Primary Election: Questions and Answers with the 18th District Democratic Senate Candidates

 08/06/2018 - 00:25

On Tuesday, citizens of Saline will cast votes in the August primary. Most likely, they’ll elect their next state senator.

Jeff Irwin, Michelle Deatrick, Anuja Rejandra and Matthew Miller, all residents of Ann Arbor, are seeking vying to be the Democratic Party nominee on the November ballot. The winner of Tuesday’s election will face Republican Martin Church, of Ypsilanti, and most likely be the heavy favorite to become stat senator for the 18th District – which, because comprises Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, leans heavily Democratic. The seat is currently held by Sen. Rebekah Warner.

We sent the following questions to the candidates. Irwin, Deatrick and Rejandra replied. We were unable to reach Miller. Here are their answers.

Experience/Endorsements

Jeff Irwin

Experience in government: 6 years as a State Representative (serving as Vice Chair of the Judiciary Committee and on Appropriations, Energy and Technology, and Elections committees). 11 years as a Washtenaw County Commissioner (including 2 years as Chair of the Board of Commissioners and 2 years as Chair of the Ways and Means Committee).

Other relevant experience: 6 years with the League of Conservation Voters, 2 years as executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and 1 year as a Legislative Aide with State Senator Alma Wheeler Smith.

Key endorsements: Elected officials (partial list): Saline Mayor Brian Marl, Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum, Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner Evan Pratt, State Representative Yousef Rabhi, Pittsfield Township Treasurer Patricia Scribner, Superior Township Treasurer Brenda McKinney. A complete list is at www.irwinforsenate.com/supporters.

Organizations: Michigan Education Association, Michigan AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, Michigan Nurses Association, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Sierra Club, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Laborers International Union, UFCW, Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of Teachers Michigan, Teamsters Joint Council #43, Michigan Association for Justice, Citizens Protecting our Michigan Water, Equality Michigan Pride PAC, and Clean Water Action. I’ve also received a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and the Gun Sense Candidate designation from Moms Demand Action.

Michelle Deatrick

Experience in government:  Michelle currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. She beat a three-term Republican incumbent to win her seat, one of the rare red-to-blue flips statewide in 2016, and has been twice elected unanimously as Vice Chair by her fellow Commissioners. Michelle represents a large district in the east and northeast parts of the County, including the townships of Webster, Northfield, Salem, most of Superior, and Ann Arbor, as well as parts of the Cities of Dexter and Ann Arbor.

Michelle serves on a broad range of County committees, including committees which focus on: public works and infrastructure, food policy, community mental health, local public health, broadband equity, regional governance (SEMCOG), and agricultural land preservation. 

Among several successful initiatives, Michelle has successfully led efforts to:

  • Obtain matching funds to put fresh local farm food on student lunch plates in three County school districts;
  • Increase funding for short-term financial help to County residents facing emergency needs;
  • Ban purchase of Nestle water products by the County and its departments;
  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the County’s sexual and gender identity harassments and violence training and procedures, and implement changes as needed;
  • Increase the wages of the County’s contract mental health workers: I and others are working to ensure successful implementation of this measure.

 Other relevant experience: 

  • Michelle also serves the community through roles which include:
  • Lead organizer of the 2018 and 2017 Ann Arbor Women’s Marches; 
  • Lead Organizer, Ypsilanti March Against Trump (2017);
  • Arts and Culture Commission of the National Association of Counties;
  • Executive Board of the Michigan Democratic Party’s Justice Caucus;
  • Exec. Committee of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party;
  • Democratic National Committee member (she was elected on a reform platform in 2016).
  • Special Projects Director-Michigan, Bernie 2016 campaign 
  • Co-Founder, Michigan Small Farms Council
  • Education Policy Analyst

Key Endorsements:   AFT-Michigan, UAW, Lecturers' Employee Organization (AFT Michigan Local 6244, representing the UM Lecturers), Our Revolution, #VOTEPROCHOICE, Justice Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, Women for Justice, Leap Forward (Gun Safety Advocacy), Peace Corps to Politics, Political Revolution. Distinctions or support from: Moms Demand Action--Gun Sense Candidate; 100% Favorable Rating, Planned Parenthood-Michigan; AFSCME 3052; Yes She Can; Jim Toy Community Center "Extremely Positive" rating (highest possible rating) .

