Following is a Q & A with Matt de Heus based around the vetting questions asked by the Green Party of Michigan.
Q: Why the Green Party and not one of the “major” political parties?
I joined the Green Party in February of this year. My concern for the current condition of our region and the diminishing prospects of people within my circle of friends and acquaintances led me to politics. Disenchantment with the “status quo” parties and investigation of alternative options led me to the Green Party. I found immediate empathy with the messages contained in the Four Pillars and The Ten Values.
Q: What political activities and organizations (parties) have you been involved with recently?
I have served as the Chairman of the Bay County Green Party since March of this year, with most of my activities devoted to party building. In the past I have been a member of the Democratic Party and an Election Day volunteer. I also write regular features for The Review, a local political and entertainment newspaper.
Q: Have you run for office before?
This is my first time seeking an elected office.
Q: Most candidates come up with some sort of “campaign biography”, from a few sentences to a few paragraphs explaining briefly who the candidate is. What’s your short bio?
Over the course of two decades, I have built a solid track record of success in both the private and public sectors. This broad experience, developed in both domestic and international marketplaces, spans such functional areas as manufacturing operations, marketing, strategic planning, environmental engineering and new technology development. My efforts have been rewarded in large part by the creation of hundreds jobs.
Prior to leaving industry in 2005, I served in a variety of executive level positions within, primarily within the Burmah Castrol Group. I have also enjoyed success as an independent management consultant, advising small to medium sized businesses on strategy, new product development, industrial marketing and M&A integration. I have operated several small businesses, including Zovida, a firm which developed and marketed wound care products to the large animal veterinary market. Since 2006 I have been employed as an instructor with the nationally recognized program in Process Technology at Delta College (University Center, MI).
I hold a BS in Chemical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and an MS in Manufacturing Technology from Eastern Michigan University. I am married with a blended family of five children. In addition to my work at Delta, I serve on the board of two non-profits and I have spent the last six years as a youth basketball coach in the Essexville-Hampton Community League.
What do you believe are the most significant campaign issues in your area.
I would like to focus my campaign on four critical areas:
Energy – Sustainable, cost effective, clean and safe. This includes the full range of associated issues – from capacity management and distribution of industrial and residential power supplies to novel applications for portable storage technologies to power consumer electronics and transportation. We must break our dependence on fossil fuel and begin to move away from the “combustion economy” as a matter of ecological stewardship of the planet.
Employment – Michigan needs a renewed focus on job creation. Early successes of “green manufacturing” firms in the Saginaw Valley has been welcome news. I have been part of this rebirth as an instructor in the process technology program at Delta College. While manufacturing is near and dear to my heart, we must also look to agriculture and entrepreneurship as key components in our economic revival. Bay County in particular has rich agricultural resources and has potential for growth in both traditional food / livestock production and in new markets, such as biofuels and biomass. We must protect agricultural land and create a modern support infrastructure that makes its possible for small to medium sized farmers to prosper.
Education – We must have strong public education options that cover the learning of the members of our region during all phases of their lives. Public schools should be equitably funded and of the highest quality, community colleges should provide affordable options for those seeking to transition into a new field or to transfer to one of the State’s many publicly funded colleges or universities. Education is the key to both economic security and to the broader goal of an informed electorate.
Environment – Michigan is rich in natural resources, from the Great Lakes to National Forests and some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world. While we understand how valuable these resources have been to use over time, it is clear they are under threat. From the twin oil spills in the Gulf and this week on the west side of our own states, to the import of trash for landfill or incineration, to the unnerving secondary effects of natural gas production on rural communities, we have unprecedented evidence that we must change our behaviors … and soon.
What is your stance on the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I have not supported either of these wars since their inception. I do not believe in violence as a means to settle cultural or economic disputes. I would support funding only to the extent it pays for the safe and quick removal of our soldiers from both combat zones.
And what about the Second Amendment – the Right to Bear Arms?
