Conan Smith would like your vote as a Washtenaw County Commissioner in the 9th District. This is the candidate's submission to the 2018 WEMU Soapbox Summer.
CONAN: Hi, this is Conan Smith. I’m the County Commissioner for the western third of the City of Ann Arbor. I’m here today with my mom, Alma Wheeler Smith. She was a County Commissioner when I was in college here at U of M and she served as our state senator and our state rep for fourteen years. Mom, I’m so glad you agreed to do this.
ALMA: Thank you, Conan. It was a surprise when I was asked. So, I was thinking about my two years on the County Commission and what I learned. And I think the most important lesson I had was the power of the majority and how critical it is to listen to the opposition in your governing body so that you can address a policy that fits not only what you as a majority member want to accomplish but takes in the concerns of those in the minority because that makes a stronger policy.
CONAN: You know, you’re so right about that. On the county board of commissioners, most of us are Democrats, but even so we come to the table with very different life experiences and from very different parts of the county. I’ve always really appreciated listening to folks who have those different experiences because I think it makes our public policies, better, stronger for all the families who are here in the county.
ALMA: Absolutely. And we also make public policy through the way we spend our citizens’ tax dollars and how we set priorities through the budgets that we do. And I know that Appropriations was one of my strengths and Ways & Means has been one of your great strengths.
CONAN: You know, the county budget process is really interesting because, as you know, as a policy wonk you get to talk a lot about good things when you’re writing policy but the rubber hits the road with the dollars. I was really fortunate to be involved in crafting the County’s immigration policy a couple years ago in response to the Trump administration. They went on the offensive against our immigrant community and we were fortunately able to put together a fund for legal aid to protect people who had been unfairly and unjustly attacked by ICE, and to put together a fund for human services for those families who were impacted when a family member was detained by ICE. Can you imagine if your main breadwinner was swept up and you didn’t have the money for rent or to pay for food? Crazy, right?
ALMA: It is.
CONAN: So, we were really able to use our budgetary process to make people’s lives better, and in fact 80 people, through our legal aid program, have been put on the path to U.S. citizenship.
ALMA: That’s great work, and it reflects policy and dollars working together for a better outcome. Now, what do you want to accomplish after this election?
CONAN: I think back to the legacy that our family has created. Grandpa was the first black mayor here, you served in the Legislature; Aunt Nancy and Aunt Mary were both judges. There a long tradition of doing right by the people in our community who sometimes have the least. And I think that we can do better at the County around affordable housing and equity issues. We have an opportunity to put those dollars to work in a different way over the coming two years. And I’m excited to be a part of that. And I hope that the people out in my district and Washtenaw County agree with that, and I would really appreciate their support to come back to the Board of Commissioners.
ALMA: Great, I’d love to see you there.
CONAN: Thanks, Mom, this was really fun.