Anuja Rejandra

Experience in government: I was born in Michigan, have lived in Washtenaw County for over twenty years, and am raising my children here with my husband. I am not part of the establishment and I was not born into politics; rather, my comprehensive real-world experience mirrors our dynamic community’s more than anyone else in this race. I have been a people focused team builder, leader, and problem solver in the non-profit sector, private sector, and as a socially conscious small business owner in Michigan -focused on mental and physical health. I know this community and my experiences mirror many of yours. I have served on statewide and regional roles focused on youth and underserved populations. I am outraged at the lack of accountability, transparency, results, and lack of compassion, and sheer lack of representation in our state government. I’m running as a strong and inclusive voice for our values, and a mother from our community.

Other relevant experience: I have been a community activist and small business owner in this community for over twenty years. I have also was appointed to the Governor’s statewide Council on Physical Fitness and the State of Play task force formed by the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation and Aspen Institute. In 2015, I received a Congressional Award and was inducted into the Michigan Indian Women’s Hall of Fame for my contributions to health and wellness in Michigan. I have volunteered for many schools, libraries, and community service organizations. I have collaborated with nonprofits, small businesses, and schools, such as Beaumont Hospital, Ann Arbor Active Against ALS, and Mitch Albom’s S.A.Y. Clinic, to serve Michigan communities. I am a mentor with Walker’s Legacy, assisting women entrepreneurs. I am also an Ambassador for University of Michigan’s LEAD Scholars Program to support diversity and people of color and am a member of Mom’s Demand Action.

Key endorsements: A favorable rating from Planned Parenthood; The Mom’s Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate Designation; Ypsilanti Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo; Ypsilanti Township Trustee Jimmie Wilson; Washtenaw County Commissioner Rickie Jefferson; Ypsilanti Councilman Brian Robb; LGBT Activist Jim Toy.

 

What does the Democratic Party stand for?

Irwin

The Democratic Party stands for a democratically governed state with respect for human rights and an economy that works for all people. We stand for a better and more equitable education system with universal access to preschool and quality child care. We stand for clean air, clean water, and conservation of our natural resources. We stand for an economy where working people can afford decent housing, food on the table, and healthcare. We stand for policies that level the economic playing field and ensure equal opportunity for all citizens.

Deatrick

The Democratic Party should and must uphold a vision of an America which is more equitable, more compassionate, and more compassionate—and must work to make that vision a reality. We must recognize and dismantle institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, environmental injustice, and other forms of discrimination both within the Party itself and in our broader society. We need to examine, transform, and democratize our own policies—and I am glad to know that the DNC is doing exactly that right now: we are voting at our late August, 2018 meeting on the proposals of the Rules and Bylaws Committee to eliminate the role of the “superdelegates” in presidential primaries, along with a number of measures to improve voter engagement. But as a Party we must also uphold policies that create a strong social safety net, that provide opportunity for all, and that recognize historical and current inequities by working to change and compensate, as best we can, for them.

As a member of the Democratic National Committee, elected to represent Michigan on a reform platform, I am working with others to ensure the party upholds policies aligned with the above principles: excellent public educations for all students; a transition to a green energy economy; universal single-payer healthcare; a $15/hour minimum wage; fixing our infrastructure, and much more.

I believe that government can be a force for prosperity and justice—that we don’t have to choose—and that it can be both effective and compassionate.

Rejandra

The Democratic Party of the future must embody an America where individuals are treated better than corporations and all people have a fair opportunity to earn a living wage with dignity and respect. We are a forward thinking party, with common sense solutions to improve the lives of all Americans in a clean and safe environment. Whether the issue is educational equity, well paying jobs, safe and durable infrastructure, clean water and protection for our Great Lakes, or a seat at the table for all voices, the Democratic Party is a welcoming, inclusive, and dynamic movement with pragmatic solutions for everyone, from the sunrise to sunset phases of life. Democrats strive to listen to all voices and build on shared life experiences and values across party lines to solve the complex problems facing our country. Inclusion is the fabric of the Democratic Party, where everyone, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or ability status has the fair opportunity to reach their highest potential so that we all benefit.

