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Chamber members for change: two business leaders hope to shake things up.

Each year, state and local units of government adopt hundreds of laws, rules and regulations, most of which have a direct impact on the bottom line of businesses across Southeast Michigan. That's why the Detroit Regional Chamber encourages its members to get involved in the political process.

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In this critical election year, some Chamber members are taking the ultimate step in political involvement - seeking elective office. In this special election issue, the Detroiter salutes two Chamber members who are running for the Michigan House of Representatives in competitive districts.

Meet Mary Treder Lang, CPA, business development manager at Accretive Solutions in Troy and John Walsh, executive director of development and government relations at Schoolcraft College in Livonia.

Mary Treder Lang: Repeal the Michigan Business Tax

Mary Treder Lang traces her decision to make her first bid for elective office to a conversation she had with her oldest son well over a year and a half ago.

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"He was starting his senior year in high school and he said to me, 'Mom, none of my buddies are coming back to Michigan. They're getting their college degrees and leaving. But I want to stay in Michigan, get a job, live in our community, get married and raise a family, just as you and Dad did."

That prompted Lang, a 26-year veteran in the business world but a stranger to the rough-and-tumble world of partisan politics, to step outside her comfort zone and launch a campaign for one of the most highly competitive seats in the Michigan House of Representatives.

The 1st House District is among the most diverse in Michigan, comprising the five Grosse Pointes plus Harper Woods and adjacent areas on the far east side of Detroit. The term-limited incumbent, Republican Ed Gaffney, was re-elected two years ago with less than 52 percent of the vote.

So far, the race has been anything but a cakewalk. Lang faced five challengers four of them well-known city council members - in August's Republican primary. She attributes her first-place finish to "my energy, my passion and commitment." She hopes those same attributes - plus her strong background in business and finance - will carry her to victory in November against Democrat Tim Bledsoe.

When talking with voters, Lang, 48, emphasizes her business background. Since graduating from the University of Dayton with a double major in accounting and marketing in 1982, Lang has worked in public accounting, telecommunications, computer security, and sales and marketing. A year ago she joined Accretive Solutions, a business consulting and executive search firm in Troy, as business development manager. (A longtime Chamber member, Lang met the company's general manager during a 5 Minute Networking session at the 2007 Mackinac Policy Conference.)

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If elected, Lang promises to join the fight to repeal the Michigan Business Tax and implement across-the-board spending cuts in the state budget. "The Michigan Business Tax should be repealed in its current state. The business tax needs to be fair, reasonable and not one-sided," she maintains. "The 22 percent surcharge is driving businesses out of Michigan. I understand business, and I know that reducing taxes can stimulate our economy."

Lang also supports cutting Michigan's personal income tax to 3.9 percent and reducing or freezing property taxes. "Reducing taxes can stimulate the economy, increase economic growth and therefore increase revenues," she states in her campaign manifesto. "Tax hikes retard economic growth and depress revenues."

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As for the budget crisis, Lang says state agencies should no longer expect to get automatic increases every year. "Just as every business in the state has had to reevaluate their business plan in light of the economy, streamline expenses and make necessary cuts, state government needs to the same. Right now, nobody is asking them to justify their increases. We need to ask them: 'Are you going to do more for people, or are you spending just to spend?"

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It's been more than a decade since a CPA has served in the Michigan Legislature, and Lang says she's ready to fill the gap with the help of her three most energetic campaign workers, her husband Paul and three children-18-year-old J.P., 17-year-old Killeen and 14-year-old Shannon. "I couldn't ask for a better team!" she says.

John J. Walsh: Low Tax Rate, Responsible Regulation

If John Walsh wins his race for the state House of Representatives in November, he will head to Lansing with two top priorities - balancing the state's deficit-plagued budget through carefully targeted spending cuts and amending the new Michigan Business Tax surcharge in order to retain and attract business in a state that can't afford to lose any more jobs.

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"It is just shocking that legislators - both Republicans and Democrats and the Governor - could raise our personal and business tax in 2007 and still result in a $600 million difficult," says Walsh. "What that tells me is that people aren't making spending cuts that are systemic."

Walsh believes the road to resolution of the budget crisis begins with a discussion of priorities. "I would ask every department these questions: 'Where are we spending this money?' 'What is our priority and how can we spend better?' Cutting a budget is not easy, but it's necessary and it should be done on an informed basis."

On the tax issue, Walsh insists that the Michigan Business Tax, adopted last year to replace the hated Single Business Tax, has proven to be far too difficult to understand and has resulted in higher taxes for far too many of Michigan's job-growing businesses.

"My approach is that we need a very aggressive low tax rate combined with a responsible but low regulatory level," Walsh explains. "We must say to business, 'Come to Michigan and it will cost you less to do business here.'"

Walsh also likes the idea of aggressive incentives such as those now available to the film industry, which resulted in jobs for electricians, carpenters, actors and others within just a few months of adoption. "While the incentives require further study to determine cost effectiveness, it seems clear that the promotion of an aggressive tax and incentive structure throughout all industries could promote business and job growth in the state," Walsh notes on his campaign Web site.

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The 46-year-old Schoolcraft College executive, former practicing attorney and Livonia City Council member (1998-2001) is seeking to replace term-limited Rep. John Pastor in the 19th District, which includes all but four precincts in the city of Livonia. Walsh has a long history in the district. Thirty years ago, as a teenager, he was an intern for then-Rep. Jack Kirksey, now Livonia's mayor.

Although the district is comfortably but not overwhelmingly Republican, Walsh is campaigning like an underdog against Democrat Steve King. In addition to general and targeted mailings, he estimates that he and his volunteers have knocked on the doors of 3,000 homes, and he never says no to any opportunity to speak before any civic or business group. "I try to appear at as many events as possible. It's as simple as that," he says.

It's also a family affair. Walsh's Livonia home serves as his headquarters, his wife Janice helps him put his ideas into words, and his 12-year-old daughter Shelby and 9-year-old son Jack frequently join him on the campaign trail.

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"It's a different step and a big change in my life," Walsh reflects. "I have a great job at Schoolcraft College and I love the institution, but when I look at the condition our state is in, I think we need people who have experience and are strong enough to make some tough decisions. I feel I have all those things, and that's what drove me into this race."

The Chamber's Political Action Committee has endorsed these candidates. For the full list of endorsed candidates, see page 16-17.

Chris Mead is a freelance writer and former editor of the Detroiter.
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Title Annotation:FEATURE
Author:Mead, Chris
Publication:Detroiter
Date:Oct 1, 2008
Words:1322
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