I am in favor of gun owners rights. First of all, I grew up in a rural community and I believe hunting and sport shooting to be normal, healthy and generally safe hobbies.
I also call on my experience of living in England, where gun owners face far greater restrictions and handguns are basically forbidden. At one point during my stay it was reported that around 80% of all property crime was occurring when the homeowner was present. That simply doesn’t happen in a country in which a large portion of its law abiding citizens are allowed to keep firearms stored is a safe, but accessible fashion in their home. It is also a fact that the UK has a steady year-on-year increase in handgun crime since enacting legislation that restricted handgun ownership.
There were a couple of more basic elements in play when our forefathers drafted the amendment in question. First, it was meant as a matter of national security that we could call on an armed citizen militia should the need ever arise. It was also created as a balance against a concentration of “police power” in the government. While the signers of the Constitution might not have envisioned the kind of inequity in the technologies available to the armed services and the average citizen, it does not diminish the idea that this same citizen has a right to protect the interests of home, property and family – by taking up arms, if necessary.
Where do you stand on abortion?
I believe that abortion must be legal,safe and made available on reasonable terms to women who wish to exercise this reproductive right.
Same sex unions (a.k.a. “Gay Marriage”)?
I believe that the state should allow for the recognition and sanction of same sex unions. It is my belief that “marriage” is largely a religious rite, should be governed by the practices of that religion and this rite should hold no special preference in a secular state. Consenting adults, however, should be able to enter into recognized unions that bestow property rights, employment benefits or similar privileges currently reserved for married couples. The existence of a religious recognition or an active sexual relationship should have no bearing on these rights and privileges.
Why should someone vote for you?
I have the right experience for today’s environment. Unlike many candidates, many of whom tout similar priorities, I have an actual track record in our areas of greatest need, like technology, energy, manufacturing, international trade and education. I’ve done nothing but help people promote their own careers and their own well being all of my life. My experience matches our problems and offers unique preparation for the challenges ahead. I can make a difference in the lives of many people through a successful campaign.
This might be hard for some people to believe, but I used to be able to dunk a basketball. Even though it turned out to be something I could do pretty easily, I’ll never forget the first time. It really was a thrilling feeling. It was fun. And I began to have visions of basketball greatness. Game winning slams. High fives and chest bumps. And, of course, cheerleaders. And soon all I wanted to do was dunk. I felt I was working on a living dream. Even if I wasn’t the coolest guy in my school, at least I’d be the one with the serious hops. It was going to be great.
Like all great sagas, it turned out I wasn’t alone in my basketball journey. The neighborhood sports nerd, who I will call “Benny,” was working on his own hoop dream. At about 5 ‘5” and 250 pounds, Benny wasn’t doing any skywalking. What he did have going for him was seemingly unlimited range on a dead eye “hop shot.” We didn’t have three pointers in those days, but that didn’t keep Benny from launching on them from 35 or 40 feet. And more often than not, it was nothing but net. If you needed a long shot, Benny was money.
So together we toiled as summer turned to fall. Benny throwing them up and me throwing them down. We were the kings of driveway basketball. Our spire if influence may have been narrow in radius, but it was certainly high. And so was our confidence heading into tryouts for the varsity basketball team.
It’s fair to say that Benny and I hit the ground running when tryouts began. Individual drills really gave us a chance to show off a bit. Benny was more accurate than ever with the tight rims and firm footing of the school gym. And I stuffed my first lay-up and decided to try and dunk every one after that. Even the misses created a buzz amongst the other guys in the lay-up line, so I kept trying, no matter how successful the result.
But then reality kicked in. “de Heus!!! I said left hand!”
The coach ripped into me when I used the left handed lay-up drill as an opportunity to try a bit of a trick dunk. He didn’t look happy, so I settled down a bit. But really, it didn’t get better from there.
The problem really came to a head when we started to scrimmage. First of all, there was defense. And they set screens. And boxed out. And pulled off “give and go” plays that left Benny’s head spinning and me “jumping around like a decapitated grasshopper,” if I remember the coach’s words correctly.