 

What 3 issues must Michigan address and how should they be addressed?

Irwin

  1. Fix our education system

Our schools are the anchors of our communities and the biggest investments we can make in our long-term prosperity. Michigan used to be a top-ten state for education funding and results. Since then, we have reduced our commitment to schools. We need to reinvest in education and use those resources to keep class sizes down, restore fair compensation for educators, and increase access to higher education and vocational training institutions. Also, we must reduce the reliance on high-stakes testing that is taking time away from instruction and pushing schools to teach to the test.

  1. Protect clean water, clean air, and the Great Lakes

Michigan is known for our Great Lakes. We need to get serious about protecting our water from polluters and corporations that want to extract resources in ways that deplete the resource for other users and future generations. I will work to hold polluters accountable by restoring strict environmental cleanup standards, shifting our focus to renewable energy sources, and rebuilding our drinking water and sewer infrastructure.

  1. Rebuild the Michigan economy

Michigan state government has failed to invest in the foundations of a strong economy. To create a platform for community success and good-paying jobs, state government should: rebuild our roads and bridges; require workplace protections against discrimination; and restore funding to our human service system, ensuring that our seniors, the disabled, and the mentally ill are cared for.

Deatrick

  1. Education.

Our public education system is the lifeblood of our community and is crucial to democracy. This is why it’s so concerning that our public education system has been put into a downward spiral by the combination of a broken funding system and the use of public dollars for private, for-profit schools. The brokenness of our system manifests itself in vast inequities from one school district to the next; areas without a public school nearby; class sizes that are much too large for effective learning to occur; increasing teacher shortages; and more.   As an educator, an education policy analyst, and an elected leader, I’m dedicated to supporting our education system. We can create a vibrant public education system from preschool through college, with school environments where our children and youth love to learn. Working to achieve that vision of a system where problem solving, creativity, and a broad range of interests are nurtured will be one of my highest priorities.

  1. Environment. 

I am a strong advocate for: 1) fighting climate change; 2) preserving our natural areas and farmland; and ensuring clean, safe water and air. Michigan faces serious threats to water and air quality and availability all over the state, from industrial contaminants in water and air, to incineration of hazardous water, to the agricultural runoff threatening our Great Lakes, to the draining of our aquifers. We are also facing serious, accelerating levels of climate change that literally threaten  our entire planet. The issue of climate change is what originally impelled me to begin working for other candidates, and I believe it’s the defining issue of our time.

Our state government needs to:

  • Ban fracking and construction of new major fossil fuel infrastructure (such as DTE’s recently approved fracked-gas-to-energy plants in Michigan;
  • Implement a transition to a green, sustainable energy plan for Michigan;
  • Shut down Line 5 to protect our Great Lakes;
  • Increase Michigan’s solid waste surcharge, currently the lowest in the Great Lakes region, which will reduce the amount of garbage trucked in from out of state;
  • Improve air quality through regulating the polluters—air quality issues affect people of color disproportionately, causing asthma incidents and deaths;
  • Provide funding for local governments and schools to create their own net zero-carbon plans;
  • Support legislation to give local control via the Zoning Enabling Act to municipal government entities to create more stringent regulations than state law mandates with regard to natural resource extraction (no more Nestle water extraction!);
  • Create a detailed statewide water system infrastructure plan, which will identify the location and condition of our existing water, stormwater and sewer infrastructure, as well as expand on the recommendations in Michigan's 2017 "21st Century Infrastructure Plan."
  • Create a universal septic code to ensure clean soil and water;
  • Greatly increase monitoring and remediation efforts of the increasing number of local water contamination issues that we are aware of in Michigan, including lead, PFAS, and dioxane in Flint, Rockford, Ann Arbor, respectively;
  • Support "polluter pay" legislation;
  • Repeal the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual corporate tax giveaways which are in part responsible for the state’s general inability to address these environmental concerns. I would advocate for the repeal to result in increased funding of the MDNR and the MDEQ so that they can responsibly fulfill their monitoring and regulatory roles.
  1. Equity.

