As the November election draws nearer, Americans won't be voting just for a presidential candidate, both state and national candidates will be voted upon, too. In Michigan, there will be dozens of candidates running for the first time and for reelection across the state. Between The Lines has reached out to pro-equality candidates to get a sense of their goals and priorities for the LGBTQ community if they are to be elected. To get a full list of the pro-equality candidates running, visit mivoterguide.com.
Here, Robert Wittenberg answers questions about why he would be a good fit for Oakland County treasurer.
Why are you a good fit for office?
I'm currently a state representative finishing my third and final term and running for Oakland County treasurer, and I love helping people. I think that's what it boils down to. It's very rewarding, and I look at what I do as a public service. I've been able to do that at the state level and wanted to continue serving. I think I have the right experience based on my professional background, my legislative background — I was the minority vice chair for the financial liability reform committee for two sessions. I'm on the tax policy committee, on the financial services committee and the top-ranking Democrat on financial liability reform and the top-ranking Democrat on the insurance committee. So, I have really good experience that I think positions me well to thrive in the treasurer's seat and do a good job to help the people of Oakland County.
Besides your legislative experience, what makes you stand out from other candidates who are running for treasurer?
I think just in general we want someone in that position who is trustworthy, that's accessible, that's transparent, and I think those are qualities that I have really shown as a state representative. As a state rep, over the last six years, every month we've held at least two community conversations or coffee hours. We host town halls. We're very responsive and answer every email and call and correspondence that comes to our office. So, I truly believe in being accessible to the public and very transparent, which is something that you really want for your treasurer, your steward of your county's taxpayer dollars. I've been the leading advocate on, and sponsor of, trying to create a more equitable tax system in the state of Michigan. Leading on a state retirement savings program, and then also introducing legislation that would actually help county treasurers, specifically across Michigan, give them more discretion. We saw recently that there have been some court cases that came out dealing with county treasurers, and I've introduced legislation to try to give discretion to treasurers when it comes to what people owe for small dollar amounts on their taxes. So, there's a lot of different things I'm working on that I think will position me well and make my transition, if I am elected into the treasurer's office, smooth.
What are your top three priorities if you are elected in office?
My top priorities are the financial security and wellbeing of every resident in Oakland County and along with that is preventing foreclosures. That's probably the number one issue that people relate to the treasurer's office. And so, I want to do everything I can to be very proactive to try and prevent foreclosures, because foreclosures are a terrible thing to happen not just to the person or the family that it's happening to but also the neighborhood. Also, helping to recruit new businesses to Oakland County while supporting existing ones. And then also maintaining our AAA bond rating. That's something that we hang our hat on here in Oakland County, and that's also something that helps all of our local communities so that any time people are borrowing money, anything that they need to do, it actually is a big help. And then one thing, kind of the elephant in the room, is how the coronavirus is going to impact people financially. COVID-19 is not just a health crisis. Unfortunately, we've seen that it's going to be a financial one as well, and there might be some lag as far as the impact it's going to have on the county specifically. And so, I'm trying to be very preemptive and proactive and get out and make people aware of the resources available, and I'm trying to help everyone be in a sound financial position.
Although not directly related to your office, why is fighting for LGBTQ equity something that is valuable to you?
I do pride myself on being an ally, and I have been in the legislature. I have been working with my colleagues — trying to amend Elliott-Larsen, trying to prevent discrimination in housing and employment and all those different things that are so important that everyone deserves. It doesn't matter about who you love or how you identify or anything, I think it's really important that we do create an equal system for everybody and that's something I want to do as the county treasurer. I want to make sure that everybody in Oakland County has someone who is an advocate for them in the treasurer's office. I truly think that is so important.