Republican candidates talk Michigan's future in final debate

Thursday, June 28, 2018 - 7:43pm

The Republican gubernatorial candidates debate at WDIV-TV Thursday evening

The Republican gubernatorial candidates debate at WDIV-TV Thursday evening Buy this photo
Courtesy of WDIV

Michigan’s four Republican gubernatorial candidates gathered Thursday night at WDIV-TV in Detroit for their final debate before the Aug. 7 primaries, discussing immigration policies, gun violence, income tax regulations and economic growth.

Despite having similar platforms, Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck and physician Jim Hines butted heads over their professional histories, Trump’s endorsement of Schuette and their plans for improving education and infrastructure in Michigan.

Moderator Devin Scillian launched the debate, asking the candidates to present opening remarks. Calley, who currently holds second place to Schuette in the polls, highlighted his experience working with incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder, saying he helped cut taxes and led Detroit out of bankruptcy. He also criticized Schuette for relying too heavily on President Trump’s endorsement.

Schuette defended himself, explaining Trump supports him as a gubernatorial candidate because he will continue to cut taxes. While Calley seemed to dismiss Trump’s support of Schuette, Schuette responded it should be a defining reason for voter support.

“The endorsement of President Trump, I’d call that huge,” Schuette said.

Meanwhile, Colbeck said even though the media seems to only highlight Schuette and Calley, he is the only Republican candidate who can truly challenge the Democrats.

“There’s no enthusiasm for them besides the media and the politicos,” Colbeck said.

Hines described himself as an outsider, noting the other candidates are term-limited, career politicians.

Gun violence

In light of Thursday’s shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, Scillian asked the candidates to comment on gun safety.

All the candidates stressed their support for the Second Amendment, with Schuette noting his membership in the NRA. The candidates all brought up the idea that criminals, not guns, are the real problem.

“One thing I know for sure it that you can’t stop violence from criminals by going after law-abiding citizens,” Calley said. “We have to get to the heart of the problem here.”

Both Colbeck and Calley said the state needs to make its schools more shooting-resistant. Colbeck proposed eliminating gun-free zones in schools, saying they increase the risk for a mass shooting.

Schuette said mass shootings are a result of the mental health crisis in America.

“The Democrats and Whitmer will take guns away from law-abiding citizens and that is wrong,” Schuette said.

Immigration

Addressing another nation-wide crisis, Scillian brought the immigration debate into the conversation. All the candidates expressed discomfort with the concept of separating children from their parents but supported strong borders.

“We need to secure the border, and we can even build a wall,” Calley said. “But separating kids from their parents, that’s just not who we are.”

Colbeck and Schuette spoke out against sanctuary cities.

“If the Democrats had their way they would make the entire state of Michigan a sanctuary state,” Schuette said.

Colbeck added sanctuary cities should not be tolerated in the state of Michigan.

Education

The candidates discussed Michigan’s troubling drop in performance in public schools and outlined their plans for improving the state’s education system.

“Money will not solve this problem,” Hines said. “We need to go back to the basics.”

Hines iterated a common theme of the night, a need for a higher standard for education in Michigan, saying the state needs to eliminate the Common Core and implement reading coaches in the classroom.

Calley said schools need to help students find their passion by treating them as individuals. He also suggested schools incorporate skilled-trade training. Schuette agreed Michigan’s schools are too standardized, saying he opposes Common Core and is a proponent of school choice. He added the state should give schools A through F letter grades, so parents can make informed decisions, and the state should encourage improvement by offering grants to successful schools.

Though Colbeck agreed with the other candidates regarding the need to eliminate the Common Core, he criticized Schuette’s response.

“Mr. Schuette’s proposing a lot of big-government solutions to fix our education,” Colbeck said.

Urban development

The candidates also addressed their plans for boosting the economies of Michigan’s urban centers, noting Detroit has made progress in the past few years. Calley took credit for Detroit’s revitalization.

“Governor Snyder and I led Detroit through bankruptcy and off to a better place,” Calley said.

Meanwhile, Colbeck said the everyday people need more of a voice in the government. Colbeck claimed he is the only candidate of both the Republicans and Democrats to go into the communities and interact with people where they actually live. Similarly, Colbeck was the only Republican candidate to attend the debate with the three Democratic candidates.

Fixing the roads

Scillian also asked the candidates to explain how they could implement the tax cuts they emphasize in their platforms while also addressing issues like bad roads, bridges and water lines without drawing more money from Michigan residents.

Colbeck said the state needs to focus on road quality. As the only candidate who has proposed completely eliminating the state income tax, Colbeck said though he aims to slash taxes, his actions will not impact state funds for roads, public works and education. According to Colbeck, he will find other ways cut costs elsewhere.

While Colbeck seeks to eliminate the state income tax entirely, Hines discussed minimizing the state income tax. Ultimately, Hines said issues like poor road conditions could be fixed by using better materials from the beginning and maintaining consistent up-keep.  

“We have to fix our potholes like a dentist fixes a cavity in a tooth,” Hines said.

