UM-Flint Student Hopes to Nab 9th District’s Commissioner Seat

Matthew+Smith+speaks+with+residents+of+Genesee+county%27s+9th+District.

Santiago Ochoa

Matthew Smith speaks with residents of Genesee county's 9th District.

Ryan Lanxton and Santiago Ochoa

UM-Flint Public Administration and Political Science Major Matthew Smith Jr. has announced his campaign for Genesee County’s 9th district county commissioner seat. 

Smith is looking to take the next step in his political career by expanding his influence outside of just the Davison Board of Education, where he currently serves as an elected member. 

As the 9th district county commissioner, he would now be tasked with representing the city of Davison, Richfield, Genesee and Forest Townships as well as the Villages of Otisville and part of Otter Lake. 

The previous commissioner, David Martin, has decided not to seek reelection as he is running for a state representative seat. According to Smith, Martin reached out to him to see if he would be interested in the county commissioner role.

“… He [Martin] called me and he said that he is not going to seek reelection. And I said, ‘Okay,  does that mean you’re going to resign or what does that mean?’ And he said, ‘I’ve worked really hard in this community and I want to take those values to Lansing, but I want to leave behind a legacy with someone that has the same values, the same minds.’” said Smith. “And I said, ‘well, I’m interested in running for the seat.’”

To Smith, these shared values are “faith, family and community.” They serve as the pillars for his political views and activism and, according to him, they inform everything he does. He believes these values also reflect the community he wishes to represent.

“They value their family. They value their faith. They value their community. And my involvement with the community lines up with the majority of the community’s interests,” said Smith.

For years, his Board of Education position and the county commissioner seat had been solidly Democratic. However, with the election of Martin in 2016 and Smith’s own win in the Davison Board of Education election in 2018, Smith sees the district’s values more closely mirroring his own. 

While Smith has always identified as conservative, it wasn’t until the announcement of his county commissioner campaign that he was forced to pick a political party to run under. As it stands, seven of the nine Genesee County commissioners are Democrats. 

“If I get elected, you have to know how to work together because you’re going to have seven Democrats working with you,” said Smith. “I try to look at every issue through a nonpartisan, bipartisan lens to try to work together.”

One of Smith’s many goals is to focus on the economic development of his district. By encouraging businesses to move into the area and work on constructing a more conservative budget, such as reducing wasteful spending, his hope is that his constituents will benefit.

According to Smith, getting rid of the blight in his district is an important first step towards revitalizing abandoned plots of land, making it more attractive for businesses looking to move into the district. 

“Luckily, in the 9th district, we don’t see too much blight in abandoned homes. But I do think it needs to be addressed,” said Smith. “I think it’s worth having a conversation about …”

Among his plans for economic development and frugal public spending, his campaign promises include better management of his district’s parks and public spaces, as well as more comprehensive funding for animal control. On top of this, Smith said he promises to address the lack of proper healthcare benefits many senior citizens in his district are facing. 

Smith is aware his plans require money. The way he sees it, the best way to receive extra funds is through additional grant writing. By doing so, his district can gain access to substantially more funds that can be used in various projects, he said. 

“I’m going to try to as much as I could promote grant writers because you’ve got each municipality, each county has access to free federal and state money. That way we can get more on-tap funds,” said Smith.

Smith’s top priority is public safety. As president of the Genesee County Neighborhood Watch, he recognizes the importance of addressing crime. He said he also sees the need to coordinate with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department. By working closely with the new sheriff, Chris Swanson, Smith hopes the two can collaborate on different issues, such as senior citizens’ safety.

“We’re starting to see our crime go down in some spots, but we’re starting to see our crime increase in some spots. You have to be educated on that,” said Smith.

He cites his resume as a crucial piece in his decision to run. By age 22, he has served on the ELGA Credit Union Supervisory Board, helped run his family business and worked as an on-air reporter for WNEM TV5. These experiences, Smith said, have allowed him to develop his political knowledge and connect with the community more closely.

When he won the Davison Board of Education election, Smith joined the ranks of other current and former UM-Flint students, like Minority Leader of the Michigan Senate Jim Ananich and Flint City Councilman Santino Guerra, as an elected public official. 

Currently, Smith’s campaign is being contested by Gary Peppin, a former Davison city councilman and business owner who is running under the Democratic ticket. The election will be held on Nov. 3, 2020 at the same time as the presidential general election.