By Anne Stanton
Usually, the Democrats and Republicans are sure to differ on one
issue and thats how they stand on the issue of abortion. In the case
of the First Congressional raceU.S. Rep. Bart Stupaks current
seatall three candidates oppose legalized abortion, even in the case
of rape and incest.
So mark that issue off your list. But there is still lots to talk
about for the First Congressional seat that covers the Upper
Peninsula and the northeast corner of the Lower Peninsula.
In this race, none of the candidates come from wealthy families; all
three put themselves through college by working and with student
State Representative Gary McDowell, a Democrat, is the most
experienced politician of the three, although is by no means a career
politician. He runs a hay farm out of Rudyard with his two brothers,
and drove for UPS for 33 years before becoming a state representative
McDowell is running against Glenn Wilson, who rose from humble
circumstances to become a well-to-do software and telecom
entrepreneur. Wilson is running as an independent, but his campaign
manager is Rich Carlson, president of the Petoskey Tea Party.
The Republican candidate, Dan Benishek, is leading in the polls. He is
a semi-retired surgeon who lives near Iron Mountain and shares
Wilsons desire to cut government programs, but differs on his stance
against accepting contributions from political action committees and
special interest groups.
The race is drawing intense national interest: the National Republican
Congressional Committee, the American Future Fund and Americans for
Prosperity have spent or reserved a combined $1.2 million to run TV
ads against McDowell in all six media markets serving the rural 1st
District since the primary. Benishek, by the way, has no control over
the ads run by the groups.
Express interviewed all three candidates by phone last week. Heres an
edited synopsis of what they said:
State Representative Gary McDowellKeep Social Security, create jobs
McDowell, 58, grew up in the Upper Peninsula, the oldest of 10 kids
who worked on their family farm in Rudyard. He worked his way through
Lake Superior State, although he didnt graduate. He still works his
1,000-acre farm, which brokers hay to quality horses in Kentucky and
Florida. McDowell also drove for the United Parcel Service until
2003, when he ran for the Michigan House of Representatives. Hes been
a volunteer firefighter, EMT, and also served for 22 years as a
Chippewa County Commissioner,
McDowell said that his biggest issue is to create a better future for
the state and the entire country, and that begins with jobs.
In Northern Michigan, we have opportunities with renewable fuels,
with our biomass and wood products and agricultural lands. To create
jobs right here in Michigan using our own resources that cant be
exported to create clean fuels.
He believes that Michigan forests can be managed in a wise and
responsible manner so that biomass plants here wont be forced to
import wood as some European biomass plants must do now.
To improve jobs, in part, involves helping peopleyoung and oldafford
skyrocketing college and trade school tuitions. When he attended
Lake Superior State, tuition was $300 a semester. Now its more than
$4,500, he said.
People who are losing their work need to be retrained, and its very
difficult for them to afford to help with that. The pay-off for the
investment in jobs is many times over if it helps them get a job and
In addition to emphasizing renewable energy related jobs, he wants to
fix unfair trade and monetary policies so that jobs wont continue to
leave the country.
Right now, companies are rewarded in the tax code to move jobs out of
the country. We cant do that. We have to stop those trade policies,
where jobs are going overseas to countries that have no labor laws, no
environmental regulations, and then exporting those same goods. The
one that really hurt us was NAFTA, which gave our neighboring
countries an unfair advantage. Im not opposed to free trade, but it
has to be fair. They have to abide by the same environmental
restrictions as we do. If theyre poisoning a river, you tell them we
dont buy their products. It gives them an unfair advantage to be able
to pollute and we all share the same planet.
Social Security has become a top issue in the campaign, with McDowell
criticizing Benisheks stand on privatizing and eliminating Social
Thats his own statement when hes spoken at a tea party. And to
privatize it, he wants to allow people to invest the money in the
stock market, and that would be turning our Social Security fund to
the same people who were so careless and so responsible for our
financial melt down two years ago. They were reckless with our savings
and home mortgages; they caused people to lose30 percent with their
401Ks, which was their retirement. I will oppose giving our money to
these Wall Street traders. (See Benisheks response below.)
Social Security has a $2.5 trillion surplus, but is expected to run
out of money in 25 years, according to Stephen Goss, the Social
Security Administrations chief actuary.
McDowell proposes to avert the crisis with a bipartisan effort, just
as Congress did in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president and
formed a commission.
