State Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, was elected to the Michigan Senate in 2002 after having served two terms in the Michigan House of Representatives. He represents the 30th District, which encompasses Ottawa County, the city of Grandville and Sparta Township in Kent County.
He chairs the Senate Education Committee, bringing a wealth of experience to that position after serving as chairman of the House Education Committee for two years. Sen. Kuipers also serves as vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Technology and Energy and the Senate Transportation Committee. He serves on the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and he was elected Majority Caucus Chairman by his peers.
Sen. Kuipers currently serves as a member of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Education Task Force and the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Education Task Force, committees made up of legislators from across the country devoted to promoting excellence in education.
The senator has received numerous accolades for his legislative efforts, including the Independent Colleges and Universities’ Distinguished Service Award, Michigan Manufacturers Association’s Advocate of the Year, the Michigan Business & Professional Association’s Distinguished Service Award, the Michigan Parent, Teacher & Student Association’s Legislator of the Year. He was the only legislator to receive the Small Business Association of Michigan’s Champion of Small Business award for the 2002-2004 session.
Sen. Kuipers earned his B.A. in Special Education from Calvin College in 1983 and a master’s degree in Management from Aquinas College in 1995. He is a graduate of the Michigan Political Leadership Program and a 2000 graduate of the Boway Institute for Legislative Leadership Development (BILLD).
A lifelong resident of the Holland area, Sen. Kuipers worked at Hollandia Gardens, Inc., until his election in 1998, serving as a project manager, general manager and vice president. He also served as a management consultant for Bosch’s Landscape and Lawn Specialties, Inc.
He has been an active member of the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce and the Home Builders Association of Holland; an honorary Rotarian and past member of the Holland Kiwanis; and also an honorary member of Tulip City Rod & Gun Club.
Sen. Kuipers and his wife, Jodi, have three children, Corey, Jenna and Makenzie. The family attends Faith Christian Reformed Church in Holland.
The following interview with Contact Magazine Editor Al Zawacky took place Jan. 12 in the senator’s downtown Lansing office.
Q. First of all, are you a credit union member? If so, what has your experience with credit unions been like?
A. Yes, I’m a member at Holland Central CU (MN) and I have long memories of credit unions. Growing up as a child, I remember once a year on a Friday night the whole family would pile into the car and we’d drive to Muskegon to go to our credit union’s annual meeting. There would be a program, a dinner, prizes — and I remember being a part of that. Today, I’m still a credit union member through my wife’s former employer. When I was in business, I also had a lot of dealings with credit unions, and I found the people there to be very knowledgeable and very passionate about what they do — which I’m sure has to do with the member ownership and the nature of how credit unions operate. So, all my credit union experiences have been positive ones.
Q. How would you rate credit unions advocacy efforts both back home in the district and in Lansing?
A. Very good. I have a very good relationship with credit union people in my home district. I try to be as visible as possible in my district and attend as many meetings and events as I can. I would say that the credit union people locally wouldn’t be the least bit hesitant to approach me about an issue that concerns them. Of course, the League folks at the Lansing office are always very well informed on particular issues and are very visible from an advocacy standpoint.
Q. What was your back-ground before coming to the Michigan Legislature? And what was the trigger that inspired you to seek public office?
A. I managed a small business with about 60 employees. We were a broad-based business that dealt with construction and nursery, landscape design and architectural work. We were also one of the largest commercial-grade composters in the state, processing about 70,000 cubic yards of leaves, brush and wood into about 30,000 yards of useable byproduct.
Even when I was in business, I had always followed political issues, read the paper and voted, but the first serious political involvement I had came when a friend of mine, Pete Hoekstra, called and said he was running for Congress and would like my help. I was intrigued by it, got involved — and we won, defeating a 26-year incumbent. That showed me that if people get involved in a cause and work hard for it, they can accomplish almost anything. And that’s really what got it started for me, and eventually led to my running for public office.
Q. For the last two years you’ve partnered with Michigan’s credit unions and the MCUL to challenge your fellow colleagues to teach financial literacy in their local schools in April during “Youth Financial Literacy Month.” How pleased are you with the success you’ve had to this point, and how important is it in your view for students to possess a high level of financial literacy?
A. Well, for myself personally, I love getting into schools and being able to talk to young people about a topic that I think is very important. One of the things we grapple with in the Senate Education Committee is how much do we require students to have in the curriculum? I think it’s critically important for students to know how to budget, how to balance a checkbook, how to meet their financial obligations. Too often, these kids come out of families where they’re not taught that at home — or maybe the example they see is one where the parents buy anything whether they can afford it or not and run up huge debts. It’s vital that young people understand how to manage their money and live within their means. And probably one of the best places to learn that would be in an economics or finance class in high school or college, so that a young person won’t go out into the world with no understanding of how money works and how to manage it.
