EAST GRAND RAPIDS, MI – An East Grand Rapids city commissioner and a longtime Kent County commissioner will face off on August 2 to represent the Democratic Party in the November election for the county commissioner’s 19th district. .
The two Democrats, Kris Pachla and incumbent Dave Bulkowski, will face off Aug. 2 for a shot at the county commission seat representing East Grand Rapids and part of adjacent Grand Rapids.
The winner of this primary will face either Jeremiah Bannister or Samuel R. Carstens, two Republicans who are also competing on August 2 to represent their party in November.
The Kent County Board of Commissioners’ new redistricted 19th District encompasses all of East Grand Rapids and part of Grand Rapids along its western border.
Bulkowski, 58, has served on the Kent County Board of Commissioners since 2012 and is the longtime executive director of Disability Advocates of Kent County.
Bulkowski said he has more than 30 years of community service as an elected official, nonprofit professional and volunteer with multiple organizations. He has previously served on the boards of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, the Greater Grand Rapids Home and Building Association, and the US Civil Rights Commission/Michigan State Advisory Committee.
He holds a Juris Doctor from Wayne State Law School.
Pachla, 37, is the director of the Grand Valley State University Regional Math and Science Center and has served on the East Grand Rapids City Commission since 2019. He is also the city representative for East Grand Rapids on the Kent County Energy Waste Advisory Board. .
Pachla is a former high school physics teacher as well as a former board member of the Friends of East Grand Rapids Library and the Grand Valley State University Club. He holds a doctorate in education policy from George Mason University.
MLive/The Grand Rapids Press has partnered with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Michigan to provide candidate information to readers. Each candidate was asked to state their positions on a variety of public policy issues listed below.
All answers in the voter’s guide were submitted directly by the candidate and have not been edited by the League of Women Voters, except for necessary trimming if an answer exceeded character limits. Spelling and grammar have not been corrected. Publication of candidates’ statements and opinions is in the public service interest only and should NOT be considered an endorsement. The League never supports or opposes candidates or political parties.
Information on other state, county and local primary races can be found at Vote411.org.
Why are you running for election?
I am running for re-election as County Commissioner because I believe I have been effective in this service and my connections and informal leadership are needed to keep Kent County moving forward as a community. My campaign is supported by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents because I am known as someone who works for community solutions, not party or personal victories. Much remains to be done at the county level and we are at a critical juncture for the next decade and generation of regional prosperity. The issues of county-wide public transportation and affordable and accessible housing, which I have worked tirelessly on, are just two that we need to remain vigilant on. Additionally, I work alongside and in support of our health department to eliminate health disparities experienced by people of color in Kent County. Finally, the work I have been involved in with the Friend of the Court reform needs continued support.
I am running as a strong and progressive Democrat in this race for Kent County’s 19th District because I believe in a vibrant and inclusive Kent County that works for and with all of its residents. My experience as an educator has taught me that it is so important to listen and respond to everyone, and to be accessible and open to those I serve. I have practiced this for the past three years and plan to become a county commissioner.
Kent County is changing. We have historically moved towards more progressive since 2012 and yet we still have entire populations that are no better off. The county needs strong voices at all levels to push for progressive policies, including universal access to early childhood education, living wages, environmental protections, and reproductive rights and choices. . I’m running because those needs align with my views, and I’m willing to get up and work to make them happen.
Thank you for considering me as a candidate!
What is the biggest challenge facing the office you are looking for? How are you going to fix it?
I am a Democrat in this race and despite our political movement as a county, the commission will always have a Democrat minority. Not controlling the agenda, not having majority voting power and not controlling the nominations will be a challenge. In order to address this issue, the county needs someone who will be strong supporters of Democrats and Democratic ideals, but who will be able to work to advocate for the issues across the aisle.
In addition, we have major challenges to overcome as a county. We have entire communities that have been traumatized, under-invested and categorically ignored from community support. We must systematically invest in communities across the county and work to address policies and practices that have historically served our communities poorly.
For both of these challenges, I plan to approach them methodically, seeking expert information and making decisions based on the totality of the information.
The biggest challenge for a county commissioner who is a Democrat is to be a member of the minority and seek to have a broader perspective of the opinions of our community heard. This will be more evident this summer when we allocate ARPA funds at the county level. The community values that I have always worked to put forward are not always the priorities of the majority party. Thus, I work for justice and equity at every opportunity, not in a bombastic style, but rather by focusing on delivering ROI on priorities such as lead reduction, county-wide public transportation , Affordable and Accessible Housing and Friend of the Court Reform. I build working relationships with all of my elected colleagues as well as our County Administrator and staff and our community partners in cities and townships. In the matter of the allocation of ARPA funds, I will work to ensure that those dollars are invested in people and our needs.
What strategies would you use to remain responsive and accountable to the public between elections?
As I have done throughout my nearly ten years as Commissioner, I am first and foremost a dedicated servant to my constituents and all County residents. From there, I remain active and present in the community by speaking and listening to community leaders, elected and grassroots officials, as well as my neighbors and friends. My personal email and phone number and county commission email are published and readily available. As I have been working on our community for a long time, I have a wide network of contacts and I frequently receive calls where the person says: “So-and-so told me that I had to talk to you. Finally, I make a habit of introducing myself to those who make the effort to attend committee meetings to learn more about them and their issues in addition to their formal comments. I find this very instructive as most are not comfortable making public comments.
I pride myself on being accessible and responsive to my current constituents, responding to emails, phone calls, and participating in community listening events. I plan to maintain this level of responsiveness and accountability if elected to the county commission.
I also believe in active thinking and use those in my communities (family, friends, neighbors, other elected officials) to think through decisions and votes. I truly believe in iterative improvement and know that with new information comes new opportunities to think things through and make decisions. I plan to continually ask for feedback and ensure that I use that feedback throughout the election process.
Finally, I believe in empowering myself by being able to explain votes, especially controversial votes, and ensuring that voters can voice their opinions on those votes and decisions. I plan to always listen to the impact of my decision and my votes and continually improve between elections.
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