Our diversity is our treasure and our strength. All people—people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, women, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQ, and people of all faith traditions or none--deserve equal rights and equitable treatment under Michigan's laws, policing and judicial system. We need to examine all of our decisions and priorities through an equity perspective. If elected, I would seek to address these issues by: updating the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protected groups; ensure equitable funding for public schools that ensures all students receive excellent educations; create a universal, single-payer health care system that includes dental, vision, and mental health care coverage with low or no deductibles, among other priorities; transforming our criminal justice system to a rehabilitative system rather than a punitive one, and ensuring that substance use issues are treated as public health issues rather than criminal issues; and battling voter suppression of all types, from gerrymandering to long lines at the polls. (For the much more I envision, please see my website: www.VoteMichelle.com).

 

Rejandra

  1. Education.

Like millions of Michigan families, education has been critical to my success. It was my public school education that provided me with the foundation to earn two degrees at the University of Michigan and to start two socially conscious businesses. As a mom of four, including two adopted daughters, and as your next State Senator, I want my kids and all kids in Michigan to have the same opportunity for quality education and success. A high quality public education is the right of every child, not a privilege. We cannot address issues in silos and must recognize that education is connected to every aspect of our society from mental and physical health, to criminal justice. Every $1 we spend on education saves $5 in the criminal justice system. Michigan consistently ranks at the bottom in the nation on education rankings, and it is unacceptable that we are failing our children, and thereby ourselves. We must equitibily fund our schools, empower our teachers and support staff, and ensure that facilities have the infrastructure updates that they need. For children to be successful in school, they also need guaranteed healthcare, as do their families. When children or parents cannot access healthcare because of skyrocketing costs, we create environments that are not conducive to success. Ensuring that everyone has healthcare so that families are not burdened with these pressures is why I support single payer, and one of the first things I would do is introduce a study bill that would provide us with the structures to implement single payer at the state level.

  1. Infrastructure.

Michigan is in dire need of a comprehensive multi billion dollar infrastructure package that fixes our roads, bridges, water lines, and dams. Out of our crumbling roads and the preventable disaster in Flint, the state needs to take bold action to address Michigan’s infrastructure needs. As an engineer, I have unique insights on this issue, and would be at the forefront of introducing legislation that addresses these needs. Such legislation would be paid for by repealing the business tax cuts implemented by Governor Snyder early in his term and moving Michigan toward a fairer progressive tax rather than our current flat tax structure. In Michigan, we also have low hanging fruit which we need to level up on.

  1. Accountability and Transparency.

As one of only two states where the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to either the state legislature or governorship, in addition to receiving an ‘F’ grade from the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, Michigan needs to act on its lack of transparency. Disasters, like the Flint Water Crisis, and general corruption can be stopped in their infancies if we have an open government. As public servants, state officials should have nothing to hide from their constituents. These are not red state/blue state or progressive/conservative issues; these are issues that we need address in order to fulfill our commitment as public servants to better our state.

 

The establishment Democratic Party candidate lost in the primary and in the general election. The Democrats fared poorly throughout the rust belt. Why is the party struggling to connect with working class voters? What issues will you champion on their behalf?

Irwin

The Democratic Party is struggling to connect with working class voters because some party leaders have neglected the issues important to working people. When I was a state representative, I fought for change that would help working class voters: the first bill I introduced provided tax relief for working families with a graduated income tax. This legislation would have reduced taxes for 95% of taxpayers, but because income inequality is so dramatic, this legislation would have also increased revenue for schools and roads. I also will continue to introduce legislation to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, provide teachers a tax credit for money they spend on school supplies, and support affordable child care, better school funding, and funding to rebuild our infrastructure. The Democratic Party should be more focused on ideas like these that invest in our long-term economic prosperity, create good jobs, and provide for a more fair tax system.

Also, many party leaders are disconnected from the concerns of middle-income families because they don’t personally identify with the struggles of these people. I’m very proud of the overwhelming support I have from organized labor and that my campaign is funded by people rather than corporations or personal wealth.