Clearly you know where this is parable is headed. Neither of us made the team. When the coach sat down to talk to us, he said it was a pretty simple decision.
“I know the dunking if fun, Matt. In fact, I think you are kind of cool. But you really don’t contribute much when the game gets going. You get confused and just start hopping around. Jumping high is great, but it isn’t basketball. You’re just not that productive when you are on the court.”
“And, Benny, I might kick myself some time this season when really I need a long shot, but it’s the same story as Matt. You really only have the one skill. In fact, that’s the whole issue in the decisions on both of you. If I was producing a highlight film, you guys might be useful. But, you are missing the whole point of the game. The fundamentals – like defense and passing and team play. I hate to say it, but you guys are all paint and no canvas. It might be plain and uninteresting, but you don’t get the luxury of fancy dunks and long shots unless you have executed the fundamental elements of the game. Don’t feel alone; most fans miss this point, too.”
By now you are probably wondering what this cathartic tale of high school failure has to do with the headline of alternative energy and hemp. Well, the correlations are pretty easy.
Proponents of hemp have, to date, focused on a couple of pretty populist wedges in the current laws covering this particular niche in agricultural commerce. Medical marijuana is now legal to some degree in 14 states. California has a ballot initiative this November that would decriminalize recreational marijuana, allowing for its cultivation, sale and taxation. As it is reportedly already the largest cash crop in the state, this sounds like a reasonable question to ask the voters.
The problem with all of this “progress” in hemp law is one of focus. Much like my fixation on the slam dunk and Benny’s love of the long shot, recreational and medical marijuana are really fringe elements to the overall opportunity of hemp. If we are interested in the societal benefits that would accrue by opening up a new cash crop, why aren’t we talking about hemp and its potential role in renewable energy? It’s less divisive. It represents a significantly lower moral threshold. In fact, it is really good science backed by the common economic sensibilities that are almost always offered by our farming communities.
The first thing we need to realize is that that already have an amazing source for the collection and conversion of solar energy. It’s called plants. Photosynthesis collects energy from the sun and stores itself in the molecular bonds of a variety of carbon-based compounds, like starch or cellulose. The carbon comes from the air. Water and other minerals from the earth. With hemp, this all happens in a relatively short cycle of 80 to 120 days. It’s a quickly renewable resource at that. Every gardener knows the weeds seem to grow faster than the “good plants.”
We’ll remember from high school chemistry that releases of the energy contained in carbon chains are the products of many reactions, including combustion, decomposition, pyrolysis and others. It is the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to energy conversion – easier than generating current in photovoltaic cells and more efficient than capturing kinetic energy with windmills and dams. We simply haven’t found anything as efficient, affordable safe as tapping the energy stored in carbon-carbon bonds. And given that we haven’t found a way to grow money on trees, the fact that alternative sources of this carbon mass may utilize existing community assets is a very good thing.
So, given that we are likely stuck tapping into carbon-based energy sources for the foreseeable future, how exactly does hemp fit it? Let’s take a look at a few facts about the low THC version of the more popular psychoactive relative:
- Hemp is a very rugged hybrid, able to grow in a variety of climates with relatively low levels of human intervention (irrigation, pesticides, etc.)
- Hemp makes and excellent rotation crop, giving current farmers another option in long term management of their land.
- Hemp can be cultivated and harvested using the current generation of farm equipment, eliminating a need for large investments in new technology.
- Hemp is relatively drought resistant, allowing it to be a viable crop even in arid climates.
- Hemp produces four times are much cellulose per acre as hardwood trees.
- After rendering and removing pulps useful in paper production, hemp still contains 77% recoverable cellulose (versus 60% for wood). This mass can be converted to biodiesel or converted to energy from biomass.
- Hemp can produce 10 times the methanol as the same mass of corn.
- A hemp crop will turn over 5 to 40 times faster than renewable sources of cellulose.
