DEARBORN HEIGHTS — When shuffling through the candidates for State Representatives in District 11, one might take a longer look at candidate David Knezek, the 25-year-old University of Michigan-Dearborn graduate who might be years younger than any of his opponents, but arguably has just as much credentials to take on the job.
Knezek has been hard at work reaching out to voters in District 11, which covers the cities of Inkster, Garden City, the northern section of Dearborn Heights, two square miles of Westland and one square mile of Livonia. He says he does not want his age to be an issue with voters. In fact, because of his age, one of his main agenda items is to focus on strengthening higher education in the state. He says that in the past two years the legislature has strictly focused on business issues to the detriment of other, integral aspects of our economy.
"Our priorities in Michigan have been severely misplaced. We've seen a strict focus on business which absolutely is essential to a strong economy, but we are ignoring other fundamentals like a stronger education system. We are seeing a severe scaling back on funding for our schools, which has led to not having enough resources in the classroom," stated Knezek. "When only 18 percent of Michigan’s high school graduates are prepared to take on a college education, we need to be doing better. I understand that college isn’t for everyone, though, and for those students, I want to increase the availability and quality of training for vocational jobs or the trades – our focus should be on creating the best educated student we can, regardless of their career path. For those who are headed to college, higher education is one of our biggest failings in this state. As we move further in a 21st century economy, many of today’s jobs require something higher than a high school diploma. We need to make it more affordable and more marketable."
While he supports the youth with many of his issues, Knezek is also concerned about senior citizens and the safety of our communities. He supports a full repeal of the pension tax, seeing it as nothing but an “unfair punishment” on one of the most vulnerable populations in Michigan. Fighting for funding to keep community and senior centers open and fully staffed is also on his priority list and he recently met with senior citizens at the Maplewood Center in Garden City to discuss his plan for protecting their well-being and quality of life.
Knezek graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but before that, he was serving in the United States Marine Corps for six years, during which he served two tours of duty in Iraq between 2007 and 2010. He says the skills that he developed from his experiences have shaped him to be a better leader.
"It was a great experience. When I was over there, we had the opportunity to do a lot of training for the Iraqi army and I had the chance to react with the locals and Iraqi military members. It was a positive experience leadership-wise, and I don't regret it one bit," Knezek added.
It's because of his experiences in the Marines that Knezek's agenda also focuses on veteran’s issues. He says when it comes to veteran benefits and access to care, the state of Michigan 53rd in the country, even behind the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. He wants to make sure that when Veterans return home, they have the proper resources needed to get back on track and reintegrate into society.
But it’s not just a history with the Marines that gives Knezek a diverse background; he also has a long history with the Arab community as well. When he attended Crestwood High School in Dearborn Heights, which has a large population of Arab students, he had his first glimpse of the Arab culture after he made friends and became the president of his class. At UM-D, he became the President of Student Government, in part because of his close relationship with the Arab Student Union.
"Out of any candidate in this race, I’ve had a long, positive relationship with Arabs and Arab Americans ever since I was at Crestwood. That relationship continued in the Middle East where I had the opportunities to educate fellow Marines on Arab and Muslim culture. I could've never made it as President of Student Government without the support of the Arab community and I have a lot of respect and support for them."
Mahde Abdallah, the former president of the Arab Student Union who also served as the Vice President of Student Government with Knezek, also encourages the Arab community to stand behind him.
"Knezek is never hesitant to speak out and advocate for true issues that will better his constituents. He is an exceptional leader who will serve his district best if elected. He has my unwavering support and I recommend all others support him as well," Abdallah stated. "I undoubtedly could say he is a true friend of not only the Arab community, but all communities within our area."
Knezek is running against Democratic candidates Cody Bailey, Bill Kaledas and Dorothy Webb Grady in the primary being held on August 7. The candidate with the highest number of votes will then proceed to the general election, where they will face off against a Republican candidate.
Even as a Democrat, Knezek says that he wants to try to erase party lines in Lansing because he doesn't want to just serve for one group of people, but rather for the entire state.
"There is a clear need to work with members on the other side of the aisle. When Democrats aren't in control of the house, as we currently are, we can't get anything done. I don’t want to be a representative for just some of the population; I’m going to be a representative for everybody. We need to stop making this about bitter partnership and find a way to work with the other side to get Michigan moving again," Knezek stated.