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Mari Manoogian, a Birmingham, MI resident is running for State House District 40.
Party affiliation: Democratic Party
Family:My parents, George and Sandy, and my younger sister, Alis, also live in Birmingham. My father is a retired union utility worker and former president of UWUA Local 223, while my mother is a vocational rehabilitation expert who owns and operates a private practice in Metro Detroit. My sister is a Michigan State University graduate who currently works in commercial real estate for a firm in Southfield. Finally, I am a proud descendant of Armenian Genocide survivors, and love spending time with my big extended family.
Occupation:State Representative, 2 years
Previous elected experience:State Representative for Michigan’s 40th State House District, 2019-present
Family members in government:My father, George Manoogian, was president of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 223 in the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s. He also served as a senior national representative, and then as Chief of Staff, for the national UWUA until his retirement in 2016.
Campaign website: https://www.mariformi.com
The single most pressing issue facing our state is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.
The single most pressing issue facing our state - or at very least the Metro Detroit region that I have the honor of serving - is the ongoing “brain drain” of our brightest young Michiganders, who simply don’t see living in this state as a viable choice for many reasons – chief among them, this state’s lack of a large, transport-linked metropolitan area comparable in jobs, housing, and quality of life to cities like Chicago, Washington, or New York. Without top-quality regional transit and a sustainable infrastructure revitalization plan to fix our ailing roads, our auto insurance costs are a turn off for young folks, too. I believe we should champion the construction of an energy-efficient, integrated regional transit system and the implementation of a renter’s tax credit to give young folks and new families opportunities to call our wonderful communities home.
For building our state’s infrastructure back better, our roads alone cost citizens hundreds of dollars in auto repair costs every year. Given legislative Republicans’ non-starter stance on negotiating with the Governor on road funding, I am in favor of her road bonding proposal. Long-term, I am in favor of increasing the corporate income tax by 2.5%, implementing a flow-through parity-tax of 4.25%, and repealing the retirement tax, as well as creating a Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax of 6 cents per mile for commercial trucks at the heaviest two classes; I believe the revenue from these proposals should be directed to a “Fixing Michigan Roads” fund. Finally, I believe in creating a Rhode Island-style bridge toll program for trucks, which will mean that those most responsible for breaking our roads will shoulder the most responsibility for having them repaired. Through these types of proposals crafted by my House Democratic colleagues, we will be able to bring our roads up to scratch without putting the burden of paying for it back onto the working-class taxpayers of our state.
By building our state’s infrastructure back up to the level that we know we all deserve, we give young people who grew up here a reason to stay, and we give young families around the country looking for a place to live a reason to come and live in Michigan.
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
This election, the choice couldn’t be clearer. As your State Representative, I’m proud to advocate for great public schools and safe communities while championing our shared values that were instilled in me growing up here in our community. The House passed my legislation curbing distracted driving, and I secured $120 million to clean up our drinking water. We have more to do together, including growing our economy by creating a transit system that works for our region. We have an opportunity to continue to move Michigan forward, and it would be my honor to continue serving as your State Representative.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
In my first term as a state legislator, I am proud to have secured $120 million to implement the lead and copper rule in our state, ensuring that our communities have the funds they need to clean up our ailing water infrastructure, test our water proactively, and make sure that each of us — no matter who you are or what ZIP code you live in — has access to clean water. Moreover, I am proud of my bipartisan work in passing distracted driving legislation through the House. Together with two of my Republican colleagues, I will continue to push the senate to take up this important legislation, and I hope that we can present it to the governor by the end of this year.
What steps should state government take to bolster economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic for local businesses?
Local businesses — both their owners and their employees — are some of the hardest hit by this pandemic. While many millions of dollars of state and federal aid have been given out to local businesses through MEDC’s grant and loan programs, more is obviously needed in specific, targeted ways. First, I have introduced HB 5998, which would create a small business relief program within MEDC which would assist small businesses with grants and loans from the Michigan Strategic Fund during declared emergencies, allowing businesses under 50 employees to apply for grants up to $10,000, and businesses under 100 employees to apply for low-interest, long-term loans between $50,000 and $200,000. These grants or loans would allow our businesses to pay for payroll, rent, mortgages, utilities, or any other expenses found in the daily course of business.
Second, we need to look at ways that we can make sure that emergency relief funds reach those most disenfranchised is to ensure that funds are specifically set aside for community banks, credit unions, and minority-owned banking institutions, as well as other grants and loans that are specifically available for Black-, women-, or other minority-owned small businesses. We must recognize, however, that the issue in access to capital not only lies in whether or not funds are available to individuals, but also in implicit biases held by those reviewing applications for state funds. Even for those funds appropriated specifically for marginalized groups, when those groups are not present on the review boards that make final decisions about those applications, there are inevitably existing disparities that are perpetuated forward. When working with local economic development corporations to grant out these funds, I believe that the Legislature or MEDC has the ability to mandate the inclusion of diverse individuals on those panels; in this way, I believe that we can remove implicit biases against various types of businesses and business owners.
