Or that his challenger, Gary McDowell, a Democrat and former state representative from Rudyard, is a farmer?
If you live in Northern Michigan, it’s hard to turn on your TV and not hear a message from one of them.
The race for the Michigan’s 1st Congressional seat is one of the hardest fought in the nation this election cycle, and the result is that Michigan residents from Marquette to Manistee have been besieged with television advertisements from each of them and political organizations working on their behalf.
Each candidate has fought to position himself as a down-home outsider.
Through an email interview, the Express sought to ask questions that would help readers distinguish between the candidates.
Northern Express: For Dr. Benishek, when is the last time you actually saw and treated a patient?
Dan Benishek: I practiced medicine for nearly 30 years and last treated patients in 2010 right before I decided to run for Congress.
NE: For Mr. McDowell, when is the last time you actually lifted a bale of hay?
Gary McDowell: I was cutting and moving hay this summer and was throwing around some bales in one of our barns just two weeks ago. I have been a farmer my entire life and even on the campaign trail I find time to get some work in with my brothers on our farm.
NE: You both seem to be running four or five negative commercials for every positive commercial. Why?
Benishek: Personal attacks are unwarranted and take away from political dialogue. However, I find it very important to present the facts, like the fact that Gary supports Obama’s healthcare law that guts $716 billion from Medicare, $2 billion of that coming from right here in the first district. Gary has a long record from his time as a career politician and I think it is important that the voters know his record of supporting failed big government policies that decimate our economy, like the Michigan Business Tax and the Granholm Stimulus. Not negative, just his record.
McDowell: My ads tell the story about my life spent on the farm, my plans to protect Medicare, protect Northern Michigan jobs and preserve our Great Lakes. I also think it is important in a campaign to show the differences between the candidates running so voters can make an informed decision.
NE: Has the Citizens United decision helped or hurt your campaign efforts? Has it helped or hurt voters?
Benishek: I’m a doctor, so you would have to ask the political analyst about that. I am focused on doing my job as your congressman and helping the people of Northern Michigan.
McDowell: The Citizen’s United decision was one of the worst court decisions in recent memory. It opened the floodgates to unlimited, secret, corporate spending that has done nothing more than polarize our country and pour millions of dollars into elections. The Supreme Court was wrong to uphold Citizens United and I favor an amendment to overturn it.
NE: What lesson is your campaign teaching children about courtesy?
Benishek: I think it’s important that families are engaging in the political process... I have five children and three grandchildren and they’re frankly the reason I ran for congress in the first place. Many of my family members were involved in my first campaign and still very active today. I’m proud of the campaign I’m running and hopefully the votes I’ve taken will ensure that the same opportunities I had are preserved for their generation as well.
McDowell: Respect and common courtesy are missing from today’s politics. I have never seen such polarization and bickering in my life. It is bad for our politics and it is hurting or country and our economy. I hope that my campaign is teaching children that anyone, even a farmer and a UPS delivery driver, can run for office in this country. I hope it is teaching them that there are differences in this election and that I will fight to protect their families, their education and their futures.
NE: What is the most important issue facing the country in the next two years?
Benishek: Look, right now the federal government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends. Career politicians in Washington have spent recklessly and now our federal debt is over $16 trillion. That is all money that will have to be paid back by our children and grandchildren.
Plain and simple we need to stop spending more money than we take in. I can’t spend 40 percent more than I make each year and neither can families in Northern Michigan. That’s just common sense. We need to start reducing federal spending now.
I support common sense measures like a balanced budget amendment that would prevent the government from spending more than it takes in.
But Gary McDowell and his allies in Washington oppose a balanced budget amendment. Gary supports the President’s health care law and stimulus plan that borrow more money from China to pay for bigger government programs.
McDowell: The most important issue facing the country is fixing our economy and creating jobs.
NE: What is the most important issue facing Northern Michigan in the next two years?
Benishek: It’s about jobs and the economy. I know many families in Northern Michigan are hurting right now. In this tough economy, a lot of moms and dads in our area are finding it hard to pay their bills and plan for the future. It’s tough to find work. We need to get this economy moving. I spent this summer on my 100 small business tour and am currently on my 32 in 32 tour. During the tours I visited with job providers in Northern Michigan and they told me how the uncertain tax code, the new healthcare law and the over-regulation are hurting their ability to hire. And that is why I want to bring some certainty to the tax code, repeal and replace the job-killing healthcare law and reduce the over burdensome regulations so our children can find work here in Northern Michigan.
Look, there is a clear difference between Gary and me. He supports the new healthcare law, which takes $716 billion from Medicare and is a massive tax increase to all Americans.
