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Michigan's U.S. Senate candidates: Is agriculture on their mind?

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Date Posted: July 8, 2024

Michigan Farm Bureau reached out to the U.S. Senate candidates asking four basic questions to help members learn more about them. Following are the responses we received. MFB staff did not write or edit the candidates’ submissions. This information is not a part of the formal MFB candidate evaluation committee and AgriPac process.

Justin Amash


Justin Amash

Tell us about yourself and your work experience.

I am a husband and father, a former U.S. representative, a small business owner, and I previously worked as a business lawyer. I support limited government, economic freedom, and individual liberty.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

I’m the only candidate for U.S. Senate with a record of following the Constitution, cutting spending, protecting free speech, fighting the surveillance state, and opposing the forever war.

What is the biggest issue facing Michigan agriculture and what do you see as the best solution?

Overregulation, property rights, and immigration. We need to deal with these issues legislatively to preserve opportunity and liberty.

How will you build relationships and work with the agricultural industry?

I believe strongly in working with all parties in pursuit of shared goals. I visited many farms and interacted frequently with the agricultural industry as a U.S. representative and will do the same as a U.S. senator.

 

Sherry O'Donnell


Dr. Sherry O'Donnell

Tell us about yourself and your work experience.            

I am a physician, ordained minister, author, business owner, and educator. Since 2003, I have successfully owned my practice, Rappha Medical Clinic, providing quality healthcare to my community. I have served as Department Chair for Primary Care Medicine at my local hospital for more than ten years. I am a Fellow with the American College of Osteopathic Internists and have been recognized as “Preceptor of the Year” three times for my role as adjunct faculty at Western Michigan University and Seton Hill University. I initiated a residency training program through the Osteopathic Physician Training Initiative, furthering the education and training of future healthcare professionals.

In 2008, when the insurance industry collapsed, I launched a free medical clinic, the Herbie Clinic, a beacon of hope for the underserved and uninsured. As the Medical Director, I continue to provide care to those in need. am a member of the Board of Medical Evangelism Training Seminars (METS). 

I have led medical missions and disaster relief efforts in 35 countries. In 2020, I responded to the Covid pandemic by caring for patients on the front lines in New York City. Recently, I have led humanitarian medical missions to war-ravaged Ukraine. 

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

As a physician, I understand the scientific process and natural order, and I can see when the legislative agendas are not backed by scientific methodology. I understand the negative implications that legislative policy not supported by good science creates. I see burdensome and unnecessary regulations being imposed on agriculture which adversely affects the industry and consequently harms our national economy. All policies must be supported with good science and minimal regulation. 

Additionally, my global perspective and firsthand crisis experience will be valuable to the U.S. Senate. I will not settle for the status quo. I am trained to respond to broken systems. Lastly, I am the State Chair for U.S. Term Limits. I am not a career politician, I am not part of the political class, and I do not plan to make this a career. 

What is the biggest issue facing Michigan agriculture and what do you see as the best solution?

1. Labor Shortages: I support reforming our legal immigration system to include more flexible, efficient, and robust guest worker programs, ensuring farmers have access to the workforce they need without relying on illegal labor. 2. Trade Policies: Trade is vital for Michigan's agriculture. I will advocate for fair trade deals that open global markets for our agricultural products, protect our farmers from unfair competition, and enhance their global competitiveness. 3. Regulatory Burdens: Farmers often face excessive regulatory hurdles that can hinder their efficiency and profitability. I propose simplifying the regulatory landscape to ensure that protections for the environment and public health are balanced with the needs of our agricultural community. 4. Aging Infrastructure: I am committed to pushing for increased federal investments in rural infrastructure improving roads, bridges, and water systems to facilitate efficient transport and distribution of agricultural goods. 5. Technological Advancement: Embracing and investing in agricultural technology is essential for enhancing efficiency and sustainability. I will support federal funding for research and development in agricultural technologies.

How will you build relationships and work with the agricultural industry?

