Debate in 54 at IA

by Sam Byrne(’23)

Donni Steele
Shadia Martini

On Wednesday, November 2nd, candidates for Michigan’s 54th State House district participated in a debate and International Academy. Republican Donni Steele and Democrat Shadia Martini faced off as questions came from both a predetermined list and students in the audience.

Each candidate began with an allotted time of five minutes for opening remarks. Ms. Steele detailed her entrance into politics, speaking on how she worked to get a safety path built on her road because she saw the need for children who wanted to ride their bikes or needed a safer way to get to school. Ms. Martini discussed her upbringing and how she came to the United States. Originally from Aleppo, Syria, Martini grew up in a “brutal dictatorship,” and saw women arrested simply for picking up garbage outside. Ms. Martini went on to study architecture at university and eventually became a teacher herself. Martini described herself as an advocate for human rights and talked of how she was not able to visit either of her parents in their final days, as she is wanted and had her property confiscated in Syria. 

The first question presented to the candidates asked what the biggest misconception about their party was. Ms. Martini went first, arguing that state-level Democrats are not able to tackle the issue of inflation, saying that it should be federally managed. Ms. Steele refuted the claim that Republicans are the party of “old white men,” or that they are extremists. Ms. Steele talked about the values of liberty, freedom, and truth, and emphasized that every person has individual rights that should not be infringed upon. 

Questions then turned to the issue of gun control, to which Ms. Steele responded first. Ms. Steele highlighted the importance of gun education and safe storage, while Ms. Martini reasoned that the solution to the gun violence epidemic should be a mixture of universal background checks, red flag laws, and safe storage laws. (It should be noted that Senate Bill 550, introduced by State Senator Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) still has yet to receive a hearing in the Michigan Senate. The bill would implement safe storage requirements statewide.) 

When asked about Proposal 22-3, the ballot measure which would amend the state constitution to include an individual right to reproductive freedom, Ms. Steele discussed how she was pleased with the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, which struck down Roe v. Wade. Ms. Steele said that she believes the decision on laws regulating abortion should be left up to the states, and expressed displeasure with the fact that the ballot measure is a constitutional amendment, arguing that Michigan should have instead brought together members of both parties, “from one extreme to the other” to craft a solution that would be “palatable to everyone.” Ms. Martini was quick to point out that she has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood of Michigan, while Ms. Steele was endorsed by Right to Life. Ms. Martini encouraged the audience to vote yes on Proposal 3, saying that she herself would be supporting the measure. 

Candidates were then asked to weigh in on the potential use of public funds for private and/or parochial schools. Ms. Martini was adamant that there should be a separation of church and state, and that that should extend to funding religious schools. Ms. Steele contradicted that, saying that parochial and private schools should absolutely receive state funding and that everyone should have an equal opportunity for education. Ms. Steele further argued that parents should receive more of a say in education. In the next question, the first from the audience, both candidates agreed that their first issue to tackle if elected would be to address education in Michigan.

The candidates were again asked about the separation of church and state, with a student asking what the relationship between one’s personal beliefs and their role in government should be, referencing Texas policy which allows the denial of service if it clashes with the provider’s personal beliefs. Ms. Martini argued for the valuation of citizens above religion and stated that no public money should go to parochial schools.

The debate at the International Academy furthered the political process in State House District 54 and provided the community with valuable information as Michigan prepares to go to the polls on November 8th. The website for Ms. Martini can be found here, and the website for Ms. Steele can be found here. To find what’s on the ballot for your precinct, the Secretary of State runs the Michigan Voter Information Center, a link to which can be found here

Title image left to right: State Rep Candidate Shadia Martini, IA Vice Principal Mr. DeGrazia, Junior State of America board Isabella Tunnicliff, Aaryan Prabhu, Nisha Singhi, Raj Shah, Jessica Finney, and Tarik Taskin(all ’24), IA Counselor and JSA Sponsor Mrs. Hansen, and State Rep Candidate Donni Steele. Thank you to Ms. Steele and Ms. Martini for coming to our school!

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