Photo by Melanie Taylor
Principal Kyle Hall speaks to Seaholm as a component of the school’s ceremony to honor lives lost in the terrorist attacks.
By: Melanie Taylor
Seaholm makes a point each year, like many other American public and private institutions of education, to honor the losses of September 11, 2001 with a ceremony. After a flag raising ceremony, the singing of the national anthem and a speech given by principal Kyle Hall, students filtered back into the halls of the school. For the seniors taking AP Government, though, the events had not yet concluded.
“[Patriot week] starts on September 11 and ends on September 17, Constitution Day,” Judge Michael Warren said. “We renew the spirit of America by celebrating the founding first principles from the Declaration of Independence, documents that embody them and flags from our history.”
Warren works currently as a Judge in the Oakland County District Courts. His daughter is a Seaholm alumna from the class of 2017. Warren organized a gubernatorial forum to be held at Seaholm as the pilot event of this year’s Patriot Week.
“Today we live in a very corrosive and divisive political environment,” Warren said, explaining the purpose of Patriot week. “I believe much of that arises from the fact that we cannot remind ourselves of what unties us as Americans.”
Warren gathered a large crowd. Many classes beyond AP Government decided to spend their second hour partaking in the forum, regardless of the fact that students may not have been able to vote in the upcoming gubernatorial primaries or even the general election.
Gubernatorial candidate State Senator Patrick Colbeck-R was pleased to see intrinsically motivated civic engagement on such a large scale.
“I think one of the problems of why we have so much division in our society today is that I don’t know if we understand what our core values are as Americans anymore,” Colbeck said.
Though he clearly had the phrases memorized, on numerous occasions, Colbeck pulled out a pocket-sized Declaration of Independence.
“My philosophy in government is pretty straightforward. It comes right out of this little document right here: the Declaration of Independence,” Colbeck said, unveiling his prop for the first time. “It says, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident.’ In other words, it should be obvious, right?”
In his time on the State Senate, Colbeck has served on committees to format standardized Social Studies curriculums. He believes strongly in the importance of teaching neutral political theory in schools and allowing students to make of it what they will.
“When [Judge Warren is] talking about future governor, don’t forget about the folks out in the seats here,” Colbeck said. “I was really encouraged when I heard principal Hall talk about the purpose of education is to develop good citizens, and you guys are demonstrating that right here.”
In addition to Colbeck, the forum consisted of three other candidates: Jim Hines-R, Bill Cobbs-D and Shri Thaneadar-D. The candidates crossed socioeconomic and partisan boundaries, but, in accordance with the theme of Patriot Week, all viewed education as an invaluable resource for the youth of America.
“I grew up from poverty,” Thaneadar said. “Education was my ladder to come out of poverty and make good for myself.”
Thaneadar went on to say that the opportunities he had years ago when pursuing his education are now virtually nonexistent for the generation currently attending Seaholm. Thaneadar’s opponent, Cobbs, united with him on those principles.
“Today, we’ve created borders that didn’t exist when I was growing up,” Cobbs said. “When I was a kid, education was truly the first doorway to any kind of social mobility. We’ve closed that door for many young people, and we’re beginning to pay a price for it.”
With the exception of Colbeck who declined to be interviewed, exclusive interviews between The Highlander and each candidate were conducted after the forum. Cobbs took that time to reference the often seemingly foreign phenomenon of party unity.
“The way races normally go, we have democrats fighting democrats all of the way up through the primaries, and then between the primary and the general election, you have three months,” Cobbs said. “Effectively, you’ve utilized all of you resources fighting somebody who has the same party affiliation as you, and you don’t have anything left to fight the real opponent.”
The general election for Michigan’s governor, taking place on November 6, 2018, is still over 10 months away. Thaneadar does not believe political campaigns should extend to this length.
“The first person on the democratic side to announce her candidacy was on January 3 of 2017. That was more than 20 months before the general election,” Thaneadar said. “The influence of money has become even bigger the longer we [campaign]. The influence of big money has to go, and the longer this process is, the harder it’s going to be.”
For Cobbs and Hines, though, it was more a matter of gaining name recognition so as to be taken seriously at the polls come primary season.
“For me, I’m the only outsider. I am not known. I’m known by a number of moms and grandmas whose babies I delivered, but I am not known versus a politician like Senator Colbeck and others,” Hines said. “They’ve been out politicking for years so I needed to get my name known but also hear what people have to say.”