My job for the last 30 years has been to listen to my patients and be their advocate. I know how to triage a problem list and begin finding solutions. Working with the agricultural industry, as is the case when working with any industry, begins with my listening to you and your concerns.

 

Sandy Pensler


Sandy Pensler

Tell us about yourself and your work experience.

Sandy Pensler | Yale BA & MA economics 1978 | Yale BA chemical engineering 1978 | Harvard JD 1982| All degrees with honors

After graduating law school, I worked as a clerk at the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. I then left to wall street advising many large companies on mergers and restructuring, including Chrysler, Pulte, T-Mobile, Doubleday, Bertelsman, Credit Suisse, HCR Manor Care, Scholastic, ATT, Time Warner, International Harvester, Textron, Northop Grumman, Choice Hotels, CSX, Norfolk Southern and many others. These advisory roles were done at Lehman Brothers, Blackstone and Dillon Read. I left Wall Street and founded Pensler Capital Corp. I have advised companies and invested in and owned a variety of companies. I founded ScholarsFirst which had 8 Nobel laureates and various luminaries providing internet education. While doing advisory work I taught economics at Yale University for six years.

I am currently the president of Pensler Capital Corp. I am also the president and CEO of the Korex Companies, which we have grown from 30 million to over 400 million in sales with 5 manufacturing plants across Canada and the United States. We do business in 20 countries and are growing rapidly. I am in the process of handing over management and ownership in the business to my kids who I am proud to say are better businesspeople than I. I can relate to the intergenerational challenges which that transfer involves which farmers deal with all the time.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

As an economist and businessman who have turned around troubled companies, I understand the financial, labor and supply challenges, as well as the effects that government tariffs and restrictions have in businesses and competition. I believe that puts me in a unique position over the other candidates. The importance of farming the food supply, technology, the price of inputs (seed, fertilizer, water, energy) are all quite intuitive to me. If we don’t make good economic decisions, then farmers and producers, large and small, will suffer. Our current leadership and the career politicians of the past don’t understand how this impacts agribusiness and the industry – how government policies and expenditures lead to high prices and burdens on consumers and producers at all levels. I will always advocate for policies that will enable Michigan farmers and agribusiness to thrive.

What is the biggest issue facing Michigan agriculture and what do you see as the best solution?

There are many issues facing Michigan right now, whether it is government overregulation, unfair trade practices, a broken immigration system, a wide-open border and profligate deficit spending causing inflation and high interest rates. 

In the case of overregulation, it’s really not that complicated – clear rules and a fair playing ground are what breed productive marketplaces, and punishments should have some common sense behind them before being applied. This can be as simple as clear and consistent communication from regulatory agencies so schemes like the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. can’t be unfairly interpreted in a way that hurts our farmers.

To promote free and fair trade, we need to ensure that farmers are operating on a level playing field with the rest of the world and I will always fight for trade agreements that protect American farmers and agriculture.

We need to stop illegal immigration but make legal immigration easier not harder. 

We need to review federal and state spending and differentiate between what we want and what we need. By lowering spending and cutting deficits, we will reduce inflation and also reduce interest rates. 

In general, we need to rely on competition and market driven solutions rather than government pronouncements and directives.

How will you build relationships and work with the agricultural industry?

I will prioritize Michigan’s agriculture sector by advocating for fair trade policies, addressing labor shortages, and promoting climate resilience. I will secure funding for agricultural research and infrastructure, ensuring farmers have the necessary resources to thrive. By supporting sustainable practices through tax incentives and investing in innovation and education, we can enhance the economic viability and environmental sustainability of Michigan agriculture.

To foster relationships with local farmers and agricultural organizations, I will conduct regular farm visits, town halls, and establish agricultural advisory committees. Collaborating with key organizations like the Michigan Farm Bureau and Michigan Agribusiness Association, I will ensure policies reflect the needs of the community. Small and family-owned farms will have a direct voice through programs and representation on advisory panels.