Third, I have been vocal about the need for restaurants, hotels, and other such businesses to receive targeted funds at the state and federal level in order to ensure that they can retain staff at their full, pre-COVID employment levels for as long as possible. I am fully in support of the RESTAURANTS Act and the Save our Stages Act that were both included in the most recent version of the HEROES Act, as well as the recommendations of organizations like the Independent Restaurant Coalition. It is clear that without further federal aid, our local businesses — especially those in these hospitality businesses — will fail, causing negative knock-on effects throughout our states, notably in our significant downtown areas.
Finally, I think one major way that we can bolster our economic recovery in the long-term is by recognizing the inadequacy of our state minimum wage. While we have been slowly raising the minimum wage, Michigan’s minimum wage is well below the minimum amount necessary for an individual working full-time to live and provide for a family. The first step that we must make as a state is to pass into law a $15 minimum wage for all workers, which we know will allow people to provide for their families properly while also pumping more money into our economy. Moreover, we must examine the continued implementation of the subminimum wage in our state. While the minimum wage is slowly going up, the subminimum wage for tipped workers remains below $4.00 per hour of work. This is unacceptably low, and has presented many issues for individuals attempting to access unemployment insurance benefits during this ongoing pandemic or for those who will attempt to pay much of their past-due rent back now that the eviction moratorium has largely expired. Not only this, but because of the drop in tips received due to the closing of indoor dining and the precipitous drop in hotel stays during the lockdown, many hospitality workers have had to make the difficult choice over whether to return to work or continue to receive unemployment insurance benefits, which is often higher than what they would be making without pre-COVID-equivalent tips coming in. Situations like this truly prove to me why working to remove (or at the very least substantially raise) the subminimum wage for tipped workers is so important.
How will you address the calls for racial justice and police reform?
Michigan must make wholesale changes to accountability mechanisms, use-of-force guidelines, and training protocols that govern our local and state police forces. I believe we must push for investment in social services that can be used as alternatives to police involvement, including social workers, homelessness specialists, and drug treatment counselors. We must also look at removing laws which create unnecessary interactions between the public and police; this could include removing the ability of judges to issue arrest warrants for individuals who fail to appear in court for a traffic violation and sentence them to up to 93 days in jail.
I support legislation that would require police forces to create and make public disciplinary matrices for their departments, as well as the creation of a statewide anonymous tip line for officers to report misconduct to the Attorney General. I also support legislation to create an individual right to record police, and for departments and municipalities to report data including civilian stops, officer-related shootings, and officer demographics on a public dashboard. I am in support of legislation that would require misconduct settlements to be paid out of individual police department budgets as a method of financially incentivizing departments to independently root out misconduct.
List other issues that define your campaign platform:
My campaign platform revolves around several key issues. The first is to ensure access to high-quality, affordable healthcare for each and every member of our community – especially in the midst of a deadly, global public health crisis. I am also committed to properly backing our public education system, ensuring that students are all receiving the necessary quality of education that they deserve while their teachers, administrators, and paraprofessionals are all receiving the amount of support that they need to do that. We do this by adopting the recommendations set forth by the School Finance Research Collaborative and Michigan State University, including high-quality preschool, $9,590 base funding for all K-12 students in district and brick-and-mortar charter schools, and additional funding above base funding for students with special needs.
Moreover, I believe that we must work to ensure Michigan moves swiftly toward our carbon-neutral by 2050 goal as set by Governor Whitmer, guaranteeing clean air and water for every resident of our state while also creating tens of thousands of good paying jobs in our rapidly growing renewable energy sector. To this point, I have already gone on about the importance of not only fixing, but replacing or building new infrastructure to provide Michiganders with safer communities while also making our state a more desirable destination for our young people to stay in or for young folks and families around the country to move to. Finally, it is a key priority for me to support our local businesses and business owners, making sure that our communities and downtowns continue to be places where entrepreneurs can succeed.
What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?
We’ve accomplished so much together since you voted to send me to Lansing in 2018. From passing critical legislation to curb distracted driving, to securing $120 million in our state’s budget to clean up our drinking water, and fighting for local businesses during COVID-19, our team in Lansing has proven to be results-driven and laser-focused on the best interests of the people of this district. I’m proud to fight for clean water, great public schools, and safe communities while championing our shared values of hard work, creativity, and optimism—values that were instilled in me growing up here in our district and while working for our U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and for the late Congressman John Dingell. As your state representative, I’m working every day for the safety and well-being of all Michiganders. I serve as an assistant whip in the House Democratic Caucus, elevating our district’s voice during critical legislative negotiations. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, but there is more to do, including securing our elections, making our government more transparent, growing our economy and the mobility sector by creating a transit system that works for our region. I’d be honored to earn your vote for re-election on or before Tuesday, November 3rd.