Secretary of state candidate visits Marquette, talks about goals

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MARQUETTE — Creating the “30-Minute Guarantee” to renew a driver’s license and creating transparency in Michigan government are two of the most important goals for Jocelyn Benson, whose name will be on the Nov. 6 ballot as a Democratic candidate for Secretary of State.

Benson visited The Mining Journal Friday to talk about her candidacy.

“The secretary of state is the chief advocate for voters and the chief advocate for drivers in the state of Michigan,” Benson said.

She believes the office presents a great opportunity to serve citizens because it interacts with more people than any other state office.

However, many people’s first impression of the Secretary of State office is waiting in long lines to renew a driver’s license, for instance.

“The cornerstone of our campaign has been this ’30-minute Guarantee,’”Benson said. “You should be able to get in and out of a branch office and in and out of a polling place in 30 minutes or less.”

She said there are three ways to accomplish this: training employees in best practices to move lines efficiently, reducing foot traffic in lines by moving some services online and “triaging” offices, with multiple offices created for different services.

“In my conversations with current Secretary of State employees, that seems to be what slows things down, where you have multiple different types of transactions,” Benson said.

Other parts of her plan include being an advocate against fee increases, toughening penalties for those who commit election fraud and voter intimidation, and protecting voting rights, with voters being able to vote early or by absentee ballot without having to provide a reason.

“Driver’s fees have increased significantly over the past several years, and we haven’t really seen the return on our investment in the roads,” said Benson, who after deciding to run for office stepped down as dean of Wayne State University Law School where she froze tuition.

Promoting government transparency in Michigan is another top priority for her.

“That comes from the recognition that Michigan is really at the bottom of every other state,” said Benson, who pointed out the Center for Public Integrity consistently gives the state a poor rating for transparency and ethics laws.

That transparency, she said, includes examining things like lobbyists taking elected officials to lunch.

“Do we know about it? Right now, there’s no real requirement that we have that type of transparency, but in other states, there are,” Benson said.

She believes creating those requirements will help inform voters about what their elected officials are doing with taxpayers’ money, and who’s influencing their decisions.

Another drawback to transparency in the state, she said, is that the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the Governor’s Office in Michigan. The state also doesn’t require its legislators to disclose their personal finances.

“They could be benefiting financially from a vote that they make, and we would never know about it because there’s no requirement that they disclose that,” Benson said.

One possible solution, she offered, is creating a website to let citizens know which legislators are being transparent, and holding those not being transparent accountable for their actions.

“At the end of the day, people in our government work for us,” she said. “Citizens are the ones who pay their salaries, and the citizens are who they’re supposed to serve, and if they’re not serving the citizens, we deserve to know about it so we can do something about it.”

The Upper Peninsula won’t be an afterthought for Benson as she has local connections. The family of her husband, Ryan Friedrichs, is from Marquette. In fact, they became engaged on Isle Royale.

“As secretary of state, citizens should expect that level of connection,” she said. “The secretary of state should know the experiences of citizens from Houghton to Hillsdale, from Detroit to Grand Rapids.”

Benson also visited Houghton Thursday to see the aftereffects of the recent flooding that heavily damaged the Copper Country, and talked with residents about their experiences.

Benson said she is grateful the state of Michigan declared a state of emergency for the affected area, but it needs federal support to help rebuild town buildings and homes.

“What was abundantly clear was the strength of that community, to come together to support each other, to help rebuild homes, to help ensure people can still get around,” she said. “That was really inspiring.”

Benson said the Democratic Party will formally make the nomination for her name to be on the November ballot at the end of August, having received its endorsement in April.

“We’re still waiting to see who will be the nominee on the Republican side,”Benson said.

Current Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, cannot seek re-election due to term limits.

Benson stressed she’s seeking office not as a career steppingstone, but as an academic wanting to bring to Lansing the efficiencies she’s learned in the private sector as well as what she called her “deep understanding of election law and the working of that office.”

Benson is author of “Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process.”

“I think our citizens deserve someone who’s not going to Lansing to further their own career but just to serve with a strong understanding of that office and what’s needed,” she said.

For more information, visit VoteBenson.com.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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