Recognizing the vital role of technology in agriculture, I will look to secure funding for tech innovation, support training programs, and invest in rural broadband to enhance productivity. By enhancing market access, improving product quality, and facilitating legal immigration to address worker shortages, we can boost the competitiveness of Michigan’s agricultural products both nationally and internationally.

Mike Rogers


Mike Rogers

Tell us about yourself and your work experience.

I was born and raised in Michigan, graduating from Howell High School and Adrian College before joining the U.S. Army as an Officer. Following my service in the Army, I joined the FBI in Chicago where I was tasked with helping take down organized crime. In 1994, I successfully ran for the Michigan Senate, working to pass legislation to help families save for their education and healthcare costs. In 2000, I ran for Congress where I won the closest election in the nation that year, winning by 111 votes. In Congress I helped bring back millions of our taxpayer dollars to Michigan, investing in our state. I served on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, where I worked closely with my colleagues to help invest in American energy and put us on the path to energy independence. I also had the great honor to serve as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, overseeing all of our nation’s intelligence services and I worked across the aisle on some of the most sensitive national security issues we faced. Though many said it couldn’t be done, I helped slash over $7 billion from the budget, cutting waste and abuse and modernizing the agencies. Following Congress I took the skills I learned throughout my career and started cyber security businesses, working closely with small and medium businesses to help them secure their data and intellectual property, and consumer data from foreign nation states like China, Iran, and Russia.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

No other candidate is more ready to be effective on day one. I will bring expertise on the biggest issues facing our nation and my years of experience in the public and private sector to deliver real solutions for the great people of Michigan. On day one, I will get to work to lower the cost of gas and groceries for working families, and lower input costs for farmers. I will secure our southern border to protect our communities from deadly drugs like fentanyl, and end the Biden administration’s big government mandates from overbearing federal agencies like the EPA that are overburdening our farmers and taking choices away from consumers.

What is the biggest issue facing Michigan agriculture and what do you see as the best solution?            

Overregulation of every facet of the ag industry, from an overzealous WOTUS standard to the Californication of the hog industry via Prop 12, is a major problem for Michigan farmers. We must ensure fair trade practices so Michigan farmers can continue to be competitive in international markets involving competitors that are subsidized by foreign governments who manipulate markets. We must reform the H-2A visa rules so farmers can access a larger pool of temporary workers and continue feeding Americans, while providing flexibility in their workforces - the visa system needs to be clear and accessible. Further, we must halt additional AEWR increases as they put farms of all sizes at risk of shuttering due to soaring costs. Congress must ensure robust crop insurance programs are protected so acts of God do not jeopardize the livelihood of farmers and their businesses. The environmental regulatory state under this administration prioritizes political goals over hard science. There are no better stewards of the environment, and no more interested party in safeguarding the environment, than American farmers, we should trust them. The banking system is overwhelmed by mandates and overspending by the government has created record inflation which only further constrains farmers, making it nearly impossible for them to invest in their operations to compete. Congress must tear down the regulatory state and empower farmers. Instead of creating barriers, Congress can work with farmers to encourage growth, adopt fair practices that promote development, and invest in our farmers to ensure the next generation’s success.

How will you build relationships and work with the agricultural industry?

During my time in the Michigan Senate and U.S. House, I consistently made it a top priority to engage with the ag industry right here in Michigan, making sure they had the resources and tools they needed to succeed, and worked to eliminate rules that hampered their success. In the Senate I will double down on those efforts, meeting with farmers and industry leaders from across not just Michigan, but the country to adopt best practices and make sure that farmers have a true voice in Washington. Michigan’s ag industry is a critical part of our economy, providing incredible employment opportunities and contributing billions of dollars to communities across the state, and its diversity of products remains unmatched on the world stage. We must do everything in our power to ensure its continued successes are a central part of the future of our state and nation.

 

Elissa Slotkin


Elissa Slotkin

Tell us about yourself and your work experience.