We need to maintain Social Security, we have to protect it. Its a
social contract from one generation to the next. The retirees want
peace of mind and dignity, they want to know theyll be able to live.
It also helps younger families who lose a breadwinner. So many of our
seniors used to live in poverty, and now they have help with Social
Security. Now the largest group in poverty is our children; they are
going to bed hungry and we need to do everything we can. Yet Dr.
Benishek has said on the record over and over again that he opposes
all government programs. His constant theme is to cut government
spending. I guess you can surmise he wants to eliminate these
McDowell believes that even in the wake of the Party of No, theres
still hope of working together to solve the nations problems.
Youve got to elect people who are willing to do it, who have a
history of working together, whos not spouting off rhetoric. If
youre yelling at people, you cant hear them. In my political life,
Ive always respected other peoples opinions.
In terms of campaign contributions and the influence they have on
politicians, McDowell believes citizens hold responsibility for
sorting out fact from fiction.
If we had an informed electorate it doesnt matter. If people know
how the candidates feel, and it reflects their beliefs, money would
have no influence in politics then. Thats the number one thing;
people really understanding the issues and the candidates positions.
And without our system of political contributions, only the wealthy
would be able to run for office, he said.
Speaking of wealth, would McDowell extend the tax cuts for couples
earning $250,000 or more per year, thus gaining $700 billion in the
next ten years in revenues?
I would extend tax cuts for low income and middle income, but Im not
sure about the upper limit of $250,000, maybe a little higher than
that. We have to get real about this deficit. The rich, theyve had a
great 10 years, a great ride, and it might be time for them to pay
their own fair share.
McDowell said he hasnt studied the tax system or whats called a
Fair Tax, but believes the country must move toward a more fair and
equitable system so that people who can afford to pay taxes actually
Glenn Wilson (Congress is controlled by big money contributors)
Glenn Wilson, 46, chose to run an independent because he believes the
other two parties are beyond redemption.
People are fed up with the corruption with both parties, which are
controlled by PACs, lobbyists and special interest groups.
Wilson said he plans to run three commercials, the first with two
hefty guys playing the mafia dons of the Democratic and Republican
parties, who connive on how to control Michigan.
Wilson has a deep radio voicea contrast to his boyish face. He grew
up on a small farm in Morley (near Big Rapids) with his dad, a
disabled veteran, and joined the Army National Guard. Then it was on
to Ferris State (funded by student loans and the G.I. bills), where he
studied mechanical engineering. He didnt graduate, instead accepting
a high-paying job in his last semester to support five children.
His career break came when he was designing a Subway oven for a
manufacture in Menominee, and was asked if he could program a
hand-held data collection device.
I arrogantly said sure. Not a clue on what I was doing. So for the
next six months, I worked around the clock for Cymbol Technologies.
That job ultimately led to Wilsons entrepreneurial career. His
current businesses, M-33 Access and Michigan Access, provide
high-speed Internet and phone service in the rural areas in northeast
Michigan. Now a millionaire, he is a donor and fundraiser for
schools, the Humane Society, and Little League.
He has two major aims: campaign finance reform and to create jobs by
leveling the playing field for small businesses.
If they hadnt done NAFTA and CAFTA, wed still have fair trade
those two policies have sucked the life out of Northern Michigan. The
small businesses have been crushed and devastated by it. All the car
parts that were once made in Michigan, theyre dried up and gone
I have thousands of customers and people are calling me crying; they
dont know how to come up with a $20 Internet bill. These people have
been with me for 10 years, theyre crying. Ive been in town after
town, and people dont know if theyll make it through the winter.
Summers are when they make the money, and they dont have it.
Yet Wilson is a strong critic of food stamps and government assistance
programs that now help poor families. He would slowly phase out Social
Security, which assists people in their old age and those who are
permanently disabled. Under his plan, benefits would remain
untouchable for those 55 years or older. Meanwhile, hed phase out
federal Social Security, replaced by states creating programs that
would help only the extremely poor. We have the responsibility to
secure our own retirement, he said.
And in that same spirit, Wilson is against giving special tax breaks
as an enticement to individual companies. Why should anyone get a
special anything? Hell also work to stop giving state tax money to
the federal government, only to have it return to Michigan attached
with rules and regulations. Hed also eliminate food stamps and
college grants for students, except for the very poor.
I went to college. Going to college didnt entitle me to get food
stamps. Now every college student is encouraged to get a bridge card.
