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Roth and O'Neil talk the pandemic, the economy and the environment in 104th state house forum

Interlochen Public Radio

The race for Grand Traverse County's 104th district could decide which party controls the Michigan House of Representatives.

Republicans have held the seat for decades and aim to keep doing that with their candidate John Roth, who has run a marina, golf course and a sporting goods store for the past 20 years in addition to holding local office.

Democrats, who came very close to winning the seat in 2018, have thrown their weight behind Dan O'Neil, a Traverse City-based trial lawyer who is running for the seat for the second straight time.

Both spoke at a virtual forum hosted by IPR's Politics Reporter Max Johnston.

The biggest issue in this race

John Roth "It's the economy. It's jobs in our area. We need to know that we're gonna have jobs available to us and that will stay open. Safety measures need to be taken ... but we need to have that opportunity so folks can still make a living."
Dan O'Neil
"The most pressing issue we face is dealing with COVID and the economic impact we're experiencing ... All of us would like this to go away but the fact of the matter is the daily case count in Michigan is the highest it's been since April."

Governor Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 response

John Roth: "There were a lot of mistakes made, a lot of clarifications that were not done with a lot of the executive orders. There was a lot of confusion."
Dan O'Neil"There's no playbook for this ... she's shown great leadership and under very difficult circumstances, guided us through a very difficult time."

The Legislative response

John Roth "I don't know how you can grade them because they weren't involved. They were shut out of the process completely and that was a mistake."
Dan O'Neil
"The legislature ... has politicized this in a way that's uneccesary and unhelpful. I think there needs to be more action from the legislature and less politics."

Environmental Issues

John Roth "I'm truly a conservationist ... I truly believe in protecting [natural resources] but sometimes we get into preservation mode, where we don't wanna touch anything, and I disagree with that."
Dan O'Neil
"This place and what it means to us is either the reason that you came here or the reason that you stayed here, and frankly we haven't been doing a very good job in Michigan of protecting our natural resources and protecting the environment."

The second of IPR's virtual forum.

The 104th is becoming one of the most expensive state house races in the state, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, and attracted high-profile members of both parties to Traverse City.

Campaign spending

John Roth "I think there's way too much money spent on this house race, it's actually ridiculous ... it should be capped at a certain level, and the money needs to come from the state of Michigan, not out of state ... I can't believe the amount of money that's come in for my opponent from out of state."
Dan O'Neil
"The average contribution that I've recieved is less than $70, the average contribution that John received is over $1,000 ... I just think [this process] needs to change."


John Roth "A continuing education should always occur and if we had a good broadband system up in our area, that would alleviate a lot of ... issues."
Dan O'Neil
"School funding ought to be equal across the state ... but you can play with that funding formula any way you want and you can't avoid the conclusion that we're not doing very well in terms of education in Michigan."

Restoring trust in the 104th

The seat's current occupant Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) is facing two federal corruption charges.

John Roth "Being out there and being available to the community. I put my telephone number, my cell phone number, on every piece of literature that I drop at anybody's door."
Dan O'Neil
"I'll never lie to them, and I won't put my interests or the party's interest ahead of the interests of the people of this district."


John Roth "I will listen to anybody ... I don't see it as a truly partisan position. I really believe whoever wins this race represents all of Grand Traverse County and every single person that lives here."
Dan O'Neil
"I would [focus] on the things we have in common instead of the things that divide us. I've lived here all my life and it seems like most of the folks I know ... all pretty much want the same things."

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.