I’m a third-generation Michigander and spent my early life on a farm in Holly, Michigan where I currently live. After college and during my first week at graduate school in New York City, the 9/11 attacks happened; that day changed the trajectory of my life. I decided that after graduate school, I would join the intelligence community and work to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States. I was recruited to join the CIA as a Middle East analyst, and within a year of joining the agency, I was deployed to Baghdad to serve alongside America’s soldiers and diplomats, serving a total of three tours in Iraq over a span of five years. My tours in a combat zone led to various defense and intelligence roles at the White House. I worked for President Bush as a member of his national security staff and was asked to stay on when President Obama took office. I took on a series of leadership roles at the Defense Department, and until January 2017, I oversaw policy at the Pentagon on Russia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa as Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense. There, I negotiated some of the Pentagon’s most sensitive national security matters from the fight against ISIS to the U.S. response to Russian aggression. After leaving the Pentagon, I returned home to Michigan and ran for Congress. I was elected in November of 2018 and I have represented MI-07 in the U.S. House of Representatives since.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

I spent my early life on my family farm in Holly, Michigan. I also take a deeply bipartisan approach to all of my work in Congress, proudly working directly for President Bush and President Obama – one Republican and one Democrat. Bipartisanship is in my bones, and I won’t let petty politics stop me from putting your interests first. Finally, I have real experience working on agricultural issues. I am the only Michigander on the House Agriculture Committee, and I’ve used my position in order to make sure that the 2024 Farm Bill is as good a Farm Bill for Michigan as possible.

What is the biggest issue facing Michigan agriculture and what do you see as the best solution?

The most pressing issue facing Michigan agriculture is the availability and affordability of labor, particularly for our specialty crop growers who overwhelmingly rely on the H-2A visa program for temporary labor during the farming season. Our immigration system is fundamentally broken and not working for anyone, including the agricultural industry. I am committed to working with members on both sides of the aisle to achieve both targeted and comprehensive immigration reform, to include reforms that benefit the agricultural industry. Of particular concern is the fact that the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) has increased significantly in recent years, but profits have not kept pace at the same rate. I see two necessary solutions for this issue. First and foremost, we need a one-year freeze of the AEWR in order to provide relief for Michigan specialty crop growers who are at risk of going out of business. However, I only see an AEWR freeze as a bridge to the second solution: comprehensive agricultural labor reform. I am a cosponsor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which, among other provisions, would cap the AEWR from rising or falling more than 3% year-to-year in order to provide certainty and stability to farmers relying on H-2A labor. It is critical that Congress pass this bill or similar, comprehensive agricultural labor legislation in order to fix the broken system that has pushed Michigan’s small family farms to the brink. 

How will you build relationships and work with the agricultural industry?

Senator Stabenow has fought tirelessly for our farmers, and I use her as a model of exactly how that should be done. In the Senate, I’ll continue her legacy by listening, working with anyone, and leaving everything on the table to help Michigan’s farmers. My guiding principle in office has always been to keep showing up and listening to everyone I can. I want to be a candidate who shows up in places where a Democrat hasn’t campaigned in years– or even decades. We also need leaders who are willing to work with anyone- and I mean anyone- to make sure our farmers aren’t left out to dry while inflationary and regulatory pressures, as well as potential trade wars with adversaries, threaten our agriculture industry. We can’t deal with critical problems for farmers, like lowering costs of essentials like fertilizer or helping the next generation continue farming, without working across the aisle. I believe in Bipartisanship in my bones: Republicans and Democrats coming together to compromise and solve problems is exactly how our legislative process should work. Finally, in the Senate, I’m going to consider every trade deal from the perspective of what’s best for Michigan’s families, farmers, and workers, not special interests. I’m working to ensure the trade deals we see in Washington actually create opportunities here at home for people to break into and stay in the middle class. Whenever a deal comes across my desk, I’ll never sell out regular, middle-class farmers; I represent you.

Matt Kapp headshot

Matt Kapp

Government Relations Specialist
517-679-5338 [email protected]