You are making matters worse. Not everyone can go to college. Sorry.
You will find no candidate, no one, who cares more about schools
than I do. Im saying you need to find a job that can pay for tuition
and businesses need to pay lower taxes so they can hire the college
On the other hand, he supports public health care to veterans,
although he wants to improve the program so vets wouldnt have to
drive to distant regional facilities.
Wilson said he would not have bailed out General Motors, even though
many northern Michigan companies manufacture car parts for GM.
Do you mean Government Motors? No. The people who bought stock in GM,
we got ripped off. Everyone else was taken care of. They unprecedently
crushed a history of bankruptcy, gave money to unsecured creditors
over the secured. The whole process was insane!
Wilson said the way to bring manufacturing back to the country is with
tariffs and levies.
Free market, yes, but if you have fair and balanced trade. If they
say no tariffs or levies, as soon as a company is big enough, they
harvest our raw materials, send it off to China where they put it into
a base product, wrap it, tag it and sell it at Wal-Mart cheaper than
we can make it in our backyard. This is crazy! How can any company
Which brings up the question of cheap migrant labor.
Securing borders is a Tea Party issue, and Wilson agrees with the
controversial Arizona immigration law. If you are here illegally
youve gotta go. Thats jobs for our people now, he said. The only
problem I have with it is you just want to make sure people are not
He also thinks children who are born in this country should not be
considered U.S. citizens if their parents are migrant workers from
Wilsons biggest beef is campaign finance reform.
I would make that seriously a top issue. Dan Benishek is in
Washington D.C. trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from
PACs, and thats money not even coming from this district. So tell
meif Dans elected, is he going to take a phone call from a group
that gave him thousands of dollars or a call from Bob across the
street? Gary McDowell is getting money out of Lansing, out of D.C.
When it comes down to it, Democrats and Republicans have both been
in power, and weve gotten progressively worse. Both parties are
guilty. They work for the people who are paying for their campaigns.
The only way to change it is for citizens to stand up and say, We
will not vote for the people who are bought and paid for any longer.
We need to hold this seat for the citizens. If nothing else, it will
shock both parties to getting their act together.
Wilson, who accepts contributions only from individuals, said that the
corporate influence on politicians has trickled down to the mystery
taxes that appear on your phone bill.
As an Internet phone company, I see it all the time! The 13.1 percent
tax for universal service funds. Its another big bureaucracy to
spread the wealth. The ETC fund, its huge dollars to hook up homes
in rural areas. Its a good idea, but the private companies that do it
are getting so much money per home, its ridiculous!
Another beef: attaching ridersprovisions that are added to bills that
have little or nothing to do with the issue.
I believe in one subject per bill please with no earmarks. Why do
they lump 9,000 riders, attachments and earmarks for a single law?
Its crazy! They are buying each others votes. The Obama health care
bill is a nightmare. On page 1,312, it funds a civilian military
force. Why would a civilian military force be in our health care
Wilson favors extending the tax cuts for couples earning $250,000 or
more because its an arbitrary number that lumps small businesses in
But I have a problem with the tax code --there are more than 67,000
pages of loopholes and twists for special interests. The average
person cant file their taxes. And the upper wealthy can afford to pay
a lawyer to get out of paying their taxes.
What does he think of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Bring our troops home! There would have to be a phase-out period,
where we tell these people, Hey, step up to the plate. Youve gotta
pay for our guys to be there. If they want us there, they can pay the
bill. If Japan wants defense, South Korea, South Vietnam, they can put
up the money.
Dan BenishekGovernment is not the answer
Dan Benishek, 58, grew up in the Upper Peninsula in the little town of
Iron River. His dad was killed in a mine when he was five years old.
Throughout his childhood, Benishek worked in a little hotel and bar
his family owned. He borrowed his way through Wayne State Medical
School to become a surgeon. Benishek returned to the Upper Peninsula
to practice medicine and now lives in the woods between Crystal Falls
and Iron River.
The reason I got into politics is the stimulus package. We spent $1
trillionmoney we dont have, and the politicians didnt read the
bill. I thought, Ive got to do something about this, not go fly
fishing everyday. I think Stupak voted for the cap and trade, so I
dont agree with that either.
Like McDowell and Wilson, the top issue for Benishek is getting jobs
back into Michigan and he believes the best way to do that is to cut
government spending. He would not have bailed out General Motors nor
would he end the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy.
