Turning Michigan blue — shore to shore
The 79th State House District covers the area on the Lake Michigan coast of Michigan that includes Benton Harbor. It is currently represented by Al Pscholka, a former aide to Congressman Fred Upton, very good friend of Whirlpool and, most importantly, the original sponsor of the legislation that became Public Act 4, Michigan’s anti-democratic Emergency Manager law.
Jim Hahn is a progressive Democrats who is running against Al Pscholka and, though Berrien County is a fairly Republican area, he believes he can win.
I spoke to Jim over the weekend about his campaign.
The first question I asked him was, “Do you really think you can win? Pscholka’s got a lot of friends with a lot of money, doesn’t he?”
Hahn laughed. “Yes, we are up against a lot of money,” he replied. “He is, after all a good friend of Whirlpool and is one of the politicians that Fred Upton’s office spawns off every few years or so. But, look, Al Pscholka has done a lot to anger the voters of the 79th District. They aren’t so happy with him as you might think.”
I asked him what he meant by that.
“Look at his votes on education,” said Hahn. “On the environment. On women’s issues. On taxing seniors. On the Emergency Manager law. These are things that are very important to the voters of Berrien County and he’s been on the wrong side of all of them.
“He’s voted to reduce protections for the Lake Michigan Dunes. He voted to take a billion dollars out of education. He voted to take away women’s access to reproductive health services. And he was the author of the Emergency Manager law. That was his first act as a new Representative.”
“Besides, when I ran against Pscholka’s predecessor, John Proos, I was only 6,000 votes short against a three-term incumbent. And people liked John Proos. Al Pscholka is abrasive and has ticked off a lot of people. All I have to do is turn 3,000 votes and, with Pscholka’s record, that’s absolutely possible.”
A carpenter by trade, Jim Hahn has served as a past president of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenter’s Local 525 of Kalamazoo and is the former chair of the Berrien County Democratic Party. He spent a significant part of his career as a vocational educator, training people who have chosen the trades as a career path. In 2011, Hahn retired as the Training Director for the Michigan Carpenter’s Apprenticeship Program. Speaking to him, it’s clear that his passion is for public education, the environment, and democracy. We talked about the attacks on unions that has taken place in Michigan over the past two years.
“The post-war boom after World War Two created the middle class,” Hahn said. ” Some people think that it’s the natural order of things, to have a working class that has enough money to drive the economy and that can live a reasonably comfortable life. But it’s not. It’s actually a rare phenomenon in history. We should appreciate that and protect it.
“The Republicans in this state, though, are going after the very cornerstones of the middle class: public education and collective bargaining. They are trying to eliminate the middle class.
“The idea that working people are making too much money is behind all of these anti-union efforts. The way out of our problems isn’t to take money out of the pockets of the middle class and shift it to the top, which is what they want to do. It’s to make the middle class prosper so that they can put that money right back into our economy.”
Hahn talked about bringing Michigan’s economy back. He said it’s time we reject supply-side economics that he says is directly responsible for the Great Recession of the last decade.
“In 2008, the economic meltdown we had? That was history’s judgment on supply-side economics,” Hahn said. “The idea that wealth would tickle down to the middle class is clearly false. What we need is “demand-side economics”. Supply-side is a fantasy. We need living wage laws and we need to put the money back into the pockets of the middle class. THAT is what will revive our economy.”
We finished up by talking about Michigan’s Emergency Manager law, written by Al Pscholka.
“The Emergency Manager law is a consequence of the Republicans desire to shrink the middle class. It allows them to privatize everything, to sell off public assets, to disenfranchise voters and kick out the local government, and it allows them to bust the unions.”
“What do you think is the answer when you have a government that was so clearly dysfunctional as Benton Harbor’s was?” I asked.
“Well, you don’t come in and just take over,” replied Hahn. “Under the original law, Public Act 72, the state brought in fiscal experts to help solve problems, not to take over the whole government. If a city is having problems then, yeah, we need to bring in experts to teach them and to help them to be better leaders. But not to do away with democracy.”
Hahn talks more about the Emergency Manager law in this video: