There was strong disagreement Monday night in a debate of the major-party candidates running for Michigan’s northernmost seat in Congress, on topics ranging from the economy and deficits to healthcare and the Great Lakes, and at times the sparring grew personal.
The 1st Congressional debate was sponsored and moderated by Interlochen Public Radio and the Petoskey News-Review before a live audience estimated at close to 400 at North Central Michigan College. The debate was also broadcast live on IPR News stations across northwest Michigan.
It rebroadcasts Wednesday and Sunday at 1:00pm.
A few interesting highlights:
The candidates were asked whether global warming is a major threat to the Great Lakes.
“Climate is definitely warming, responded Democrat Gary McDowell. He said it’s leading to lower lake levels. “It’s causing more evaporation on the Great Lakes. And we don’t get the ice cover we used to have so we get more evaporation year round.”
But Republican Dan Benishek said he’s not convinced the planet is warming, nor that lake levels can be attributed to global climate change. He said lower lake levels on lakes Michigan and Huron may be linked to dredging in the basin below Lake Huron at Lake St. Clair.
“Is it global warming? I don’t know. The Lake Superior levels aren’t significantly changed. The Lake Erie levels are actually higher.”
Troops In Afghanistan
On foreign affairs, McDowell and Benishek both agreed the troops should return from Afghanistan.
“They’ve served admirably, but we need to get them home as soon as possible,” said McDowell, who also argued for better veteran’s services.
“I voted to defund the war on Afghanistan every chance I had,” said Benishek, who grew emotional, saying the troops should not be fighting overseas without an official declaration of war from Congress.
On the economy, Benishek argued federal regulations and an uncertain tax code are “killing small businesses.”
“The other thing about the economy is that the president’s health care bill is costing them more money,” he says. “Employers are concerned that these over-regulations are making it difficult for them to hire.”
While McDowell agreed small business is vital to the northern Michigan economy, and that we need to “keep taxes low,” he focused on protecting natural resources such as mining and the Great Lakes to spur economic growth, “for the 500,000 jobs right here in Michigan alone that the Great Lakes create.”
“We have to make sure we invest in public education and higher education,” he continued. “We need to train our workers to be the most productive, highest quality possible to compete in a global economy.”
On issues ranging from the Great Lakes, to funding for small airports and veterans services, McDowell attacked Benishek’s voting record in Congress.
“It’s amazing to hear a professional politician keep repeating the same falsehoods and then hoping they become true,” responded Benishek.
But McDowell, who was elected to statewide office in 2004, said his wife took issue with his being called a career politician. He said he worked for decades as a farmer and UPS driver.
“She’s asking me now, ‘I hear Mr. Benishek constantly calling you a career politician. I want to know where you were going for those 33 years.’”
That prompted laughter from the crowd.
The candidates meet again tonight at the Traverse Area District Library, in a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters Grand Traverse Area.