Meet the Candidates: Robert Lawrence Looking to Improve Michigan for His Children
During the countdown to the Aug. 7 primary, Patch is bringing you profiles of the candidates running for local office.
The Aug. 7 primary election is drawing closer every day, but how much do you really know about the names on the ballot?
Patch is interviewing candidates running in the Aug. 7 primary, including the five candidates for the 40th District's seat in the Michigan House of Representatives.
The seat is currently filled by Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Birmingham), who is unable to run for re-election this year due to term limits (though Moss is looking to run for Sen. John Pappageorge's seat in 2014).
After redistricting, the 40th district will be composed of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, and a portion of West Bloomfield.
Running for the spot on the Republican ticket are Birmingham Board of Education's Robert Lawrence and longtime Oakland County Commissioner David Potts, as well as Bloomfield Hills Commissioner Mike McCready and challenger David Wolkinson.
The Oakland County League of Women Voters will hold a meet-the-candidates forum from 7-9 p.m. on July 24 at Baldwin Public Library.
Family: Lawrence has been married to his wife, Julie Fream, for 16 years and has two children — Jillian, 13, and Ryan, 12, both students at Birmingham Covington School.
Education: Lawrence earned his undergraduate degree in pre-law and economics, as well as his MBA, at Michigan State University.
Occupation: Lawrence owns Lawrence Co., a real estate development consulting business, and also serves as the chief financial officer for Michigan Security Network, a Homeland Defense start-up.
Longtime resident: Lawrence has been a resident of Birmingham for the past 15 years and a resident of the Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills area for 46 years.
Previous elected experience: In November 2011, Lawrence was elected to his third term with the Birmingham Board of Education.
Other activities: Lawrence is currently serving as a trustee of the $1.6 million Michigan Liquid Asset Fund, an investment fund helping to manage the operating funds of Michigan school districts and municipalities statewide. He is also the treasurer of the Birmingham SCHOLAR Fund, which provides scholarships to college-bound students in the Birmingham Public Schools district. A member of the Birmingham Rotary Club, Lawrence has also served with the Birmingham Education Foundation.
Why are you running for state representative?
For Lawrence, it's all about young people in classrooms.
"I'm running because I'm tired of seeing our children move to other states that have greater opportunities for growth than we have here in Michigan," Lawrence said, noting he has the experience necessary in business and public service to help Michigan grow.
Lawrence pointed to his experience in education and noted the problems he's seen in that realm mirror what's happening throughout Michigan: incentives lack any "meaningful punch," he said, while a broken pension system diverts money away from classroms.
"I will promote incentives to support operating efficiencies while championing programs and practices that elevate student achievement," he said. "The entire system, from pre-K to graduate school, should be treated like a strategic asset. Repairing those assets while promoting strong business development will reverse Michigan's trend of exporting our graduates to other states in their search for opportunities."
"I'm running because I want Michigan to be the best place for my children to build their lives and futures," he added.
What are new ideas you would bring to the position/district?
Lawrence said he wants to streamline the state's legislative, regulatory and oversight functions.
"We are one of only four states with a full-time legislature and there are many compelling reasons to change to a part-time model," he said, noting priorities and influence in Lansing need to be restructured.
A shorter session would limit the time lobbyists have with legislators, Lawrence said, giving lawmakers more time to do their job. In addition, a shorter session could cut down on unnecessary and symbolic bills.
"Many of these bills include personal prerogatives, political statements disguised as legislation and congratulatory proclamations," he said. "While some of these might be nice, I would not confuse them with the work we're paying legislators to accomplish."
Lawrence said he would also propose open and online appointment books for every legislator, letting the public see who was meeting with elected officials.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing Michigan?
According to Lawrence, Michigan's Teachers Pension fund is a problem that is growing out of control — and "we are all going to have to pay."
According to Lawrence, the unfunded liability of the Teachers Pension fund is estimated to be near $45 billion — with estimates up to $60 billion. Michigan's annual budget is $48 billion. The cost now exceeds $1,000 per student per year, Lawrence said.
"In my capacity as a Birmingham School Board member, I've been ringing the warning bell about this for years," he said. "Recently the legislature has attempted a fix but they can't seem to resolve the issue."
"If our mission is to make Michigan great, we are operating with one arm tied behind our backs until the pension is fixed," he said. "This is exactly the stress that nearly collapsed GM, Chrysler and Ford."
Lawrence also said Michigan's government should be streamlined and focused.
"From regulatory and oversign agencies to tax codes and business regulations, the entire structure has grown too complex," he said. "We need to focus and simplify ... I'll push for more initiatives to complement the process of bringing greater efficiencies to the business and citizens of Michigan."
Who else is running? Meet the candidates for the Michigan House of Representatives Patch has interviewed so far: