This is the first in a series of conversations I had with four women who are running for the Michigan State House of Representatives. Not only is it important to me that we elect more women to government at ALL levels, it’s also important that you know them better as well. This is the first in that series.
There are political dynasty families and there are political dynasty families. Of course the Kennedys come to mind, and the Clintons. The Rockefellers as well as the, um, Bush family. But what about the Geiss family? Not sure about that one? Let me help you.
Michigan’s 12th House District which encompasses the city of Taylor, Romulus and a portion of Van Buren Township, has been served more than capably by term-limited State Representative Doug Geiss. As his term-limited time quickly ticks to an end as a legislator, in walks his wife Erika, who, as her bio supports, is more than qualified to represent this hard working and proud middle class enclave nestled in Western Wayne County.
Erika, obviously married, has two young children. She is also an educator at the Wayne County Community College District, an activist, and an advocate for many issues and constituencies. Her passion for education, something founded in her view of public education and that she can talk about with grand intelligence and effect is obvious. It is very clearly something that matters to her as a parent. Her appetite for STEM education (STEM is an acronym referring to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is evident as she discusses some of the challenges for public education in Michigan over the past almost four years. We’ll come back to that discussion.
Erika is more than a bit sensitive about what some see as a cakewalk to this House seat. She lives in a predominately Democratic District and has great name recognition, too. She also had no challenger in the primary. Between the primary and this upcoming Tuesday election, some candidates might have just floated. But not Erika.
We need more women in government at all levels of government. Women are 51% of the population but, as far as Michigan politics is concerned, they only represent 18% of the legislature here in Michigan. I am not saying that men don’t understand the issues that affect women, but ideally we need more of a mix in representation.
Determined to been seen as wanting this win and taking nothing for granted, Erika Geiss has knocked many doors in her House District, been effective on the phone, attended many community meetings, rallies and parades, and has been raising money. You see, Erika Geiss has an ethical backbone that requires her to actually do the work it takes to get elected and isn’t afraid to do it, either. Since I first met her I have seen her put herself out there. She does not back down and is a great defender of the middle class, of which she and Doug are proud members.
So, where does she stand on the issues and how can you help this future Party leader?
We’ll start with education, as that was and is her first priority:
Geiss: Before I even talked to Doug about running for office, I put a platform together and education was my number one priority. The basis for all things in life begins with a quality education. I am a big believer in STEM education but because of my background in the Arts and Humanities, I actually like to promote something I call STEAM education, which includes Arts, along with science, technology, engineering and math. In fact, as we have seen cuts in education, too many times we have seen the arts cut first and that is not a good policy course. Also, it was the dissolution of the Inkster public schools and the Buena Vista public schools that aided me in my decision to run for this open seat.
As a huge proponent of more woman in politics, I asked Erika if that was at all a factor in her decision to run for the House.
Geiss: Absolutely. We need more women in government at all levels of government. Women are 51% of the population but, as far as Michigan politics is concerned, they only represent 18% of the legislature here in Michigan. I am not saying that men don’t understand the issues that effect women but ideally we need more of a mix in representation. We also need more minorities in our government. When voters don’t see people who look like them in government the assumption is that they are not fairly represented. The result is that they feel disenfranchised and they don’t participate.
For many of the candidates I have interviewed for this series, working with their colleagues on the other side of the aisle is something they all say they want to improve on, which is a worthy goal. But how?
Geiss: The 148 members of the legislature, including the Senate and House, have to explore ways where we have common interests and work out from there. I’m prepared to fight for my point to view, but I’m also open to hearing others, as well.
Not unlike what many candidates have shared with me, roads seem to be on the minds of the majority of voters and Erika Geiss realizes this is something that she will have to deal with if something is not done in the lame duck session a few short weeks away.
Geiss: Look, everyone uses the roads. Even public transportation options are affected by the road conditions. Finding an equitable way to fund maintenance and rebuilding of our roads infrastructure is complicated. We need to have serious conversations about how we fund this and the best way to pay for the roads. We also need to look at the budget and see where the money that was supposed to go to roads has gone. Is it being used elsewhere and why have we allowed the quality of our roads to deteriorate so drastically? We also can learn from neighboring states and see how they are doing this. We also need to look at the materials we are using. Let’s leave nothing off the table.
Also, the businesses who use our roads for their own gain and profit have to buy into a system that is fair. Enforcement of current laws and regulation also need to be emphasized.
The “War on Women” has encompassed many hours of conversation. Some of the radical ideas of the Republican Party, like the so called Rape Insurance Bill and other issues, have been a grave concern to many women. I asked Erika if this was something that she would focus on and if it was part of her decision to run.
Geiss: Most of these issues, in my opinion, should be between a woman and her doctor or a patient’s family and their doctor. I also think that the way the language of some of the bills that have passed have been detrimental to women is based on false information. I believe that issues like equal pay or family leave to help a family member who is sick or an aging family member are important. These are not just women’s issues but family issues, although many of them fall on women to solve. Reproductive and economic justice issues are community issues and they need to be fairly addressed.
Erika Geiss will be a name you will become very familiar with come January 2015. Her intelligence, command of issues, and confidence are a pleasure to experience. Every time I have had a conversation with her I learned something new. Every time I have asked for her advice I got it straight and to the point. She doesn’t waste words and I’ll make a judgment that she doesn’t waste anything, including time, energy and money, among other things.
My next interview is with Democratic State House candidate Kristy Pagan. Serious voters, we have an opportunity to do something profoundly good next Tuesday. Elect some amazing women candidates, some incredibly intelligent people who lead and live their lives with passion. Sounds good to me.