I don’t know how many of my colleagues take advantage of the Youth Financial Literacy Month opportunity — but I encourage all of them to do it, because the message is important. And I also think it’s helpful for those of us who are policymakers to actually get into the classroom and find out firsthand how the decisions we make impact the lives of students.
Q. As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, you will also be very involved in the efforts to re-shape the high school curriculum. Credit unions believe strongly that a financial literacy component should be required in the new curriculum. Would you support requiring that a financial literacy component be included in the new model curriculum?
A. I certainly wouldn’t oppose it. The issue we’re going to run into is, where exactly does it fit in with the requirements that are already there? Certainly, a personal finance portion where kids are taught basic financial skills could be included in any economics or finance class. And if we don’t make this part of the curriculum,
I would at least be supportive of outside organizations such as Junior Achievement providing young people with training on how business works and sound money management. I think it’s obvious that people with more financial understanding and knowledge are smarter consumers — and better citizens.
Q. Do you have any other legislative priorities for the Senate Education Committee?
A. We’re going to spend some time on these core curriculum changes; I think that’s critically important to the economic success and vitality of our state. Meeting with groups on the subject of education, I’ve made the point that it wasn’t too long ago that we used to laugh at states like Arkansas and Mississippi as being the bottom of the barrel in terms of education. But these states are now leading the way in curriculum requirements, and Mississippi and Arkansas are where we’re now seeing a lot of manufacturing presence and economic development. We in Michigan have to understand that having a well-educated work force is a critical component of our state’s success. It’s important to look at the current curriculum requirements — which are minimal — and see how they can be improved, how we can add more emphasis to math and science. We need to ensure that having a diploma from a Michigan high school means something, that it tells a prospective employer that you have a certain set of skills. And if you don’t have those skills, you go back to school — free of charge — until you do. Basically, the education system needs to back up its product just like businesses are required to do.
Q . What other legislative interests or issues are you passionate about?
A. Anything we can do to stimulate our state’s economy — whether it’s through tax cuts, improving education or easing the regulatory burden. We have to pinpoint those things that are making Michigan non-competitive and be very aggressive in going after the problems and fixing them. One concern among small business is having the access to capital necessary to grow and expand. Credit unions have been working hard to fill the need for more small business loans.
Q. Could you comment on the value of small business?
A. Well, 85 percent of the new jobs being created come from small business. So, to overlook the needs of small business would obviously be a terrible mistake. And given the fact that small businesses are creating so many jobs, it’s beneficial for the credit unions to be there to help them grow. I’d like to see credit unions compete in the business lending market along with other lenders, if they see fit to do so. If there are policies in place that exclude credit unions from pursuing those kinds of opportunities, we need to change them. Competition is good.
Q. What other ways do you think credit unions can serve the needs of your district?
A. We talked about providing financial education for students, but the need isn’t limited to just young people. There are adults, too, who need to have access to that kind of financial training, because a lot of people have no idea how to handle money and are living very close to financial ruin, living paycheck to paycheck. I’d like to see more credit unions providing financial literacy assistance — perhaps even making a loan contingent on some level of financial planning, if an applicant’s credit history shows that’s appropriate. Based on what I know about credit unions and how close they are with their members, I would expect that many are already doing this to some degree. I think a credit union would be more inclined to do that than the local bank would.
Q. Your name is on a very short list of those candidates that are considering a run at Senate Majority Leader after the 2006 Senate elections. What would be your priorities if you were selected as leader of the Senate Republicans?
A. Well, I’m certainly honored and flattered to be on the list. But I think right now my focus and the focus of our Republican caucus should be on coming back after the November election as the majority. There’s not much point in speculating on what we’ll do if we don’t retain our majority, because if that happens, decisions regarding legislative priorities won’t be ours to make.
Q. What are your views on term-limits? Are you supporting the ballot initiative to change them to allow a person to serve their entire 14 years in one chamber?
A. I don’t like terms limits — but having said that, I don’t like the proposal that’s out there, either. I understand people not wanting to see a legislator in office forever, but I think what term limits have done is shift the power away from one person — a lawmaker — and shifted it toward lobbyists and staff. There are no term limits on them. Imagine if lobbyists were told that they could work eight years, but then had to go out and find a new career? Or, would a $40 billion business hire somebody to run the company for just six years — and then kick him out? In the business world, that would be laughed at. A person becomes most effective when he or she understands the system and how it works.
So, I’d like to see term limits done away with entirely; I don’t think they’re helpful. But, since that’s not likely to happen, I would support a modification in the present law that allows an individual to serve 12 years in the House or Senate — six two-year terms in the House and three four-year terms in the Senate.
Q. Thank you for your time and for a most interesting conversation, Senator.