News Story

Incumbent’s Voting Record, Philosophy Challenged In Michigan's 107th

Rep. Frank Foster vs. Lee Chatfield

In Michigan’s 107th House District Republican primary, incumbent Rep. Frank Foster, R-Pellston, is being challenged by Lee Chatfield, of Levering, a teacher at Northern Michigan Christian Academy.

“This race is all about my voting record,” Rep. Foster told Capitol Confidential. “I have spent the past four years working hard to improve the economy . . . it’s on the climb. I campaigned on eliminating the personal property tax and the job-killing Michigan Business Tax and I’ve accomplished those things. I’ve voted to cut the income tax. We’ve invested more money into roads. We passed right-to-work in Michigan, the place where unions were born. Over the past four years Michigan has seen fundamental reform at all levels and I’m running to keep that momentum moving forward.

“I’m not really sure what my opponent stands for,” Rep. Foster added. “Four years ago I ran on a plan of what I was going to do when I got to Lansing and we’ve accomplished a lot of that document. I don't think my opponent can point to a single thing he hopes to accomplish in Lansing other than he isn't Frank Foster.”

According to Chatfield, the primary race is about both an overall philosophy pertaining to the proper role of government as well as some of the votes Rep. Foster has taken.

“It’s not about my opportunity or about me; it’s about values,” Chatfield said. “I believe in limited government. When it comes to fundamental issues, government does not have the solutions. As President Ronald Reagan said: ‘The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ I believe that’s true.

“My opponent voted for Medicaid expansion, adding to the community of people who are in the program and accelerating spending,” Chatfield continued. “It is the biggest expansion since the 1960s. To me, putting more people on a welfare program should not be considered a success. Success should be measured by how many people get off. He also voted to authorize Common Core. We need education curriculum, but it shouldn’t be based on one-size fits all and making teachers teach to a test. I also oppose his vote in favor of the Internet tax.”

Extending from the northern tip of Michigan’s mitten up through the eastern tip of the Upper Peninsula, the 107th House District includes Chippewa, Mackinac, Emmet and part of Cheboygan counties. It has a 55.9 percent Republican base, based on voter turnout in the 2008 and 2010 elections.

Rep. Foster claims Chatfield has been trying to misinform voters.

“My opponent has misled voters in his mail and at doorsteps,” Rep. Foster said. “He has claimed I am not pro-life, but I have a 100 percent voting record on life issues and am the only candidate endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan. He claims I support gay marriage… that’s also false. I am a fourth generation Catholic and I believe marriage is between one man and one woman.”

“What I do believe is that the free market does a really good job of letting us know which people are hardworking productive members of society and I don't think anyone should be fired simply for being gay,” Rep Foster continued. “At the same time I don't think people with deeply held religious beliefs should be persecuted for their beliefs either.”

According to Chatfield, he hasn’t accused Rep. Foster of not being pro-life or being in favor of gay marriage.

"I have never once led anyone to believe that my opponent supports abortion or gay marriage,” Chatfield said. “His claim that I have done so is pathetic and is a desperate cry for sympathy."

Capitol Confidential asked questions to the candidates about "internet tax" and corporate welfare. 

The ability to make purchases over the Internet has created opportunities for elderly and disabled persons who are physically unable to shop at traditional brick and mortar stores. Generally these people pay an additional cost for being limited to shopping online; and that additional cost is for shipping and handling. However, the shipping and handling costs are often offset by the fact that many who purchase over the Internet avoid paying the sales tax they would be forced to pay for purchases made at brick and mortar stores.

Q. The so-called “Internet tax,” would force online marketers to collect Michigan’s sales tax at the point of purchase. In your view would passage of the “Internet tax” result in penalizing elderly and disabled persons who are physically unable to shop at traditional brick and mortar stores?

Chatfield’s response: “Absolutely, it puts many elderly and disabled at a disadvantage. The bottom line is that this is just another creative way for government to get more tax dollars. Our problem isn’t that we’re not paying enough taxes.”

Foster’s response: “I think the best tax policies are ones that have low rates and are broad enough that everyone is treated equally. I don't think it is fair to charge one business one tax rate and another business a different tax rate. I recently introduced legislation that would, in the event that the federal government passed an “internet tax,” reduce the income tax to keep everything revenue neutral. When we start allowing some businesses to pay one rate, and force others to pay another we set a bad precedent of picking winners and losers.”

Legislation to revamp and continue the 21st Century Jobs Fund, which is used by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) to fund subsidy projects, was in the House Commerce Committee, which you chair, for 11 months in 2013. It was approved by the committee and reported to the full House in December 2013

Q. Regarding MEDC transparency, which the legislation was supposed to address, did the committee discuss issues such as recipient companies reporting job creation numbers based on temporary, and possibly brief, peak employment periods, which can make a project appear more successful than it actually was, as occurred with A123 Systems in 2012If not, why not? If it was discussed, why didn’t the legislation include steps to prevent the A123 Systems situation from reoccurring?

Rep. Foster’s response:

First, there is a vast difference between the as-introduced versions of these bills and the as reported versions. In addition to that, discussions are ongoing about how to create even greater transparency than is contained within the as reported versions.

Under the 21st Century Jobs Fund package of bills, numerous reports (twelve, to be exact) are combined in to one, comprehensive report with consistent indicators for success. The report is due by no later than April 10th so that information can be used as part of the next year’s appropriations discussion.

Examples of new, consistent requirements include:

  • A list of every entity that receives any financial assistance from the fund.
  • The duration of the loan.
  • How much money every entity receives.
  • The actual number of net jobs created or retained as permanent employees, and how that compares to the number of jobs committed.
  • The amount of other financial support for any project beyond state dollars.
  • All funds returned to the fund, including loan repayment and claw-back provisions
  • The status of all loans that are in default and any bankruptcies over $500,000.
  • A summary of the approximate administrative costs of every program, and actual administrative costs as percentage of total costs of programs where applicable.

Currently, 21CJF investments are not required to include breach of contract repayment (“clawback”) provisions. This requirement is created in Senate Bill 270, which is part of the bill package. All of these provisions will be more readily accessible as part of the new requirement to post all contracts and agreements online.

I believe that this package holds the MEDC to a greater account for its actions. The mechanisms that are in place (and are being enhanced and built upon in ongoing discussions) will help address numerous issues – including those relating to A123 Systems that you bring forth.

The most recent Auditor General’s performance audit of the MEDC found that only 19 percent of the jobs that the agency originally projected would be created as a result of its projects ever actually materialized. MEDC supporters argue that these audits are measuring the past performance of MEDC and now under Gov. Rick Snyder, the agency has been improved.

Q. Some House members have called for having a full clawback provision written into law to require that 100 percent of the dollars spent on failed projects be returned to the taxpayers. Would you support such a measure and work toward securing its passage?

Chatfield’s response:

“My opponent has continuously supported the MEDC.” Chatfield said. “However, a free market and businesses should decide who the winners and losers will be, not government. Government’s role should be helping to create the right environment for a growing economy. I’d like to see MEDC rolled back. Once again this is a case where government is the problem, not the solution.”

Foster’s response:

“As previously mentioned in the discussion about transparency within the Michigan Strategic Fund, clawback provisions have been added to provide for repayment for breach of the written agreement or the failure to meet measurable outcomes. I fully support — and worked toward — those inclusions in the package.”

Editor's note: Michigan Capitol Confidential will be reporting and writing about key primary races leading up to the election on Aug. 5. The series of stories are designed to provide readers with some insight into candidates who have said they support free market issues. The stories are not endorsements and readers are encouraged to give every candidate a serious look before the election.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.