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Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen recently sat down with the Rapidian politics beat to discuss his current campaign for re-election. Talen does not have an opponent in the Democratic primary. Republican candidate Theodor Nikodem will be running against Talen in the November election.
Why run for office?
“Politics, for me, has always been a way to combat social injustice," Talen explains. "I was the assistant director for the Baxter Community Center in the '80s and '90s and saw the institutional justice issues the community faced. Having these economic and ethnically diverse experiences firsthand has affected me the most."
Talen is often found meeting residents in his district at local neighborhood association meetings, and picking up trash.
“I want to be a different kind of representative due to the cynicism people have today. I want to break the mold by being available in the community. So I go to a lot of stuff. It helps shape my thinking about the issues. Being out there with the people allows you to understand their needs. I’m not just out there shaking hands but also having conversations with people about what’s important to them.”
Talen says he’s running for multiple reasons.
“I have experience – I have been a commissioner for 12 years and know how the county works and what the issues are. I can speak on behalf of people in the district. It takes several years to get up to speed on county government; it’s such a strange beast.”
Talen has held several fundraisers for his campaign to represent the new district. The Politics Beat asked him why he needs to raise funds.
“It requires money to get elected. It’s an unfortunate thing about our political system. Anything that’s competitive requires money. It is difficult to run if you are poor or a minority due to money. By this process we eliminate many great potential candidates,” says Talen. One of his fundraisers had over 100 people and raised a few thousand dollars.
“There are basic elements for funds in a campaign. You must have name recognition, yard signs and literature. Even once you are in office and elected, there are office holder expenses," Talen says of the need for funds. "For example, I send an e-newsletter to keep constituents informed of what’s going on in the county.”
Redistricting Kent County
Every 10 years, the Michigan legislature reorganizes districts throughout the state using census data. Talen is running in a new district for this election.
“I used to run in District 15, now I’m in District 16. This means I go out and meet new people in the new district. 75% of the district is new residents. It’s almost like moving to a new place.” Talen says sometimes redistricting is a difficult process.
“It bothers me that everyone needs to meet new people. I think it is confusing and creates a distrust of politics and cynicism from voters.”
Talen enjoys listening to Jethro Tull, is inspired by Jimmy Carter’s post-office career, doesn’t watch television, enjoys biking and aspires to both integrity and wisdom. For more information visit Talen's official webpage.
Disclosure: County Commissioner Jim Talen is also a member of The Rapidian's Politics Beat, which Nancy Finney and Julie Davidson-Golinski co-lead.