- Growing hemp produces an estimated $800.00 annual profit per acre of land. This compares to the $200.00 profit per acre enjoyed by soybeans (America’s most profitable cash crop) and the $40 produced by an acre of timber.
- Hemp-based fuels do not contain sulfur compounds, reducing noxious emissions.
- Combustion of hemp-based fuels releases less carbon monoxide than similar quantities of fossil fuels.
- Hemp-based fuels are biodegradable, allowing for easier clean-up if there is an accidental release.
- Hemp oil is easily rendered into a variety of forms – from pellets to liquid fuel to gases. Each of these is produced using a fraction of the energy required to produce the same product from a fossil based fuel.
- Rudolph Diesel, the inventor of the diesel engine, originally designed it to run on hemp seed oil. Vegetable oil-powered diesel conversions are based on this original concept.
- The US government outlawed all of this in 1938. It is against the law to grow industrial hemp in this country.
It’s that last fact that needs to be the focus of our attention. Many might applaud the “victories” won at the polls for medical marijuana rights. There is a real chance California will have legal recreational pot in the very near term.
The problem is, despite the slow and steady slog toward to free the black market for cannabis, we are using up time, energy and goodwill by tying the future of the plant to its socially marginal cousin. Much like dunks and three pointers in basketball, the medical and recreational arguments for marijuana are highlight real stuff. But just like I learned in 10th grade, they are not the real substance of the game.
The foundation here is the cellulose in the hemp plant. The pulpy “fruit” of a superbly robust fiber is actually the ultimate solar energy collection device and it doubles as a medium term energy storage solution. Call it nature’s battery, if you want. And if you think a dunk can provide electricity in a basketball game, wait until you see what it can mean to a community if 15 – 20% of your energy needs are met by a cheap, plentiful, locally produced hemp-based biomass.
Many people don’t realize that agriculture is the second largest industry in Michigan. We really don’t have to tell farmers about alternative energy. They’ve been using mixed solutions forever: windmills, geothermal, solar panels, propane, fuel oil, diesel fueled tractors, methanol fueled hot rods, wood and corn burners. If it sounds a bit like a Billy Currington song, it’s because they all are well entrenched in our rural and agricultural communities.
You know what else is in these entrenched in these communities? Common sense. Stretching a buck. Giving a good day’s work for a fair price. Honesty and personal responsibility. If I was going to attach my economic future to any one group (and that is what we are talking about in the energy debate), give me the farmers. You can have the fossil fuel executives and Consumer’s Energy.
In fact, you can have the medical and recreational marijuana arguments. Those are issues best left for stronger souls than I. Like the coach suggested in 10th grade, I’ll focus on the fundamentals. Younger folks can worry about the dunks and highlight reels. My feet hurt too much to dunk these days, anyway.
You can hardly read a political blog without finding a comment calling President Obama a “socialist,” as opposed to the apparently preferred alternative of a “capitalist.” Frankly, I don’t get it. But let’s not worry about Obama for a minute. Let’s figure out where we stand.
First, let me give you a couple definitions to work with:
Socialism: Businesses are primarily owned by the workers. Profit is the fruit of labor and it is divided accordingly. Workers share in both profits and losses. Individual residents and workers pay relatively high tax rates and retain the majority of political power. Corporations pay comparatively low tax rates, leading to a reduction of their role in public policy. The goal of a socialist system is improved quality of life.
Capitalism: Businesses are primarily owned by shareholders. Profit is divided amongst those who provided this investment capital. Workers are paid a wage. Corporations pay relatively high tax rates and enjoy significant clout in elections and the process of policy making. The goal of a capitalist system is an increase in the standard of living.
Now I want you to go back in for a minute and listen to any recent Obama speech. He is a capitalist. His rise to power was funded by large corporations and it has lead him into conflicts of interest he should have envisioned – like how to handle an environmental catastrophe caused by one of his biggest campaign donors. Make no mistake, Barack Obama is a capitalist and any attempt to brand him as anything else is a primitive attempt to create an “us vs. them” wedge issue for the “low information” voter. The fact is, he is trying too hard to govern like an entrepreneur – betting on businesses and even getting directly involved in some. I’m not sure anyone voted for him with that intent.
