Southwestern Michigan College hosted Dowagiac City Council First Ward representatives Danielle Lucas and Pat Bakeman Feb. 4 as part of “#SMCVotes,” a series of non-partisan, civic-awareness programs leading up to Michigan’s March 10 presidential primary.
The series continues Feb. 18 at 5 p.m. in the Student Activity Center theatre on the Dowagiac campus with “The Art of Politics.” SAC Assistant Manager Branden Pompey will talk about campaign posters, buttons and shirts.
At Michigan primary information night March 3, students can get answers to any questions they may have about the March 10 ballot.
The series was put together by Professor Dr. Mary Young-Marcks, a frequent guest on WNIT’s “Politically Speaking,” and Pompey, who moderated the discussion with Lucas and Bakeman about why they decided to seek elective office, what organizing a political campaign entails and what holding public office means to them.
“We’re here to talk about the process and to get people energized about voting,” Pompey said.
In 2019 SMC received national recognition for excellence in student voter engagement from the non-partisan ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, which encourages higher education institutions to help students form the habits of active and informed citizenship and to make democratic participation a core value on their campus.
Lucas, SMC financial aid systems analyst, was appointed to the council in 2014, elected in 2015 and re-elected to a four-year term in 2019. She has worked for the college for 16 years at both the Dowagiac and Niles campuses. She served eight years in the Army Reserve, earned her associate degree in general studies from SMC and graduated from Indiana University South Bend with her bachelor’s degree in business administration and management. Besides the council, Lucas serves on the city Zoning Board of Appeals and the Russom Park panel.
“I’ve always tried to give back,” Lucas said, whether donating to blood drives or advising SMC’s Black Student Union club.
Bakeman, a barber, unseated an incumbent in 2018 and would need to seek re-election in 2022 to retain the seat. Growing up his community service included washing dishes Friday nights at the Conservation Club and sweeping floors at the VFW hall for hot dogs and pop. He graduated from barber college in Lansing in 1999 and cut hair in Detroit before buying his hometown shop in 2005.
Bakeman got involved with the Young Professionals of Greater Dowagiac, which restored community fireworks, attracted 400 people for its recent Daddy-Daughter Dance and is spearheading raising $40,000 for a Russom Park pavilion. He also urged creation of the Economic Development Opportunity Board, broadcasts Chieftain football games on the radio and was named to Moody on the Market’s “40 Under 40.”
“It always bothers me when people complain,” Bakeman said. “I say, ‘What are you doing about it?’ If I see something, I try to help. Right now I’m reading Dr. (Fred) Mathews’ book (Triumph Over Adversity for SMC’s 50th anniversary in 2014). They had to work hard to build (the college) but if you have a dream, a work ethic and you try, you can do anything. My dad always told me, ‘The only person stopping you from doing something is you.’ We need to teach our children that.”
“We don’t have to agree on things,” Bakeman said, “but I want to run positive campaigns because how we treat each other is important. If you ask someone to put a sign in their yard, they’re going to vote for you because people want to be part of something.”
Both mentioned how challenging communicating with their constituents is because of a multitude of information sources.
They offered advice to a Dowagiac Union High School senior with aspirations to study political science.
“Being in clubs helps,” said Bakeman, who learned parliamentary procedure as FFA president. “Put yourself with successful people doing good things because it rubs off on you.”
“Come to meetings,” Lucas suggested. “If you know someone running, volunteer for their campaign and get involved. I had a lot of misconceptions. Learning the process and background of how things come about was eye-opening. A lot of planning goes into running a city. The best part is being involved in decisions that are going to last for a long time and impact a lot of people.”
“I feel grateful I’m all over Dowagiac all the time, so I can let people know what’s going on so they can be more informed,” Bakeman said. “It’s a good way to meet people. Danielle and I wouldn’t be friends” if they hadn’t embraced the political process.