Back in April, we featured Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain), representative for Michigan’s 108th state House district, in an article entitled “The Weirdest Guy In The House.” We expected the article to reach our normal audience of bored James Madison students at MSU. Instead, it reached LaFave himself, who posted about it several times to prove that he was not mad and even selectively quoted it in his Twitter bio as if it was not an article making fun of him.
This sort of childish behavior is something you expect from say, a student blog, not an elected official. Fortunately, voters in District 108 have a much better choice. We had the honor to sit down over Zoom with Dr. Renee Richer (D-Gladstone), the candidate running against him this November, and we’re proud to say that we came away with a better understanding of what a good representative for the district sounds like.
As we talked, one of the first things that we noticed was that she is quite accomplished. How many House candidates can say that they are an award-winning environmental conservationist, a college professor, and a fifth-generation farmer? Well, Richer is all of these and more.
Richer became interested in biology, especially animal conservation, at a young age. “When I was young, I watched too much Wild Kingdom,” she said. “I had fantasies of being like [Wild Kingdom host] Marlin Perkins.”
After a harrowing summer studying black bears in North Carolina, she found her confidence in the forest and a footing in animal biology. She became the director of an environmental center at the American University in Armenia, where she was part of a team that expanded conservation efforts in the country using white storks. The project won the Whitley Award, a top conservation award, in 2007. She now teaches biology at the University of Wisconsin-Marinette and runs a bed-and-breakfast, The Farmhouse, on her family’s farm in Gladstone.
Richer’s science background makes her well-suited to tackle environmental issues that plague the 108th District. In our talk, she highlighted the presence of PFAS sites around the district. “We had military sites, the airports, and we have a number of sites associated with Great Lakes shipping,” she said. “Right on the Marinette-Menominee border, there’s probably one of the most devastating sites associated with the Tyco facility. . .some of the numbers say 220,000 parts per trillion [of PFAS chemicals].” (EPA guidelines say that PFAS contamination over 70 parts per trillion is unsafe.) She supports forcing polluters to pay for their pollution in a district that relies heavily on natural resources.
Another area where a science background is sorely needed in the district is in fighting COVID-19. Gov. Whitmer took aggressive actions against the pandemic, and nearly two-thirds of Michiganders approve of how she has handled the situation. You wouldn’t know that from following LaFave, who recently introduced a stunt bill to invoice China for Michigan’s pandemic-related expenses.
Of course, until recently the Upper Peninsula had a low rate of infection compared to the rest of the state. “We’re 3% of Michigan’s population, but 30% of the land, so that makes it very easy for us to social distance,” said Richer. But that doesn’t mean that the area isn’t affected. Richer herself has felt the impact of the coronavirus in her role as a professor. “It is extremely stressful,” she said, “when you’re waiting for the email every five minutes, telling you that something is going to change.” As college students, the shifting status of our classes is something that worries us. Some of us have entirely online classes, while others have a tangled mess of in-person and hybrid classes. Students and teachers have been shut out of the process of reopening schools, and electing a science professor gives these communities a voice in the House at a critical point for these groups.
Richer highlighted the impact of the opioid epidemic on her district. The Upper Peninsula has some of the highest rates in Michigan of opioid-related suicides and babies born dependent on opioids. Richer hopes to focus on mental health and incarceration policies to change that, seeking gentler policies to try and prevent opioid addiction before it happens. “We know that substance abuse is intimately tied to mental health,” she said. “When I went and talked to teachers and administrators and said, ‘What’s the number one thing you wish you could have?’, they’d say mental health assistance in the schools.” Mental health resources are helpful for students, and there’s no reason to think that increased spending towards that end would not decrease opioid usage.
The 108th District deserves someone who takes their problems seriously, not someone who spends their days getting into Twitter fights with state officials and student blogs. We believe that Renee Richer is a fantastic candidate, and we’re happy to write this in support of her this fall for State Representative.
Renee Richer’s campaign site is richerin2020.com.
– The Evening Look Team