov. 3 are Democrat Melissa LaGrand, Republican Brian Boersema and qualified write-in candidate Joel Townsend.
LaGrand landed a major upset victory in the August Democratic primary, ousting incumbent and longtime County Commissioner Jim Talen from the ticket.
According to the unofficial results from the Kent County Clerk’s Office, the vote was 2,549 for LaGrand and 983 for Talen.
Related: Longtime Kent County commissioner Jim Talen defeated in Democratic primary
Kent County’s Democratic-leaning 15th District is a narrow strip of Grand Rapids that starts downtown at Fulton Street on the northern border and ends at 44th Street.
This year, MLive Media Group partnered with the League of Women Voters of Michigan to provide candidate information for readers. Each candidate was asked to outline their stances on a variety of public policy issues.
Information on all state and federal races and many of Michigan’s county and local races will be available at Vote411.org, an online voter guide created by the League of Women Voters.
Boersema did not respond to multiple requests for comment and to fill out the candidate questionnaire.
Here’s background information on the candidates:
- LaGrand, 52, manages commercial and residential properties in Grand Rapids. Past businesses she has owned and operated include Four Friends Coffeehouse, Wealthy Street Bakery and Hall Street Bakery. LaGrand has served six years on the Board of Directors of Cherry Health. She is married to state Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, and holds a master of fine arts degree from Western Michigan University.
- Townsend, 58, is a security guard for Allied Universal and former member of the Kent County Republican Party Executive Committee. Townsend ran against Talen twice as a Republican and lost in 2016 and 2018. He holds a juris doctorate from Wayne State University.
Here’s a look at where the candidates stand on some major questions, according to their responses to Vote411.org:
Why are you running for office?
I am running for office because I have valuable experience and perspective for this role. As a business owner, mother of 4, Board Member of a Community Health Center, and active community volunteer, I have seen both the challenges and the great possibilities of life in Kent County. I am passionate about affordable and attainable housing, Community Mental Health, criminal justice reform, land use & farmland preservation, and the environment. The county has a major role to play in these issues. I also see a need for better cooperation between the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County, as the City explodes in growth. Planning has not kept pace, and the economic benefits are not being felt in all communities.
I feel a calling to serve the residents of the 15th District on the Kent County Commission. Specifically, we are facing a crisis, which is at once a health, public safety, economic, and increasingly, a political crisis across our nation (and indeed much of the world.) There is more need than ever for voices that can interact across party, economic status and racial and ethnic boundaries in a search for solutions for our communities’ problems. My views cannot easily be pigeon-holed. I feel I am uniquely qualified to undertake this challenge and make constructive change.
What is the greatest challenge facing the office you seek? How will you address it?
Providing for quality services which residents of Kent County have become accustomed to in a very challenging financial environment, while assisting residents, employers and vital organizations weather the storm of Covid-19. At the same time we need to make critical investments to address problems such as prevention of violence and limited access to affordable housing. I would dig in and familiarize myself with County services, talk to as many of our residents, employers and organizations as possible and work toward finding consensus on responding to problems.
I want to see Kent County become healthier, more just, and a fairer place to live and work. I will advocate for greater access to primary care, including mental health care and substance use disorder treatment. COVID 19 has shown us great disparities in health outcomes that must be addressed. In addition, the Community Mental Health system is in crisis, with a shortage of funds that is interrupting service for those in need. The County can help address this problem by taking productive solutions to the state. I will advocate strongly for criminal justice reforms, including the end of the cash bond system, return of face-to-face visits at the Kent County jail, and full support of specialty courts like addiction courts and mental health courts. I will ensure that the county becomes a catalyst for smart development of subsidized and entry level housing, to address the housing crisis in our area. I will support an expanded and strengthened mass transit system.
What strategies would you use to remain responsive and accountable to the public between elections?
I have found that social media is an excellent way to connect with many voters. But for those who don’t engage in those platforms, there is no substitute for talking to voters at neighborhood association meetings and business association meetings throughout my district. There are many interest groups surrounding vital issues like housing, substance use disorder treatment, mental health, early childhood education etc. I have found that talking to people who are immersed in these issues is an excellent way to get educated on the problems and obstacles faced by people living in Kent County.
Communication across social media, an open door policy and, once the pandemic eases, as time allows going to stakeholders where they are by knocking on doors in our neighborhoods.
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