McDowell: Regular working people, students and recent graduates are hurting here in Northern Michigan. We must get our economy back on track and get people back to work. To do that we keep taxes low on small businesses and regular people who have to work for a living. We fight to preserve and protect the Great Lakes, not just for their natural beauty but for the 500,000 jobs they provide in Michigan in agriculture, tourism, fishing, the list goes on. We must protect the jobs and the tremendous economic activity that our specialty crop growers provide here in Northern Michigan. Now more than ever we need a Farm Bill that provides crop insurance to our growers here and protects our farming families and the millions of dollars of economic activity they create right here in Northern Michigan.
NE: How relevant is the Tea Party to this race?
Benishek: I think it’s important for all individuals and groups of individuals to engage in the political process. Our system of self government depends on free people engaging in the process and whatever groups engage in the process, the process is better for it.
McDowell: The Tea Party was certainly a force in the 2010 elections. But an even greater force was voter apathy. Across the country, millions of voters stayed home because they didn’t think the election mattered. Now, two years later, voters, taxpayers and working people see that elections have consequences and they are energized. Voting is the most important right we have in America – we need to exercise it on November 6th.
NE: What does the term “Obamacare” mean to you?
Benishek: My opponent, Gary McDowell, supports the president’s new health care law. This law doesn’t lower costs for families in Northern Michigan. In fact, health care costs continue to rise.
But the health care law does cut Medicare by $716 billion, $2 billion here in the first district. That’s $69 million in Emmet County and $200 million in Grand Traverse County. These cuts will hurt seniors in Northern Michigan.
The law will reduce payments to providers, which means that many rural hospitals here in Northern Michigan will close forcing many families to drive two plus hours to receive care. That’s no way to fix health care.
McDowell: Since the President has embraced the term Obamacare, I think it is a fine way to describe the Affordable Care Act. I support reforms that stop insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions but I am concerned about potential new costs to small businesses and will fight to make sure that we reduce costs and fix what doesn’t work.
As a hospital trustee for 25 years and a volunteer EMT, I know that all Americans need access to quality affordable care – we do that by stopping the skyrocketing cost of care in this country. We must ensure that patients have closer relationships with their doctors and are able to focus on preventative care – rather than being forced to use our emergency rooms.
NE: What does the term “climate change” mean to you?
Benishek: As a doctor I’ve studied science very closely. The debate about climate change and global warming is certainly one that has been debated and in a lot of ways is still being debated. This election, in contrast to many recent elections, the voters are focused primarily on jobs and the economy and that’s where my focus is as well.
McDowell: Climate change is the warming of Earth’s atmosphere by natural and manmade carbon emissions. Though there is little doubt that we will continue to rely on fossil fuels to power our country and our economy, we must continue to responsibly source oil, natural gas and other resources as we transition toward cleaner fuels for the energy of today to the energy of tomorrow. That’s why I support the expansion of wind, solar, biomass and other renewable resources as they are phased in to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and reduce pollution.
NE: Do you have any good recipes for Asian carp?
Benishek: I’ve lived in Northern Michigan all my life, so I know how important the Great Lakes are to our way of life up here. I want clean air and clean water just as much as anyone.
Over the last two years I have supported numerous bills that will protect the Great Lakes from invasive species like Asian Carp and sea lamprey.
Rather than just talking about protecting the Great Lakes like my opponent does, I’ve actually been out there fighting for measures that will preserve our lakes for future generations.
I’m also a proud member of the Great Lakes Task Force, a bipartisan group in Congress that is committed to protecting the Great Lakes and keeping the environment clean.
McDowell: I like to cook, and when I do I keep it simple.
Gary McDowell’s Famous Raging Asian Carp Recipe:
1 full separation of the Chicago canals between the Illinois River and the Great Lakes Basin 1 fully funded Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 1 ban of the introduction of all invasive species into the Great Lakes Basin Cook on high heat (be sure not to half bake like Congressman Dan Benishek has).
Finally, go to your local market and buy some whitefish, perch or walleye. Enjoy.
With help from Stephen Tuttle.
Michigan s First Congressional District has a new look for 2013. It still includes all of the Upper Peninsula, but it now encompasses different parts of Northern Lower Michigan. It used to dip down to Bay City in the east. Now it cuts a strait line across most of Northern Michigan, from the southern border of Alpena County across the state. In the west, the district boundary dips south a bit, to include Manistee County and parts of Mason County. It is still a vast district. In 2012, it was the second largest congressional district east of the Mississippi.