Deatrick

The Democratic Party’s once strong, and now tenuous, connection to working class and rural voters continues to weaken. Increasing the Party’s “respect” for these voters—a commonly heard solution—is of course crucial but also entirely inadequate. Real, systemic change in the relationship of the Democratic Party to state and local parties, candidates, and voters is urgently needed.

In 2016, I beat a three-term Republican incumbent to win my seat on the County Board of Commissioners, in one of the very rare red-to-blue flips in Michigan that election cycle. We won that seat by talking to over 20,000 voters across the district, by listening, and by connecting over concerns about infrastructure, the environment, and governance.  

Strengthening the Democratic Party’s focus on local elections, from school board to county commissioner, is a crucial and largely overlooked aspect to earning support from all voters. Michigan’s County Commissions, for example, are overwhelmingly majority Republican even though voters statewide are much more evenly split. We need Democrats on school boards and library boards and county commissions, demonstrating a real dedication to local service and building relationships with communities.

Rejandra

I believe that change always begins within and we cannot change any individual or party without expanding our own capacities first. We must become better, adapt, evolve and bring in those who feel they have been left behind. The Democratic Party needs to emerge as the party of inclusivity, even when it’s hard and even when it’s not convenient, including how we welcome new candidates such as myself who do in fact espouse our values. We need to listen without judgment to the lives and experiences of people from all walks of life, even when we don’t agree on 100% of issues. I believe that we can do a better job of meeting people where they’re at. Some of the things we hear may conflict with our own perspectives; however, we must recognize that each individual knows her/his own truth and we must seek to uncover common values and bridge humanistic connections. Simply showing up, and being open to expanding our points of view, demonstrates that we care and I believe that we should do more of this. We cannot be theoretical democrats; rather, I believe that we need to live the values we preach. If we are able to put these ideas into practice, we will be able to connect with voters from all walks of life, including working class voters.

The issues I will champion include tackling our growing income inequality, a comprehensive infrastructure package, and addressing the skyrocketing costs of healthcare. Wages have been stagnant for decades in Michigan, while the cost of living has gone up - we need a $15 minimum wage, a graduated income tax to level the playing field, and ensuring that all people receive equal pay for equal work. Our roads are crumbling, and as an engineer, I have unique insights on how to tackle the infrastructure crisis facing our state. I will champion a multi-billion dollar infrastructure package, with a specific emphasis on quality construction. No one should have to fear going into bankruptcy because of healthcare, which is why I support the adoption of single payer. I will introduce a study bill so we can evaluate the costs and create a blueprint of how we implement single payer in healthcare.

 

Gov. Snyder and the Republican legislators have cut business taxes. That’s left local communities – and residential taxpayers – holding the bag if they want to maintain services. What role, if any, should the state play in helping maintain and develop local infrastructure?

Irwin

The State of Michigan must take a more active role in supporting local governments and the critical services they provide. It starts with providing sufficient resources to fix our roads, bridges, and water infrastructure. I will continue to advocate for more road funding, and I will re-introduce my legislation to issue Clean Michigan bonds to finance necessary drinking water and sewer infrastructure improvements at the local level. Also, the state needs to keep its promise to provide revenue sharing dollars to local governments so that cities, counties, and townships have the resources to meet local needs.

Deatrick

Michigan stands out as having some of the poorest and most underfunded infrastructure in the nation, and this is the direct result of poor choices made by our elected leaders in Lansing and D.C. Only 19% of roads in southeast Michigan are rated as in good condition. As a member of the County’s Broadband Equity committee, I am keenly aware that over 50% of Washtenaw County, geographically, has no high-speed internet. Statewide, 50% of homes have no statewide internet. We are behind on the money-saving, job-generating movement to 100% renewable energy, and our water systems are in disrepair.

The terrible state of Michigan’s infrastructure affects economic growth, property values and our children’s education. And investments in infrastructure are a win-win, creating good-paying local jobs, stimulating the local economy, increasing property values (and therefore local tax revenues), and making Michigan a more desirable place to live.