I want to cut spending and regulations so we can get businesses to
make the jobs. I think theres been uncertainty in the small business
community. They dont know what their taxes will be, their health
care costs, and they dont want to invest.
Benishek denies that he wants to eliminate Social Security as McDowell charges.
My plan was, Im not going to change Social Security over the age of
55 so if youve been paying into it, you should get whats expected.
Those less than 55 should have an option to put a portion into a
personal account or a private account, like an IRA, and that would be
your money and you could pass it onto your children. Thats a
reasonable plan if Social Security will be bankrupt in 20 to 25
Benishek said if younger people put their Social Security taxes into a
private account, as he proposes, it would not bankrupt the fund even
There might be a dip in the cash flow, but eventually, the people,
they save, and it will be there for them. Over the long run, it works
out okay. I looked at Pat Lyons Road Map for the Future. It looks like
a decent plan. I know we need to face the issue, and solve the
problem. You cant do nothing. I didnt say stop Social Security for
old people. Thats ridiculous. Im trying to do the fiscally
responsible thing and keep the system solid. If you leave it alone,
its going to be bankrupt. There are not enough young people.
Although investing money in the stock market is risky, Benishek said
the investments could be guaranteed.
Medicare and Medicaid are also unfunded liabilities and must be
changed so they are fiscally responsible.
In 20 years, the money wont be there. We need to address how to fix
it. What does the government do really well? Not that much. I dont
know all the answers. I know we need to face the issues, talk about
them, find solutions.
Benishek said there are unintended consequences for vast government
programs. He believes people shouldnt rely on the government, but
get help from their neighbors. He was asked if it wouldnt be awkward
to ask your neighbors for food every week.
Well right, it would be. But people have St. Vincent DePauls, the
Salvation Army, there are a lot of ways people help people, and
thats a real good thing. I think its very difficult to take money
away and give it to someone else. When government does it they get
into trouble. Look at Haiti, Katrina; the best help was given by the
Red Cross and the government ended up wasting a ton of money. With the
government, a lot of stuff gets wasted, going to government officials.
You want to be concerned, but trying to help can make things worse.
Although Benishek has made government spending a major issue, he and
other conservatives have not focused on the cost of war. The U.S. has
spent more than $1 trillion on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and
continue to spend about $2 billion per week, according to the National
Priorities Project report.
Weve been in Afghanistan far too long, for nine years. I just dont
know the answer to how we get out of there. Im not an expert on
strategy and foreign policy. If it were an easy problem, we would
have solved it. I think everyone is tired of the war. But
specifically, what to do, Id have to be a lot better informed. The
generals should decide how to do that, not politicians like me.
On the topic of energy, Benishek believes that biomass open a unique
opportunity for Northern Michigan.
But we have to look at all the renewable resources produced in the
country. Its a great job producer. We do need to encourage that.
Hes also not sure if climate change is real, and isnt sure a tax
should be imposed on carbon-producing energy sources.
I think we should develop our energy at home like drilling for oil,
solar and wind and everything. Were not drilling for oil where we
could bein Dakota, oil in Canada, all kinds of oil we wouldnt have
Benishek and Wilson have similar philosophies for cutting government
spending, but theres a clear departure on campaign funding.
He (Wilson) is supposed to be rich, he has a lot of money, Benishek
said. I have my values and the people who support me and support my
values are supporting my campaign. So whats wrong with that? Theres
free speech, too, you know.
Ive got the four Rs: read it, reduce it, repeal it and reform it.
We need to reduce spending, taxes; we need to repeal Obamacare, the
health care reform act; and we need to reform government and bring it
back to our Constitution.
As a surgeon, Benishek said it is his job to find solutions to problems.
This is the same thing. Im willing to listen to people and find
solutions. I freely admit I dont know all the answers, but I dont
believe government is the answer.
Arguments over tax cuts for the wealthy coincide with a Forbes
magazine report that the 400 richest Americans saw their net worth
increase this year by 8 percent. Their good fortune contrasts with
lower and middle class families suffering record rates of joblessness
and home foreclosures. The top 1 percent of the richest Americans
(defined as those earning more than $360,000 per year), now own 18%
of the countrys wealth compared to 8% of the wealth in 1973. Social
mobility--the ability of a poor person to move into upper income
circles--has declined in the last 40 years, reported Timothy Noah in
a Slate magazine 10-part series.