Washtenaw County Democratic Party hosted a debate Saturday morning, with Democratic congressional candidates for Michigan’s 12th Congressional district: Solomon Rajput and incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. The virtual debate was moderated by Washtenaw County programs committee vice chadir Eli Nathans and drew around 1,500 viewers who asked questions and watched the candidates debate many of the main issues.
Dingell opened the debate by discussing her past work in Congress and with the community.
“I think I have worked well with you and I want to continue to work well with you on a number of subjects that I care deeply about,” Dingell said.
Rajput discussed why he is running for Congress and expressed his dissatisfaction with the current political situation in the 12th district.
“I ultimately decided to run because the political establishment and royalty that run this country have ultimately failed us,” Rajput said. “All the establishment knows how to do is to think small but it’s that small thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. We can’t just keep putting band-aids on our broken systems and hoping for change.”
The candidates first spoke on the high unemployment rates that are a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rajput responded by saying the Green New Deal is the answer to not only economic problems facing the nation, but also the environmental aspects.
“This pandemic has shown just how fragile our corporate economy is,” Rajput said. “Right now, we are probably in one of the largest recessions in history, so what has gotten us out of recessions in the past? Governments supporting people, not corporations. This is the perfect time to implement another new deal … the Green New Deal.”
Dingell responded citing legislation that she has helped pass over the past several months that has provided direct relief to her constituents.
“The House passed the HEROES bill five or six weeks ago that addressed many problems,” Dingell said. “One, it would get money to the state and city governments for first responders, we have expanded unemployment compensation with the additional $600 payment … we covered the cost of tests and made sure that they were paid, we made sure people could not be evicted during this time. Longer term, I agree with the ideas in the Green New Deal which is why I am the leader of the 100 percent clean economy to have a carbonless society by 2050, but labor has to be at the table. I’m already working with the UAW and the national green deal so that we are together when we introduce it next year.”
In lieu of the death of George Floyd, the candidates also discussed the issue of systemic racism. Dingell first said, as a society, we need to address the fallout of the COVID-19 virus on Black communities in Michigan.
“African-Americans are being disproportionately affected by COVID,” Dingell said. “13 percent of Michigan’s population is African-American but 43 percent of the deaths have been African-American. The first thing we need to do is pass Medicare for All and get a Democratic president (in office). We need to address these root problems … these are really complicated issues.”
Dingell further emphasized that we must address the root problems of these issues.
“The fact of the matter is that a Black young man is not treated the same as a white man and we have to attack the root issues of systematic racism and inequality and injustice,” Dingell said.
Rajput agreed that systemic racism is a significant issue facing the community and nation but said that we need to think bigger than things we have done in the past like reparations.
“The intentional oppression and criminalization of Black people in this country has facilitated the killing of Black people for hundreds of years,” Rajput said. “It is 2020. How long will the Black community have to wait to see justice? This is not the time to think small; do we really think we will be able to disassemble systematic racism with a few simple tweaks? Reparations must come in the form of strong social programs. We need a systemic solution, not a one-time cash payment.”
Next, the candidates discussed climate change. Dingell said that she is very active about environmental issues and stated that eight bills she co-sponsored were featured in the Select Committee on Climate Crisis report.
“I am always available to everybody,” Dingell said. “The Select Committee on Climate Change came out with their report on climate change last week and included eight of my bills in that report.”
Dingell also emphasized that in these discussions it is important to bring everyone, including manufacturers, to the table.
“I am very focused on ‘how do you get every person at the table and workers have to be part of that discussion?’” Dingell said. “They are worried about their jobs… and we will create new jobs … but when the Green New Deal gets introduced to a new Congress under a Democratic president, we are working to get everybody at the table to actually get the job done.”
Rajput discussed his support for the Green New Deal and how he does not see a way to work with Republicans on these issues.
“My goal and reason why I am running is to champion and enact change for people of this district and people of this country,” Rajput said. “Although many Republican voters are able to have civil discussions regarding the issues of our time, the Republicans that exist in power are trying to do nothing but obstruct and progressive or even the Democratic agenda.”
Dingell said that the issue of bipartisanship is the issue that her views differ from Rajput’s in the most drastic way.
“I think we’re Americans first,” Dingell said. “We do have to respect each other, we have to listen to each other and none of us knows everything. I don’t give an inch when it comes to my values and what I know means standing up for what I know is right. Treating all people equally, fighting for a minimum wage, getting a PFAS standard set … but it is important to work with everybody.”
Dingell said although bipartisanship has a reputation for compromise, she has achieved bills with Republican support and that with a Republican-controlled Senate and White House without compromising democratic values.
Rajput concluded the town hall by emphasizing the need for progressive change in the community.
“We must expect more of our politicians than to simply come to events and give speeches,” Rajput said. “Congresswoman Dingell is a perfectly nice person, but she’s not a progressive. We live in a revolutionary time and if there was ever a (time for) change, it is now.”
Summer News Editor Sarah Payne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org