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Candidate survey for Michigan’s 104th: Betsy Coffia

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Last month MyWHaT’s editorial board of one sent the two candidates for Michigan’s District 104 State House seat a short 7 question survey of open-ended questions. This was similarly done last year with City Commission candidates in the 2011 election. As before, answers are published unedited without annotation. If a candidate didn’t respond, the questions will be published with blank responses with only their name and basic information listed at the top. The first to respond for the 104th, was Democratic candidate Betsy Coffia. Her answers are below.



Betsy Coffia
Address: 800 Cottageview Drive
Traverse City, MI
Walk Score: 77
Seat Seeking: State House – District 104
Email Address: betsy@betsyformichigan.com
Website: www.betsyformichigan.com


1. What is your favorite public space in Michigan that readers might not ever suspect?

That’s a tall order to fill! Michigan public spaces are both plentiful and diverse and I enjoy so many of them; our state really has an embarrassment of riches, and our region, even more so.

A public space that might be passed by, but is a real jewel, is the section of the TART behind Burger King and the furniture store on East Bay. Walkers, bikers and joggers find there a brief but teeming wetland with wooden walkway for foot and bike traffic. When I lived on the East side, I loved to bike or jog that stretch and watch for red winged blackbirds and mallards among the reeds. There is also a surprising amount of vegetation and color, all concentrated in one little section of trail sandwiched by a major thoroughfare, railroad tracks and another road. Springtime in that stretch is especially glorious. I love that spot for its unexpectedness.

I don’t know how many people think of it this way, but the Michigan shoreline is a vast public space. Michigan has 3,288 miles of coastline along three of the Great Lakes, more than all the other Great Lakes’ states combined.

We have a great trust to future generations to wisely steward the 20% of the world’s freshwater surrounding us. I think most of us feel that inherently, and try to live it out in our daily lives. Therefore, it would probably surprise most Michiganders to realize how little our state is doing to protect our most precious natural resource, our Great Lakes.

Michigan has no comprehensive shoreline use and protection plan, unlike surrounding states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota. Given the success of the Pure Michigan effort, and the corresponding additional usage of these precious public spaces, I think this is a big oversight and one that should be corrected.

We as citizens really need to be paying close attention to what IS happening at the state level to our shorelines and Great Lakes. For example, by passing Public Act 247 this July, our legislature weakened protections of our water and shoreline by eliminating the permitting process for removing vegetation, grooming the soil/sand, etc. on PUBLIC LAND adjacent to the lake. Not private land. PUBLIC land, between the high water mark and the actual water’s edge.

What does this mean?

Well, we know removal and grooming can contribute to pollution (no more natural filter of vegetation for runoff from oil/grease from roads, toxic sprays used on lawns, etc.).

With the passage of this law, mowing is also allowed without permit – think about that… invasive species of grasses and vegetation, chopped up into clippings, spread all over the shoreline and into the lakes themselves to be carried elsewhere.

Unfortunately, our current State Representative Wayne Schmidt, voted in favor of this law.

I will work to ensure these actions by the legislature must be reversed.

2. What role do you see public spaces having in creating value for Michigan communities?

The Commons – public parks and squares, where people can congregate, talk, dance, play music, have picnics and reunions, add so much to our lives. While they certainly have economic benefits to communities, their value really goes far beyond dollars and cents. Whenever I visit a city like Ann Arbor or Chicago, I enjoy the bustle of entertainment, museums, transit and shopping but I look, ultimately, for public spaces, the parks, the places with trees or open water (or both if I’m lucky!) where I can just BE. Others are drawn to these places as well.

They are also important to attract tourism (think Sleeping Bear Dunes!), a crucial part of our local economy.

Each of the Commons are unique, and there are as many values to public spaces as there are public spaces.

I am a strong proponent of keeping public spaces, public, and of stewarding them with good planning of the space around them and maintenance of these spaces in keeping with their character.

3. What is an example of a public space in the 104th District that isn’t living up to its role and how would you improve it??

The stretch of Division between 14th Street and West Bay is a public space many Traverse City residents find problematic and not in keeping with its decidedly residential surroundings. Those of us who enjoy non-motorized travel such as jogging, walking or biking are certainly reminded of this when attempting to navigate safely across Division. When I lived on Union Street and my journey was East to 3 Mile Road, I loved riding my bike to work. Now, I live on the “other side” of Division and for obvious reasons, I tend not to bike, or even walk, across this 4 lane highway much.

I am glad to see the possibility of progress with this November’s ballot proposal.

If the people of Traverse City vote yes, I as a future state representative will take a leadership role in advocating for our community’s wishes. I will work in Lansing for action and funding for the project through the Michigan Department of Transportation if the community chooses to seek state or federal funding. I will facilitate needed discussion and decision making wherever I can to further the goals of the Division Street Steering Committee: To change the character of Division Street to create a City Street that is:

  1. safer for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians to share, travel along, and to cross
  2. better fits the context of the city and its neighborhoods
  3. unites the east and west sides of the street, and
  4. creates the environment and driver behavior to insure that traffic speeds will be reduced to 30-mph. This must be a demonstrable requirement.