Really, be careful before you throw around the “isms.” Take another look at the definitions I gave you above. Think a minute about “quality vs quantity.” It will give you a new way to look at any politician or candidate.
This will be the first of several entries over the next couple weeks that will offer some insight into the types of policies I would work for in the legislature.
The first area I would like to cover is taxes, as it seems to come up pretty quickly, anyway. Let’s go ahead and get the conversation started.
More than anything that might follow, I would would like to see a renewed agreement between the people and their governments on exactly what they would like their taxes dollars to accomplish. I don’t mean do they like pork barrel projects. I’m asking if they like how the whole topic has become a hot button meant to attract the largest possible voting blocks, rather than as a crucial tool in the management of a national economy? But let’s be real here. Taxes might at best be a rudder of an economy or even just a compass. The wind and sales are the businesses and the workers who staff them. With that image in mind, here are a few ideas:
Business Taxes: I would like to see business taxes reduced in most instances and eliminated in others, particularly in the case of small and home based businesses. Most of these types of taxes are at the state or local level, so it may not be possible to do much more than to influence the responsible legislatures to take this step.
We would accomplish a few things with these measures. For instance, there are far too many cases where we have lost corporations and workplaces from our communities as they have moved to areas with more “favorable” tax policies. If all states made an effort to lower their rates as described, it would level the playing field with foreign locations and reduce the frivolous incentive for competition between the States which, though Constitutionally protected, seems like a pretty risky and ruthless tactic in the current climate. A free market is going to work best when it is businesses competing and not our 50 States.
Incomes Taxes: Our current progressive income tax system is actually a good starting point, in my mind. I would like to see the rates charged at each income level come down. There is no need to create a tax code that seems to penalize people for being productive and making money.
“Sin” Taxes: It seems ludicrous that the government has come to be dependent to such a large degree on our population’s vices. The fact that the availability of new tax dollars is such a huge part of the debate on the legalization of marijuana seems almost illegitimate. Cigarettes alcohol, gambling – who’s the addict here? Most likely it is the taxing authority as often as it is the consumer.
Unless we were earmarking all of this tax money to pay for universal medical and mental health care, I would eliminate any sin taxes over and above those charged for goods or services of similar commercial value. I see no problem with the existence of well regulated businesses in any of these markets. It’s not necessary to single them out and we really need the government out of the business of passing moral judgments as part of our tax code.
Value Added / Consumption Taxes: By now you have to be asking, “OK, how do all taxes go down?” Well, the answer is they don’t. I am a proponent of “Valued Added” and “Consumption” taxes. They work something like a Sales Tax, assessed at the point of a commercial transaction. My feeling is these taxes should be the burden of the consumer, rather than on businesses that offer products and services. They would make customers ask serious questions before they buy a particular product, a process that would help us inch closer toward a sustainable society and away from conspicuous consumption. These taxes should be progressive, with staples being free of taxes and “luxury” items or those that contribute most to pollution carrying a higher rate. We might even be able to get brave and offer businesses an way to lower their product’s VAT, raising its attractiveness, by doing common sense things like adopting a common laptop adapter or reducing the amount of material used in packaging. No more software sold in a shoe box. And while I am at it, I’d assess a VAT tax on energy in which we can recover the cost of any military operations to protect the source of production. Not so high for a windmill, but pretty steep for crude from the Arab peninsula.
Capital Gains: This would be another area of significant change. The first is very fundamental to the incentives of found in the workplace. I believe it should be illegal for those with executive level responsibility or members of the board of a business to own stock in that same business – either as a currently held security or an option to be exercised at a later date. My personal experience is that the more shares are held in the executive suite and the boardroom, the more likely there will be extreme exhibits of self interested behavior that is not in the best interest of the business, the employees or any non-employee shareholders. Pay and benefits are high enough at this level without an incentive pay plan that might even be counterproductive.
