Gubernatorial candidates talk Flint water crisis, criminal justice reform during town hall meeting

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FLINT, MI — Candidates vying for Michigan governor told community members their plans for Flint’s ongoing water crisis if they were to win the state’s top seat during this year’s election.

Democrats Gretchen Whitmer, Shri Thanedar, Abdul El-Sayed, and Bill Cobbs fielded questions on the topics of Flint’s water crisis, healthcare, the environment, education, and criminal justice reform during a town hall hosted by the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus at New Jerusalem Full Gospel Baptist Church in the Flint area.

“Earning back the trust of the people of Flint is going to be job number one. It starts with making sure that everyone has clean water coming out of their taps and that we’ve replaced all of the lead pipes,” Whitmer said. “As governor, I will have a cabinet that represents the diversity of the state – the religious, geographic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity – so that decisions are never made without a person from Flint, a person of color, or a woman having a seat at the table.”

Both Whitmer and El-Sayed have released policies to address the water crisis including replacing Flint’s pipes and repealing laws allowing for emergency managers.

“It’s been four years and the people in Flint still don’t have clean water,” El-Sayed added. “When I was the director of the Detroit Health Department, we built an environmental justice practice out of our department. We’ve got to build that focus in state government. We need leadership that understands the importance of environmental justice, understands what it means to stand up for communities of color, to demand that they have access to the clean air and clean water that allows them to live.”

El-Sayed’s policy calls for making access to water a right, ending water shutoffs, implementing a tiered pricing structure that would provide a “living standard” of water to consumers free of charge, while Whitmer’s plan would expand FOIA laws in Michigan in hopes of preventing another water crisis down the road.

Thanedar, who previously called for the creation of a new cabinet secretary dedicated solely to Flint, noted that “as a chemist and a scientist, someone who has analyzed soil and water with my own hands in a chemical testing lab that I owned and operated, I understand the importance of replacing lead pipes not just in Flint but everywhere in Michigan.”

Candidates were given one minute each to respond to questions, with no rebuttals allowed. Representative Phil Phelps, Representative Sheldon Neeley, Mayor Karen Weaver, and Councilman Santino J. Guerra attended the event.

Whitmer and Thanedar are nearly tied for the front-runner position in the Democratic primary, with El-Sayed and Cobbs trailing both. Schuette, the Republican front-runner, loses hypothetical general election matchups with both Whitmer and Thanedar.

Four Republican candidates – Bill Schuette, Brian Calley, Patrick Colbeck, and Jim Hines – turned down invitations to participate.

Michigan will hold its primary election on Aug. 7, ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

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