Find all of our Election 2020 coverage and other candidate interviews here. More interviews will be added as the election draws closer.
Mari Manoogian seeks to retain her State House seat.
The Democratic incumbent in Michigan House of Representatives District 40, Mari Manoogian, is running for reelection on Nov. 3. Her district covers Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Township, and parts of West Bloomfield. She attended Seaholm High School and is the daughter of a labor leader. She is a rising star in the party and was one of 17 Democrats who delivered the keynote address at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
Manoogian’s opponent, Republican Kendra Cleary, did not respond to the JN’s interview offer.
The JN recently interviewed Manoogian via Zoom. We’ve condensed her answers (edited for length and clarity) to issues of concern to Jewish voters in her district.
We’ve been chronically underfunding our public schools for the better part of two and a half decades at this point. And we’ve done the research. We know exactly how much it costs to educate a child in the state of Michigan. That study was requisitioned by Gov. Snyder several years ago. It’s something we understand, and we know how to do — we just need to have the political will to do so. I think that not only if I’m reelected, but should the Democrats take the majority of the Michigan House of Representatives, and we’re very close to doing so, I think we’ll see some movement on the education front to prioritize our public schools again.
Prioritizing Local Businesses
I think it’s obviously incredibly important given the COVID-19 crisis. Just today, I was watching MSNBC and they were talking about the challenges that movie theaters, for example, particularly locally owned movie theaters, are facing right now because of restrictions on capacity and what that might do to the local economy. We know that with the wintertime there’s going to be some challenges in particular. A lot of folks like to, if they’re going to frequent a restaurant, sit out on a patio and be outside rather than inside. Folks may make the decision to not go out to eat. So, we’re looking really closely at our local restaurants to see what we can do to help them weather this crisis as well.
It’s really important that we are combating brain drain, and we are encouraging young folks to stay in Michigan so we can grow our economy and have talent here. One of those really important things that we need to do to be able to foster our talent growth here in Michigan is ensure that we have an appropriate rapid regional transit system. It’s sort of the white whale. We understand that that’s going to be a tough fight, but I think that if the Democrats take the majority of the Michigan House of Representatives, that’s an issue I’d like to lead on as well.
Rise of Antisemitism
First of all, I want to let your readers know and let the Jewish community know that I see you and I hear you. And this is an incredibly important, actually very personal issue for me as an Armenian American. Both of our communities share a common bond that communities, really, should never have to share. That’s the shared bond of having genocide perpetrated against us. To see the rise of antisemitism, and the rise of antisemitism by groups that are supported by and are supporting the current administration in Washington, is very, very troubling to me.
It’s a really, really important issue for our district to make sure that we’re leading on it. I am constantly speaking out against it, talking to folks in the Jewish community, seeing ways that we can uplift their stories and making sure that their voices are heard. It’s something that behind closed doors, I also make sure I discuss with colleagues of mine, so that way when folks don’t understand how their words are hurtful and don’t understand how their words perpetrate antisemitism, it’s really important that we’re educating people.
One of the things I think is really important here in the state of Michigan is we have legislation that mandates the teaching of the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide and other genocides in our public school system. It’s an incredibly important piece of legislation that was passed before I got into the legislature. I’m committed to making sure that the teaching of the Holocaust is something we continue to do in our public schools, that our kids understand history, and they understand just how pervasive antisemitism is currently and how we need to snuff it out.
One of the bills we’re working on really closely is an expansion of what’s called the indigent burial fund. In Michigan, we have a fund to help folks who can’t afford to bury their loved ones, and to give them a grant to be able to do so. Usually it’s a very small amount of money, maybe somewhere around $2,500. We saw the alarming death rate in communities that are generally low-income. My office and I sat down and thought, “What are we going to do to help solve this problem?” We partnered with Lt. Gov. Gilchrist, and we’re still working through the details, although the legislation has been introduced. But we’re looking to work with partners, including folks in the funeral home industry as well.
We want to make sure that we’re able to bury people with dignity, and that’s a really, really important thing to do, and to make sure that our Michiganders are dignified when they pass on. At this point in time, you can’t, for example, set aside a certain sum of money in your will to the indigent burial fund; there’s no mechanism to be able to do so.
So, the legislation that we’ve introduced helps create a charitable giving mechanism. That way, this can be done more philanthropically, hopefully at no cost to the taxpayers, because at this point it’s mostly funded through taxpayer dollars. But we want to be able to make this fund sustainable, and something that we can make sure passes through the coronavirus crisis and ensures that this fund is still replenished for folks who may need to use it for reasons other than COVID.
One of the biggest things I think we need to do is repeal the senior pension tax. It’s something that happened under the Snyder administration. I cosponsored multiple different pieces of legislation that would do some sort of iteration of a repeal of that tax. It’s really, really important we’re making sure that we’re able to repeal this tax, so that way our seniors are able to afford to stay in their homes as long as they can or be able to afford whatever their medical needs may be.
But the other piece of the pie here is the Trump administration is going to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which would completely upend our medical system as we know it. So, whether you’re an older person who is on Medicare or you’re a young person who has bought into the Affordable Care Act systems to help lower costs for other people, we need to make sure we’re protecting healthcare. That’s an incredibly important issue regardless of age, in particular for the senior community.
Something else I’m really proud to have championed while I was in the legislature and will continue to fight for is lowering prescription drug costs. I cosponsored legislation to make a cap on the cost of insulin at $100. I think we can do even better than that. I support making sure Medicare is able to negotiate drug prices. Right now, you can’t do that, so the cost of prescriptions is out of control for many of our seniors. Those are some of those big issues I think are really, really important to protecting our senior citizens here in Oakland County.