Accusing former Gov. Jennifer Granholm of leaving Michigan in debt, Calley said the state needs to put more money into fixing its roads. He said roads need to be constructed with higher-quality materials, and cities should coordinate maintenance projects to prevent excessive tearing up of roads. Colbeck offered a rebuttal, saying as a former engineer, he has a more specific plan for fixing Michigan’s infrastructure. He said using a cement hydration catalyst and sealant would help roads last longer.

“If you want to fix the roads, you’ve got to go with the engineer,” Colbeck said. “I’m the only candidate up here that actually identifies how we can fix the roads.”

Similarly, Schuette said the roads need to be a priority in developing a better state. According to Schuette, the government should seek to eliminate financial waste by evaluating the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“Life’s about priorities we need to make sure we dedicate money to roads,” Schuette said. “The Democrats and Whitmer just want to raise taxes.”

In rebuttal to Schuette, Calley said Schuette avoided the question.

“We owe the people of Michigan real answers,” Calley said. “Tonight is about the future. It’s not about sound bites. We need real plans of action.”

Tariffs

The candidates commented on how President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum are affecting Michigan’s agriculture and auto businesses.

Schuette said Michigan needs to emphasize job creation and fairer trading practices. He praised Trump’s actions, saying the president is helping to increase production in the United States.

“What he’s trying to do is rebalance trade relationships in America,” Schuette said. “Because of President Trump, we’re moving the production of the RAM truck from Mexico to Michigan.”

Building off Schuette’s momentum, Colbeck said the government needs to find ways to encourage businesses in Michigan by lowering operating costs. Colbeck said if they lowered costs businesses would flourish.

“Everybody’s going to be flocking into our state to set up shop,” Colbeck said.

Hines referenced the other candidates’ praise of President Trump, claiming he has supported Trump longer than the Schuette, Colbeck and Calley.

“I’m the only one here who can raise my hand and say I was a Trump supporter from the very beginning,” Hines said.

Finally, Calley said the other candidates were merely avoiding the question at hand. He continued by noting Michigan has had trouble adjusting to economic globalization, emphasizing a need for American businesses to have free, fair access to international markets.

Tax incentives

The candidates expressed their thoughts on tax incentives, as when the state offered tax benefits to filmmakers in exchange for filming movies in Michigan.

Colbeck reiterated his plan to completely eliminate income tax. He criticized Schuette and Calley’s political histories, saying they used taxpayers’ money to bring people to Michigan. Adding to the attack, Hines said though Calley helped businesses by lifting taxes on them, he wrote the offending tax bill in the first place. Calley accused Hines of lying.

Schuette said though the state has rebounded from Granholm’s increased income tax due to Republican leadership, they are still 300,000 jobs short.

“I will drive the stake through the heart of the Granholm income tax increase,” Schuette said.

Water pollution

Scillian asked the candidates to comment on Michigan’s history of water-related environmental problems, bringing up the Flint water crisis, Nestle’s water extraction in Osceola County and pollution of the Great Lakes.

Calley said the state must focus on eliminating invasive species, like Asian carp, from the Great Lakes, with Hines reiterating his sentiments. Schuette said Michigan needs to use its ample resources responsibly, especially in terms of agricultural usage, and said Michigan residents must be active stewards of the Great Lakes. Colbeck also emphasized the importance of protecting the Great Lakes, and brought up Enbridge Line 5, saying pipelines are actually the most reliable way to transport fluids if properly executed.

Auto insurance and cost of living

The candidates addressed high auto insurance rates and cost of living in Michigan. Calley said the state needs to crack down on auto insurance fraud while increasing transparency. Similarly, Schuette said the government needs to reduce fraud and stop frivolous lawsuits while providing more options for auto insurance. Schuette emphasized a Republican leader could lower auto insurance rates.

“Whitmer and the Democrats will just keep the status quo,” Schuette said.

Colbeck said there are two conflicting issues related to auto insurance — lowering insurance rates, and also making sure the state provides benefits to people who incur injuries. He said he would address both by keeping benefits in place while monitoring the way the state dispenses funds in order to reduce excess spending. Hines echoed the other candidates’ thoughts, arguing for a decrease in fraud and auto insurance rates.

Why vote Republican?

For the final question, Scillian asked the candidates what they would say to voters who aren’t typically Republican, encouraging them to explain why African American or immigrant voters should turn to a Republican candidate.

Schuette said he wanted to tell immigrants that he would give them freedom, while Colbeck argued all voters are ready for something new.

“Republicans, Independents and Democrats are sick and tired of politics as usual,” Colbeck said.

Meanwhile, Hines reflected on his appreciation for the United States.

“America is the greatest place in the whole wide world,” Hines said.

In their closing statements, each candidate reiterated their opening remarks. While Calley called for a brighter future for Michigan, Schuette reminded viewers of Trump’s political endorsement.

“President Trump has endorsed my candidacy for governor because he knows I’ll cut taxes in Michigan like he’s cut taxes in America,” Schuette said. “It’s time that Michigan wins again.”

When it was Colbeck’s turn, he told the audience they had just heard each candidate’s one-minute sound bites. Finally, Hines again called the other candidates career politicians just looking for their next post. He said they rely on special-interest funds, whereas he is a political outsider. 

“My experience is in the private sector for 30 years,” Hines said. “I have not taken a dime of special interest money, not a dime. As governor, I want to put people first, not special-interest bankers.”

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