It's been 20 years since Kevin Kresch first began to take notice of the political arena. Like many passions, the catalyst for its start wasn't especially unusual but the lasting effects have stayed with him to this day. It was during the 2000 presidential race that Kresch attended a rally for Debbie Stabenow, who was then running for her first term as a U.S. senator against Republican incumbent Spencer Abraham. A single afternoon had the teenaged Kresch "immediately hooked."
"And I had the Gore sign on my bedroom door and balloons from the rally and I had a calendar counting down to election day," he said. "And then, of course, there was that whole debacle with the recall. And I continued to come home from school every day and put the news on and watch."
From there, Kresch's interest only grew, and by the time he started to major in political science at Oakland University, he said it "felt natural." Today, the openly gay candidate is running as a Democrat for the 27th District Michigan House seat. He took some time off from campaigning to catch BTL up on his goals if elected and some of his views on the hot-button issues of the day.
When asked why he feels qualified for this role over candidates, Kresch said that he feels his prior political experience gives him a unique edge. It started when he was majoring in political science at Oakland University.
"[In class] we had to do a mock campaign plan and act as if we were campaigning for a race that had happened in the previous cycle," Kresch said. "We picked [former state rep.] Lisa Brown's [2006 cycle] in my group. A friend of mine that I was hanging out with saw that we were doing this and said, 'Well, I know Lisa Brown and she's running again.' So I quickly met her and then started volunteering for the campaign."
Not only did Brown's campaign end up winning the primary but Kresch earned a job as a field director for "one of the most contested seats in the state."
"And really my focus was on constituent relations in her office. I spent the year there," Kresch said. "The reality is that you have six years and often there's a high learning curve, and by the time you sort of know what you're doing, you're almost already out the door. And I feel because I have that year in Lansing as a legislative aide and my legal education, I feel really ready to go to get up there and immediately be working."
He said that the relationship-building skills he learned during that job have followed him into his current profession as a lawyer and have only grown since. He added that his daily experience interpreting the law will only be a boon to the role, too.
"I think that's going to be really key to my success if I am so fortunate to get up there. But also, my ability to read the bills and sort of understand the impact they're going to have, what this might look like in a court system — I feel it's the right kind of experience to bring," he said.
For most LGBTQ voters, expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections is the highest priority issue when examining a candidate. Currently, a ballot initiative created by Fair and Equal Michigan is seeking to put that expansion in the hands of voters. Although an equality-minded move, this initiative has stirred some controversy by LGBTQ leaders who have questioned the ability of this plan to be successful. When asked his thoughts on the initiative, Kresch said he was hesitant, too.
"As far as the ballot initiative, if we are able to successfully amend the constitution to include it, that would be awesome. But I have reservations. I always have concerns about letting the majority vote on the rights of the minority," he said. "And further, I'm concerned about what will be the campaign against that ballot initiative. We've seen it in other states, particularly the way they target the transgender community is troubling and a concern. And if it fails, we are in worse shape than we were before."
However, Kresch added that if the initiative does get the needed signatures to move forward with the vote, he will be as supportive as possible.
"I'll be out there making sure I do everything I can to get it passed, and if it doesn't then it forwards the opportunity to run and hopefully change some hearts and minds and realize this isn't an issue that we should even be considering, it should just be done," he said.
When asked about some of his broader goals if elected, Kresch emphasized that he would work to expunge the records of those people who have been convicted on nonviolent marijuana-related crimes.
"I am so glad that we have ended the prohibition of marijuana, and there's a great example of putting things on the ballot can create positive change. But we absolutely can't ignore what has been the devastating prohibition to a lot of communities and families and individuals," he said. "And it's hypocritical for us to walk into a building and purchase marijuana when there are people who have that on their record and are still in jail for doing that very same thing."
On what could be considered the opposite end of that spectrum, Kresch said that he will focus on ending Michigan's drug industry immunity rule, that prohibits citizens from having a legal avenue within the civil litigation system to fight pharmaceutical companies if necessary.
"To me it makes no sense. This was something that Lisa was very passionate about when I worked for her. It's another one of those things where I just can't believe that here I am, running now 12 years later and we still haven't seen this result," he said.
Lastly, he plans to work to repeal the senior retirement tax.
"It's just another example of having to take care of our most vulnerable. Our seniors, in a lot of cases, are our most vulnerable," he said. " … We have not seen Lansing balancing the budget for the rights of seniors and children and municipalities to get these tax breaks. … So it's just, 'Who does the system work for?' And I want to see it work for the people. So those things work hand in hand, the expunging records and fighting for immunity."
Beyond specific campaign issues, Kresch also feels strongly about creating a government that highlights representation and inclusivity. He said that this House seat will provide the opportunity for him to do that, and in particular, to fight for transgender rights.
"One thing that I'm really, really passionate about is obviously the whole gamut of LGBT issues and having representation, but also being a big supporter of the transgender community. They're the first to get attacked and the last to get defended. And I think it's important that a voice up there [is LGBT] and an active member of the LGBT community," he said. "We currently only have two LGBT people in the state house, one of whom is term-limited — Jon Hoadley — I'm hoping to fill that and be his replacement. I know it's not for the same seat and he's a giant on his own, but I think that representation matters and me being up there and being a strong voice for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queer, questioning — the whole gamut."
To find out more about Kevin Kresch, his district and stances visit votekresch.com.