The second gubernatorial debate was held Tuesday night in Grand Rapids at the WOOD TV 8 studio between Republican candidate Dick DeVos and Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm. While Media Mouse has posted a transcript of the debate and encourages voters to read the candidates words directly, there were a few discussions in the debate that merit further comment. There were certainly a number of surprising statements, such as Dick DeVos’ assertion that the best way to “get access to health care is to have a job”—a clear slap in the face to many workers in Michigan who do not receive health care—but there were also a number of arguments that were either irrelevant or lacked specifics, such as the argument over the already eliminated Single Business Tax or in the candidates discussion of how they would create jobs.
One of the most surprising assertions of the night was Dick DeVos’ statement that “the people of Michigan will not see a stronger advocate for public education than me” even as he has taken an active role in the national voucher and privatization movement, including the formation of the group All Children Matter (ACM) in the spring of 2003 in order to coordinate a national movement in support of pro-voucher political candidates. ACM was formed as a 527 organization that exempts the organization from any restrictions on the amount of donations it receives and allowing it to run advocacy advertisements in elections. After Dick DeVos publicly identified Florida, Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado, and Virginia as “opportunity states” for the pro-voucher movement, ACM began intervening in state races. Furthermore, DeVos supported the failed 2000 Michigan voucher initiative Kids First! Yes! and continues to support the privatization of public education through donations to advocacy groups via his Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. Granholm’s response was right to highlight a speech that DeVos gave at the Heritage Foundation stating he would bring vouchers back to Michigan, but Granholm missed an opportunity to draw attention to DeVos’ support and involvement with the religious and economic right. The Heritage Foundation is a prominent rightwing economic think-tank that has a pro-privatization orientation and the religious right—including DeVos and his family—has long funded the religious right. This could have led into a critique of DeVos’ support of anti-abortion organizations, because even as DeVos said that “our current laws are sufficient,” his Foundation has given money to a variety of anti-abortion organizations working to overturn existing laws or restrict access to abortions including Right to Life, the Pregnancy Resource Center, Baptists for Life, and the Justice Foundation who is fighting to overturn Roe vs. Wade in the courts. Granholm also could have DeVos’ ties to the religious right as a potential liability in bringing major automobile manufacturers in Michigan together, as his family is connected (via his wife) to a religious right boycott of Ford Motor Company over their support of for gay rights.
In discussing the environment, it is also worth noting that DeVos has made contributions through his foundation to a variety of think-tanks that could be described as anti-environment, including the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute that links free-market ideology with religion and receives funding from Exxon-Mobil and the Hudson Institute that is heavily subsidized by corporate money and has attacked critics of genetically engineered crops. DeVos also served on the board of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based think-tank that promotes the supremacy of the free-market over other concerns, in the 1990s. Its hard to imagine that DeVos is serious about how “We have got to reduce our requirement of our fossil fuels, and our use of fossil fuels and expand alternative energy” when he supports organizations fighting environmental regulations and receiving funding from corporate sources.
Granholm also made a few surprising statements during the debate, particularly around the issue of immigration. In response to a question from emails submitted to WOOD TV, Granholm stated that she supports the construction of a border wall as passed by the United States House of Representatives and the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush. Rather than supporting comprehensive immigration reform that addresses immigration from a perspective that looks at the reasons for immigration, enforcement, and a host of other issues, Granholm is essentially advocating an enforcement-only provision like the one sought by many Republicans. Her comments that she supports “a sensible pathway to citizenship so that those who are here aren’t penalized but that in fact they end up having a pathway to citizenship” were vague and unclear and summed up by a statement to immigrants that “you’ve gotta earn your way and you’ve gotta do it in a legal and documented way.” Unfortunately, Granholm’s stance on the issue of immigration offered no difference from Dick DeVos’ stance.
Connecting to this issue is Granholm’s ongoing support of the World Trade Organization (WTO). While Granholm declares, “we [need to] stop the unfair trade agreements and enforce the trade agreements that we have,” she continually advocates for a stronger role by the United States at the WTO rather than calling for its abolition. Granholm could greatly shift the debate over trade if she addressed it from a broad, international perspective that recognized that trade agreements such as the WTO and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have been devastating for workers not just in the United States but around the world and that they are not benefiting workers in Michigan because they were specifically designed to promote the interests of corporations and neoliberal capitalism. It is also worth noting that Michigan is governed by procurement rules in three trade agreements including the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement, the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, and the United States-Chilie Free Trade Agreement. While Granholm has taken a positive step in objecting to provisions of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), she has not withdrawn Michigan from these procurement rules nor has she called for the elimination or substantial reform of trade agreements such as NAFTA and the WTO.