Hines offers himself up as a blank slate for the citizens of Michigan.
“Because, I haven’t been in politics, I’m travelling all across the state asking, ‘What do we need to change? How should we change it?’” Hines said. “That’s putting people first. Politicians, they don’t do that.”
Poignantly, Hines’s words echo those of Colbeck, a man who spent the better part of the last decade as a civil servant in Lansing and certainly identifies himself as a politician.
“I’ve never lost the focus of whom I’m serving, and that doesn’t always rub the political establishment very well,” Colbeck said. “I’m not politics as usual. I’ve got a track record making sure that I’m defending your best interests, not the special interests up in Lansing.”
The fact of the matter is that the Constitution delineates a government in which representatives are expected to take into account the sentiments of the people. Somehow, that trait has become so rare in a candidate that it is used as a selling point.
“The first line of the Michigan Constitution says that all political power is inherently the people. Government is for their equal security and protection,” Cobbs said. “We’re not living that today, and the next governor has got to be someone who is committed to returning to that. Public policy should be driven by the notion of one person, one vote.”
‘One vote per person’ is the essence of democracy, but as evidenced most clearly by the power the Electoral College has over the popular vote in influencing the presidency, each citizen’s vote is not equal in America. Colbeck eschewed the allegation of an American democracy.
“We’re not supposed to be all things to all people. There are limited powers that are allocated to our federal government,” Colbeck said. “We need to remember what kind of government we actually are. Ben Franklin once referred to a democracy as two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for lunch. He then went on to say that liberty is a well-armed lamb, but we’re not a democracy. We’re a constitutional republic.”
Despite the truth that may or may not exist within Colbeck’s statement, time and time again each candidate reverberated the importance of students making use of their one, powerful vote.
“This is your country. Up to this point, you’ve been under your parents’ roof, but you’re getting to a point where you are your own person,” Hines said. “You are the future of this country, the future of the state and the future of the world.”
Candidates encouraged students to follow not only federal, but more local elections as well.
“All of the policy that directly impacts your daily living is generated at the local level,” Cobbs said.
Hines believes that local policy ripples through the government to create major change.
“When you have that privilege to vote, guaranteed by our Constitution, you want to know who you’re voting for. Their philosophy will be carried into the political sphere of things,” Hines said. “You really need to find out what they think and why they think it and what they’re going to do when they’re in office.”
Michigan, coming off of Governor Rick Snyder’s second term, has a number of headlining issues that are in need of resolution.
“In Michigan, I saw all of the time, there are four things that we have to work on to get us back on track: education, developing a statewide infrastructure replacement program, having a tax policy that makes sense and fourth and finally, water,” Cobbs said. “If we work on those four things, then we put this state on the right track to move forward. If we don’t work on those four things, we literally cripple ourselves for the future.”
The Flint Water Crisis has evolved into a civil rights issue so prominent that it was referenced by Hillary Clinton in a post-primary presidential debate during last year’s election.
“Would I have acted differently? Absolutely. If I knew you were drinking poisoned water, I would say, ‘I think you might be drinking poisoned water. Better stop drinking it,’” Hines said. “You know, they let it go on for months, and that is an example of putting the government or bureaucracy first before the people.”
Cobbs believes that, in addition to being a human rights violation, the Flint Water Crisis is disrespectful to the very resource on which Michigan has been founded.
“We live in a state that’s surrounded by 20% of the entire Earth’s fresh water, but we put it at risk every single day,” Cobbs said. “That water represents Michigan’s future. If we don’t do the things that we need to do to protect it, we don’t have a future as a state.”
Every candidate claims to be steadfast to maintaining virtue and honesty while in office.
“There are a lot of people out there who see the title of Governor as an item,” Colbeck said. “We need to have citizens of all walks of life going, ‘No, no, no. Government is supposed to serve the people, not the other way around.’”
Unfortunately, neither major party’s frontrunner was present at Seaholm’s Patriot Week forum: Gretchen Whitmer-D, former Senate Minority Leader, and Bill Schuette-R, Michigan Attorney General.
Regardless, the forum was instrumental in spreading thought-provoking conversation regarding politics to students who will soon be granted their right to vote.
For all of those unable to attend the forum, Colbeck left students with the following questions to ponder.
“What does it mean to be the United States of America?” Colbeck said. “What actually unites us?”
Graphic by Melanie Taylor