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Sunday, 01 February 2015 22:00

Q&A: Frank Foster

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Frank Foster Frank Foster COURTESY PHOTO

Former State Rep. Frank Foster, R-Petoskey, lost his seat last fall in a primary challenge. The reason: He introduced a bill that would add protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people to the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a measure supported by many businesses and associations as a means to improve the state’s talent attraction efforts. Foster was the keynote speaker at a recent OutPro event, a professional networking group for the local LGBT community operated by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Foster spoke with MiBiz on why this legislation is important as well as what can be done to push the issue going forward, whether as a legislator or a private citizen.

In many ways, the private sector has been leading the conversation around advancing LGBT protections. How have they shaped the discussion?

It was important for us to get a coalition of business leaders together to make the argument. We honestly thought that this is about talent attraction and we had to convincingly make that argument. So we went out and we got the AT&Ts and the Chryslers of the world — the big companies here in Michigan. It’s not just a political issue. It’s a business issue.

Will support from large and small companies help the legislation get over the finish line?

Yeah, I believe so. I still am confident that this is a step that Michigan will take. How it gets done? I believed it had to be a business argument, and I still do. We trust that both sides — Republicans and Democrats — want to operate under the idea that employers are making decisions based on quality and merit, and not based on things like race, gender or sexual orientation. I firmly believe that not all employers do that. But the ones that do (operate on quality and merit) have to make a statement that this is the proper environment for businesses to operate.

Why did this legislation become an important issue for you personally?

I’ve always been interested in civil rights cases since college, (cases that) deal with affirmative action and racial equality. I believe that civil rights is sort of our generation’s hot topic and this one kind of glaring area in the state and in current law that wasn’t being addressed.

It has widely reported that your support of the LGBT amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act cost you your seat. Do you agree?

Most people would probably have the same assessment, and it was certainly the main reason why the primary developed and became the focal point of the race. I think that is witnessed by all the (other candidates in primaries) who had similar voting records to me. The only difference is I had this piece of legislation.

Is there any advice you can offer to legislators who want to take this up but are scared of losing their seat?

It’s important to have the public debate and for my constituents to know about things I believe in — this included. But at the point where you become nervous about election outcomes, you can’t effectively do your job and do what you see is best. My encouragement for legislators moving forward is if there is an issue you believe in, it shouldn’t necessarily matter what political consequences there are. If you feel confident in what you’re doing, then it doesn’t matter.

Do you think there’s a chance for this legislation to be revived this year?

It might cool off a little bit this year just because it was a hot topic last year. It will get picked up eventually. Most of the ideas get recycled at some point. I’m not sure if it will be Republicans or Democrats that do it, but there will need to be compromise on both sides. That’s for sure.

You’re now a private citizen. What do you plan to do to help see your idea get traction?

I’ll talk to my legislator. At this juncture, it’s the individual that beat me. But I’ll continue to communicate why I’m supportive of this and why it’s not only a civil rights argument but an economic development argument for Michigan, and (I’ll) encourage others to do the same thing. The majority of the Michigan people support what this legislation was intending to do. It’s just sometimes the political process skews public opinion.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes.


Read 3585 times Last modified on Sunday, 01 February 2015 22:29

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