Longtime American Promise volunteer and 28th Amendment champion Hal Gurian’s advocacy work has gone full circle as he throws his hat into the political ring as a candidate for Grand Traverse County Commission in Michigan—and continues his work to end the dominance of big money in politics by signing the American Promise Candidate Pledge. 

Advocacy work often builds strong ties to the community as well as a pull to do more to help others. 

Hal Gurian is a shining example of this: A few years ago, his concerns about gerrymandering spurred him to get involved with a Michigan campaign group called Voters Not Politicians, where he met others in the area who shared his concerns about dysfunction in the U.S. government. 

Through this work, Hal determined that the issue at the root of this dysfunction is money in politics. “Money in politics, I believe, is the most corrupting force in this country,” says Hal, a retired small business owner who lives in Traverse City. “It prevents legislation that helps the people. Rather, it helps the contributor, which is either unions or corporations.” 

Determined to work toward solutions to the issue, Hal started working with the American Promise Michigan chapter. Last year, Hal attended the National Citizen Leadership Conference and Lobby Day, visiting Capitol Hill to meet with members of his congressional delegation and encourage their support of the 28th Amendment by signing on to the American Promise Candidate Pledge.

Recently, Hal decided to take his democracy reform work a step further and run for public office, as a Republican candidate for the Grand Traverse County Commission. In his campaign, Hal is advocating for balanced, transparent and objective leadership and working with others to find compromise. 

Hal’s journey with the 28th Amendment has come full circle—from citizen advocacy to candidate action—as he recently signed the American Promise Candidate Pledge, promising if elected to advance the amendment and reduce the influence of money in politics. One of American Promise’s citizen-led programs, more than 250 candidates for local, state, and federal offices have signed the Candidate Pledge

Reaching Across the Aisle

As a self-described “political junkie,” Hal says his decision to run for public office was motivated by seeing how money prevents or defeats initiatives most Americans support, such as creating a path for Dreamers to achieve full citizenship, and polarizes our political system, discouraging bipartisan cooperation. 

“I believe strongly that all issues on the table should be discussed in a reasonable, respectful way,” Hal says. “First and foremost, the American people want the two major parties to work in a bipartisan manner.” 

Hal has demonstrated this cross-partisanship in his advocacy work: While at Capitol Hill in 2019 for Citizen Lobby Day, Hal teamed up with fellow Michigander John DeSpelder, a lifelong Democrat, to meet with members of the Michigan congressional delegation and their staff members. 

Now Hal hopes to bring this attitude of respect and collaboration to his local County Commission. “All of the big issues we face—education reform, the budget deficit, health care, infrastructure, energy—are complicated issues that can only be solved by compromise and reaching across the aisle.”

Finding Shared Solutions

By signing the American Promise Candidate Pledge, Hal is standing up for the people in his community and working to ensure their voice is heard in policy decisions—from the local to the federal level—that affect their lives. As an example, he points to education policy. 

“The goal should be what is best for the children,” he says. “However, both political parties are corrupted by donations and lobbying, either from teacher unions or charter school advocates. The end result is children suffer because of money’s prevailing influence.”

With his background in small business as well as military service, Hal has seen that organizations are stronger when people work together on shared solutions. With the economic challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he says local governments must focus on what will best serve their communities now as well as the long term. 

“We can’t afford to spend valuable time on issues that don’t directly help us confront the very real challenges that we face,” Hal says. “We must address these current fiscal realities while at the same time planning for the future.”