GOP, Democratic candidates for governor trade charges at 1st joint debate on Mackinac Island

By Kathy Barks Hoffman, AP
Thursday, June 3, 2010

Charges fly as Mich. gubernatorial hopefuls debate

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — Accusations were flying Thursday as the five Republicans and two Democrats running for governor shared the stage in their first joint debate.

The candidates took swipes at each other on issues ranging from whether unions are a detriment to Michigan to personal morality and whether oil drilling should be allowed in the Great Lakes.

The sharpest exchange took place between two Republicans, Attorney General Mike Cox and Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, over two issues: Whether Snyder benefited when computer maker Gateway Inc. shipped jobs overseas while Snyder was on its board of directors, and how Cox’s confession in 2005 that he’d had an extramarital affair reflected his morals.

“You plundered the jobs that went overseas,” Cox said.

“I didn’t like what was going on,” Snyder replied, “but they did it to help the company survive.”

After Cox again questioned some of his business dealings, Snyder shot back: “I’m not going to stand here and be lectured by you on ethics, morality and family values.”

“My wife is here, and you can talk to her if you want to talk about my ethics and morality,” Cox replied.

Other differences in the debate were largely along partisan lines.

Cox blamed the Michigan Education Association and United Auto Workers for focusing more on protecting what he called “bloated” pay and benefits than on helping schools and state government succeed. Democratic Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who has been endorsed by both unions, protested those characterizations.

“I don’t appreciate the way he talks about unions,” said Bernero, questioning why all the sacrifice had to come from the middle and lower classes. He said he has worked out agreements with unionized city workers to cut costs and criticized those who cut state revenue-sharing money for local governments.

“Our cities need to be the hub of the wheel, not the hole in the doughnut,” Bernero said.

Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon, who has proposed legislation that would put all public employees in the state into one health care pool to save money, denied Cox’s charge that public employees were making more than their private-sector counterparts.

“If you are a degreed employee in the state, you make less than in the private sector,” Dillon said. “I agree we do need to address the benefits, because those are unsustainable.”

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, another Republican, called on public sector employees to make sacrifices because taxpayers no longer can support their pay and benefits.

“The government unions need to get on board with today’s economic reality,” he said, adding that the current system will pass on too much of a burden to future generations.

Dillon was the only candidate to support a new bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Canada, that would be built by the public and private sectors, though Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra said he would consider the project. Most of the others back letting the owners of the Ambassador Bridge build a second span linking the two cities, a move Canada opposes.

All of the candidates except Snyder said they’d received campaign contributions from the Ambassador Bridge’s owners, although Dillon said if he received contributions, they came several years ago.

The candidates said they disagreed with Canada’s decision to allow slant drilling in the Great Lakes, but had different ideas on whether the state or federal government had the authority to engage Canadian officials on the matter.

Hoekstra got a laugh when he said he’d take up the matter with Ontario’s provincial leader.

“I’d take him down,” he said, echoing some of the other candidates’ tough talk, then added, “to the Gulf Coast.” He said he’d show the Ontario premier the devastation from the oil spewing from an uncontrolled oil well off Louisiana to make his point that neither Michigan nor Canada would want a similar disaster in the Great Lakes.

Republican state Sen. Tom George got in some one-liners among his serious comments.

On the oil issue, he dryly noted, “We’ve had disputes with Canada before. One resulted in the capture of Mackinac Island.”

He also took an indirect dig at Cox’s unsuccessful lawsuit to close the Chicago-area locks so Asian carp couldn’t enter Lake Michigan.

“You can sue all you want,” George said. “The carp don’t know when they’re entering Michigan waters.”

The debate was held by the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island. The $200-per-person event was a fundraiser for the chamber’s political action committee.

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