The state’s system for funding local government is dysfunctional. Lansing needs to fulfill its commitment to statutory revenue sharing. We need to end the corporate welfare and use the money to invest in infrastructure and education, and to strengthen our social safety net.

Rejandra

The state needs to play a significant role in maintaining and developing local infrastructure. I will fight to repeal the business tax cuts implemented by Gov. Snyder and Republicans so that we can restore funding to local communities. Beyond that, we need a multi-billion dollar infrastructure package to address our crumbling infrastructure. Michigan must significantly invest in infrastructure by using the latest technological advances to rebuild roads, increase broadband access, especially in rural areas, and build a world-class  public transportation system. This will help address local needs as well as state needs, because simply restoring the funding to local municipalities will not be enough to fix the needs that we have. I would like to significantly boost funding for local municipalities so that they have the ability to make the improvements needed and maintain their infrastructure for decades to come.

 

Away from the politics and the votes, in what ways do you see a state senator and the senator’s staff serving the constituents?

Irwin

Service to constituents is a top priority for my office. As a state representative, I prided myself on regular communication, regular town halls, responsiveness to constituent questions, and direct service to people in need. While I’m proud of the accomplishments I had as a state representative that helped many people — like securing over $300 million in additional federal food assistance for 328,000 of our neediest citizens — I’m also proud of the numerous times we helped individual people. I spent countless hours in the Department of Health and Human Services office trying to help my constituents. That’s why I also focus on hiring good, caring people who know how to help people navigate the bureaucracy of state government. Sometimes it’s a vulnerable senior that needs their home health aide right away, sometimes it’s a small business owner that needs to get through some regulatory hoops, and sometimes it’s a taxpayer who is getting the runaround from Treasury or Unemployment. In all of these situations, we follow up to ensure people get the service they deserve from state government.

Deatrick

We face challenges today that are urgent, and we need a different approach from our electoral leaders. We need a state senator who will use this position of privilege to help build the grassroots movement that is so crucial for creating a state that offers equity, meaningful opportunity, and compassionate support to all. I envision being present in the community in a meaningful way: participating in events, of course, but also connecting with and listening to and consulting with elected leaders, grassroots organizations, and constituents—and helping to grow the connections among these groups. As my endorsements by grassroots activists and activist groups, such as Residents Against the Rover Pipeline, attest: I am passionate about mentoring groups, helping to amplify underrepresented and unheard voices and concerns, and speaking truth to power. This work is not about me: this is work we need to do together. I am looking forward to it.

Rejandra

I believe that our next State Senator must represent our community both in Lansing and also as a visible and accessible presence within the 18th District. As your next State Senator, I will work tirelessly to advance legislation which reflects our district by working with my thirty-seven colleagues in the state senate while remaining firmly rooted in our districts values. I will also take a leading role in addressing the needs of this community in district. I was born in Michigan and I have lived in Washtenaw County for over two decades. I know this community and am committed to serve in additional ways including activism, powering community interconnectedness, and as a steadfast and accessible presence in all parts of the district. I am looking forward to taking an active role in bridging and uplifting the various areas of the district, working with residents to pollinate small businesses, and attract more investment into our district. I believe that our communities could benefit tremendously from closer governmental and cultural relationships. Expanding cross community exchanges and working together to address the housing challenges that many of our residents are facing are issues I am looking forward to working on. Achieving actual results and bringing seemingly disparate interests and communities together is an area where I have excelled and this is a necessary skill for an effective State Senator. As a socially conscious small business owner who has focused on mental and physical health in Michigan, I will be attuned to the needs of every constituent in the district. When we work to improve the lives of those that are struggling most we lift everyone up. My dedication to actualizing the hopes of this district's residents informs my drive for continuous self-improvement. We need leaders that are willing to ask themselves how they can expand their own capacities and enact a growth mindset to better meet the needs of their constituents.

 

 

Tran Longmoore's picture
Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is a veteran community journalist. He is founder and owner of TheSalinePost.com. He is co-publisher of The Saline Post weekly newspaper. Email him at tran@thesalinepost.com or call him at 734-272-6294.

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