For all other shareholders, I would separate the code for Capital Gains based on whether or not the individual held a “productive interest” or simply a “financial interest” in the company. A productive interest will mean you work there and the discretion in your job in basically limited to the task level. An Capital Gains enjoyed by a shareholder that holds a productive interest in the company will be taxed at a very low rate. On the other hand, Capital Gains received by a shareholder who simply has a financial interest the company would be taxed at a much higher rate. Wall Street has morphed from a capital market into a casino. We don’t want this part of the tax code to be so onerous that no one wants to invest, only to eliminate those who simply want to gamble.
All other financial products would have their gains taxed at the higher rate. These products are often just elaborate math problems, rather than any tangible thing. Simply applying the “all boats rise together” philosophy we assuming the aggregate of all gains and losses in these products basically reflects the health of our economy. This level should be used much more effectively than it is in driving the decision to invest, spend or save.
Estate Taxes: The final topic for now is Estate Taxes, which are assessed upon the death of the very wealthy. This is an issue on which American opinion has changed pretty dramatically since it was originally added to our tax code. While it now seems inherently American to feel that “I earned it, I ought to be able to pass it on,” our forefathers were concerned that we not develop a royal class. They also seemed to better understand that a free market, like any natural system, yearns for equilibrium. Having experienced it first hand in the oligarchies of Europe, they knew that a concentration of wealth is not sustainable nor is it the sign of a healthy economy. I like Warren Buffet’s view on this, though his plan is to give money away, rather than redistribute it through the government. He has often said something like “I plan to leave my family enough to do anything they want, but not enough that they can do nothing.” We don’t need royalty. I’m not that impressed by rock star billionaires. And if they do want to hand down wealth to their kids, it will be taxed like income. The kids didn’t earn it, after all. And since they live in America, they have every chance to blaze their own trail, rather than live off their family’s legacy.
Clearly this post can’t cover with any justice all of the issues that fall under the title of taxation. I hope that I have been able to give you a sense of where I stand. The basic principles are this: Workers must be favored when it comes to enjoying the fruits of their labor. On the other hand, individual citizens should carry more of the tax burden than intangible cooperative entities like businesses. This shift of burden should be accompanied by an increase in the power of the people and decrease that of the corporation. Now, if you think GM, GE, BP and Microsoft are better able to look out for your family’s interest than you are, feel free to disagree. We can debate it one day in the unemployment line.
The last 30 years of Michigan elections have been sort of a seesaw affair. We give one side a shot and then the other at the Presidency and Governor’s chair. Apparently, we have only liked one flavor of politician in our local Congressional race, giving that over to the Democrats for the entire period. If anything, it is a pretty consistent, if not perfectly balanced history of political results. But that’s where the problem lies – in the lack of positive results we have experienced from whatever set of elected officials we have chosen to employ.
During this time period, real wages in the US have stagnated, with Michigan lagging even further behind. We have seen erosion on every front, from benefits through the quality of public services. Every bit as important as the value lost from our paychecks, is the influence Michigan voters have lost as declining population reduced our State’s electoral votes and US House seats.
It seems like we hear every election cycle how “anti-incumbent” feelings are at an all time high. Which usually means we simply swing back to whatever equally ineffective “leader” the other side has to offer. And the results have stayed the same. Mixed, on their best days.
So what conclusion might you come to as we approach another election cycle? What about finally accepting the fact that “they” are all incumbents? If you vote one more time for a Republican or a Democrat, you are simply asking more of the same stale ideas and petty bickering. It’s a predictable formula that is ill suited for unpredictable times.
If this election is as close as the polls indicate, we will almost inevitably end up with a collection of evenly split legislative houses. If you really want the quickest route to returning influence to the Michigan electorate, send the tie-breaking vote to Washington or Lansing. Vote for an alternative party. Both sides will need us to do business. Unless you really want more business as usual. We didn’t think so.