Find all of our Election 2020 coverage and other candidate interviews here. More interviews will be added as the election draws closer. Click here to read our conversation with Kent’s opponent, Rep. Robert Wittenberg.
Kent talks with the JN about his priorities if elected.
Republican candidate for Oakland County Treasurer Joe Kent is a tax accountant in Lake Orion who has owned his own firm for 25 years. Kent ran for Michigan House of Representatives District 46 in 2016 but lost in the primary. Kent is a father of two teenagers and has been married for 39 years.
The JN recently had the chance to interview Kent via Zoom. We’ve condensed his answers (edited for length and clarity) to questions of concern to Jewish voters in her district.
I would have to say that COVID-19 has really influenced everyone’s thinking, but certainly mine as it relates to the role of government. And so I’ve seen a shift in my own thinking and the thinking of people around me over the past several months. And so I would have to say that the number one priority is going to be to do a better job of working with property owners, homeowners, and owners of vacant land and commercial properties who are delinquent on their property taxes. Suffice it to say we know without question that there have been many job losses and heart-wrenching reductions in household incomes. And so the process of working with homeowners to keep them in their homes is really, really front and center.
I had a great many calls from clients and a few people who aren’t clients but just knew me, in the May and June timeframe when the whole initial wave of the COVID-19 stimulus was coming to the forefront especially as it relates to businesses. And they were (A) panicked about their own personal circumstances and their family, and (B) feeling overwhelmed by the fact that they had this new notion that there are ways out there that might be helpful to them, but they don’t understand them, they don’t understand what to do to access them, they’re afraid of making a mistake that would boomerang on them.
So what I would say to people is that I would hope that others in County government and really all offices, offices of government would share my feeling that our priority, our first priority right now has to be, to drop everything else and make sure that we are explaining to people in an easy way, what we can do to help them, because there are a great many things. Again, I mentioned earlier I think we’re all in this together, we’re all a family and we’re all going to get through this, but we’re only going to get through it well if our arms are locked.
I’m fond of referring to Oakland County as the jewel of Michigan, really the economic engine of Michigan. And I don’t think that we can really have a meaningful debate about that, because there’s facts. And the relevance to that with respect to your question is that the office of Treasurer of the economic engine of the state of Michigan is afforded a great deal of credibility, and we hope a great deal of visibility with respect to speaking to financial issues. And one of the reasons I’ve been successful in business and the feedback that I get from my clients is that I’m able to reduce complex matters down to plain English. And to directly answer your question, we need for our treasurer (A) to make people aware of the issues we’re talking about right now, what it means and what are fiscal notes? What is transparency? What are these disclosures that we’re talking about and how do they translate into the economic health and wellbeing of the country. And then (B) what is it that I as treasurer am advocating, and I’m advocating that our County hold itself to the same standards that we all hold ourselves to at the kitchen table, when we talk about finances as a family, so that we can collaboratively develop wise and improved choices.
My parents were members of what’s come to be known as America’s greatest generation. My dad was a young Lieutenant in the Allied Invasion to liberate the world from evil tyranny. And in the late years of his life, I learned from my mother that dad had resigned from his college fraternity because they refused admission to the fraternity to a Jewish student who very much wanted to be in that fraternity. And how typical of my dad that he never mentioned that, but my mother, who was dating him at the time, was keenly aware of it. And it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up to think about that, because this was at a pivotal moment in history, and my dad was probably 19 or 20. And I mean peer pressure is everything right? And so he made that choice.
And then interestingly, he went into higher education and was the Dean of Michigan Tech University when I was growing up, and later at the University of Detroit. And so as we grew up, our house was like the United Nations building. It was always seemingly full of engineering professors from every country you can think of, but in particular, India, China and the Middle East. I look back and think what a blessing that was to me, because my father adored these people, and he spoke very highly of them in their absence, they were dear friends and colleagues. And so I won’t say it’s in my DNA, but it’s certainly in my rearing to value diversity.
I just don’t look at the world through a lens that’s always detecting people’s ethnicity, religion, national origin or heritage. It’s just not how I’m wired. And interestingly, I’ve acquired many clients over the years because people detected that and it sort of puzzled me because it’s hard to imagine that isn’t natural to everyone. But again, I think my upbringing is a big factor. And so my Jewish friends know who they are, I guess if you watch my campaign and that might become evident. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to name names. But I consider myself very fortunate to count a number of leaders in the Jewish community, especially commercial property ownership, that community, to have become my friends over the years. And they are friendships that I greatly value.