Daily Telegram Staff Writer
Posted May. 9, 2016 at 2:00 PM
The dominant message at the Lenawee County Democratic Party’s 42nd annual John F. Kennedy dinner was one of coming together to create a better future.
A crowd of about 200 gathered Saturday at the United Auto Workers’ Labor Building in Adrian to hear insights from various guest speakers, including state Rep. Gretchen Driskell, D-Saline, and state board of education president John Austin.
Standing in front of a banner that read “We care about everyone’s future,” Austin said, “We need to move forward not backwards.”
He said since the election of Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled state Legislature, Michigan has gone in the wrong direction with education. An education, he said, needs to be a centerpiece in helping move the state forward in a positive direction. Financing and oversight of education, from early learning to college level, Austin said, needs to be reprioritized.
“There’s nothing more important to create life chances, create good jobs, to create a pathway out of poverty,” Austin said. “There’s only one thing we know that works to close this income gap we’re talking about and that’s helping people get a higher level of education.”
He called Republican legislators' decisions toward charter schools a concern. Prior to 2010, he said, the state had a “smart cap” on charters, in which there was a limit on how many and who could open this type of schools. This cap has been lifted, he said, and now more schools around the state, especially in Detroit, have become run by for-profit private companies with no quality control standards in place.
The last topic he hit upon was the current issue involving transgendered individuals. He said Republicans need to understand that, like gay people, there are transgendered individuals in society and there always have been.
“We should help schools learn what they need and how to acknowledge them,” he said of supporting transgendered individuals.
The state board of education recently proposed that schools should allow students to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify. That sparked a movement among Republicans to pass a law that says people have to use public restrooms that correspond to the gender on the person’s birth certificate.
When it comes to this issue, Austin said, he's glad to be on the right side of history.
The best way to counteract the policies that concern Democrats, Driskell said, is through voting and elections. Among the many dinner attendees were many Democratic candidates running in local elections.
She said what’s helped motivate her each time she sought a political office was she was appalled at different policies and beliefs, especially after the 2010 statewide election that gave the Republicans a majority. She agreed with Austin and said a big part of her platform is education, a focus on families and taking a caring approach toward the entire community.
Driskell is the lone Democratic challenger to incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, in this year’s race for the U.S. representative for Lenawee County and the rest of the 7th Congressional District.
In working to motivate the dinner attendees, she said the race with Walberg is “winnable” and called for them to engage with her campaign in the hope of taking back what they believe is right for the community.
The dinner ended with two local honors.
Sand Creek High School senior Jacob Beardmore was awarded this year’s $1,000 scholarship. He plans on attending Siena Heights University and said the scholarship will go a long way in helping him with his education.
The Democrat of the Year honor went to retired Adrian High School teacher and outgoing Lenawee County Democratic Party secretary Pam Taylor of Onsted.
“This was a surprise and I feel really honored to get this recognition,” she said afterward.