We see the need. We need for leadership and political will to push for a resolution – Traverse City is an important draw to Michigan economically and we should leverage that clout in Lansing to address a key trouble area in a way that will only increase the quality of life and overall charm of our region. Moving forward, it will be crucial for the city to have an advocate at the state level for more appropriate design of this important public space.

4. What can Michigan’s towns and cities do better to attract young talent? How can the legislature or a specific state agency help?

Each town and city is unique, with a unique history, so in many ways this is really something that should be left to the communities themselves. As to the state’s role, I think it should be limited. Cities that attract young talent have sprung up in states where one might least suspect – Atlanta, Georgia, Austin, Texas, and Miami, Florida, for example. So fundamentally this is an urban planning problem. Fortunately, Michigan has two world-class universities with graduate planning programs (UM and MSU), and we should mine that wealth! I would push for the state to work with our excellent universities to develop and implement strategies to attract young talent on a city-by-city basis.

One specific action Lansing can and should take on behalf of Traverse City is to equally fund our local children’s education. Right now, our local kids receive barely $6,000 in state foundation allowance, which is nearly half that of many other school districts per pupil funding.

The presence of quality public schools is a major part of talented professional families’ priority in moving to a new area, and our schools do a fantastic job. They need real support from our lawmakers, though, as costs rise and the realities of having to make do with less year after year takes its toll in budget cuts, larger class sizes, arts and music cuts, etc.

We must achieve critical mass, working with other underfunded districts around the state to demand that Lansing award equal per pupil funding. It is the right thing to do, it is long OVERDUE and it is among my top priorities as a future State Representative.

5. In your vision of Michigan’s transportation future, what will Michigan’s transportation system, both statewide and in our communities, look like in the year 2042?

I would love to see more passenger rail connecting every major city north of the Ohio River to Michigan’s tourist areas. Passenger service ran to northwest Michigan until the 1950’s, and that is when our tourism industry started. Residents from cities like Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland, and many others should be able to travel throughout Michigan by passenger rail.

6. What is standing between the current system and the system you envision in the previous question?

This will take a multi-state effort and include Federal involvement, but I think the payback will be ample and relatively quick.

7. Who in the opposing party do you see exhibiting effective leadership statewide? In Northern Michigan?

Governor Snyder is demonstrating effective leadership in his support of a partnership with Canada for a second bridge spanning the Detroit River. With Canada offering to foot the construction bill, the prospect of increased international economic activity and a brand new bridge at a time when so much infrastructure in our state and nation is aging, I see this as a very smart move for Michigan.

I applaud the Governor for his leadership in the face of opposition from his own party.

I also hope to see continued leadership from Republican Senator and Appropriations Committee Chair Roger Kahn of Saginaw Township regarding early childhood education funding. Earlier this month, he proposed doubling the amount we spend on state-funded preschool. This specifically could benefit the many children in our state who live at or below the poverty level and often do not have access to quality preschool experiences.

One in seven children in Grand Traverse County are living in poverty situations. As a former Head Start social worker, I am keenly aware of the importance of investing in these children’s success. Economically, for every dollar spent on early childhood education, the return is between $7 and $15!

This a is wise social and economic investment, and should be treated as a nonpartisan issue with plenty of common ground on which to stand and do the right thing.


Happy voting!


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Blank Here

800 Cottageview Drive

  1. October 10, 2012 at 9:44 am

    A terrific and thoughtful response from Betsy Coffia. Especially appreciate the reminder that Lake Michigan’s shoreline is a “vast public space”.

    Gary, Question #7 is brilliant. Forcing candidates to examine the other party from a positive light is something every Michigan politician should pause to do. Betsy put real thought into her response, showing a deep knowledge of the state’s political scene. Responding to this question could be deemed risky for any candidate.

    Thanks for doing this, and thanks to Betsy Coffia for her well-considered responses.

  2. Laurie Miholer
    October 10, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    I am appreciative of the provocative questions that allow the candidate to articulate a position with regard to our public spaces. I am impressed with Betsy Coffia’s answers which show her to be informed and knowledgeable about these issues as well as her independent nature which shows she is not tied to the ideology of any particular political ‘party’. I would love to see this intelligent woman represent our area in the state legislature!

  3. Bob Atallo
    October 12, 2012 at 11:35 am

    In addition to what the other commenters said, I am very impressed with Betsy’s in-depth knowledge of our community. She was born here and is a lifelong resident. Maybe a small thing, but I consider it very important for my state rep to know my community.

  4. October 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    thank you Bob Atallo! Full disclosure though – I was actually born in Valparaiso, IN and moved to northern Michigan when I was 5 years old. So…. 30 year resident but technically not lifelong. Still, I am very much a Northern Michigan girl and always will be.

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