The Washtenaw County Medical Society hosted an all-candidate forum Tuesday night at the Ann Arbor City Club featuring individuals running for state and national level political seats in the upcoming November election.

Each candidate gave a presentation followed by an audience Q&A, moderated by Dr. Jim Mitchiner, an emergency physician at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor Hospital. He is also a member of the WCMS Executive Council and chair of its legislative committee.

Candidates for the State House, State Senate and U.S. Congress attended the event, including State Reps. Gretchen Driskell (D–Saline), Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) and Adam Zemke (D–Ann Arbor), State Senate candidate John Hochstetler (R), State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor), and U.S. congressional candidates Terry Bowman (R) and Debbie Dingell (D).

The candidates were each given the opportunity to discuss the priorities of their campaigns and express their opinions on pertinent issues, particularly Michigan Senate Bill 2. This legislation would enable advanced practice registered nurses to examine patients and prescribe medication without the signature of a physician.

Most candidates did not take a firm position for or against the bill and many stated they did not yet have the information necessary to make an informed decision. However, Warren voiced her her support of the bill.

In terms of his own goals for his district, Zemke said greater efforts must be made to attract and retain people in Michigan. He mentioned friends of his who are moving away from the state due to Michigan’s social policies.

“They are feeling that Michigan’s not welcoming to everyone,” Zemke said. “So that is a big part of the reason that I ran for legislature. Talent attraction and retention is our number one issue economically. If you can’t have highly educated talent in all shapes and forms then you don’t have a sustainable economy.”

Zemke added that his campaign is focused on improving education funding.

“We already have excellent higher education in Michigan,” he said. “We need affordable higher education in Michigan, which it’s not.”

Lastly, Zemke emphasized the need for and his previous work on transit options such as a commuter rail in Michigan and the need to work beyond partisan divides, especially through the Michigan House Appropriations Committee, which he sits on.

Bowman, president and founder of Union Conservatives and has worked for 18 years at the Ford Rawsonville Plant in Ypsilanti, is competing against Debbie Dingell, chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, for the seat being vacated by Rep. John Dingell (D–12). This seat is without an incumbent for the first time since 1955, when Dingell was first elected to Congress.

Bowman also criticized the Affordable Care Act, which he said took power away from employees and gave it to employers.

“I’m telling (union members) that what Obamacare has done is give your employers the biggest bargaining chip imaginable when your contracts expired, because the company can hold all the cards then against your unions,” Bowman said.

Bowman added that people in the 12th district have expressed frustration with what they see as the negative consequences of the ACA, including some people losing their longtime doctors.

“It has not kept its promises,” Bowman said. “People in the district are telling me that their premiums are increasing and their deductibles are going up. (The ACA is) not sustainable in a middle-income household and that is a shame.”

His opponent, Debbie Dingell, emphasized the need for bipartisanship in government. As Rep. Dingell’s wife, she said she has hosted bipartisan dinners so that House and Senate members of both parties could develop better working relationships.

“We’ve got to stop fighting. We’ve got to work across the aisle,” Debbie Dingell said. “I think the American people are tired of partisan bickering in Washington. They want to see us work together to find solutions.”

While the WCMS Executive Council has hosted this speaker series for nearly 40 years, last year was the first in which the group transitioned its forum from one dominated by a medical focus to a discussion of issues of interest to the general electorate. These general sessions are held four times per year, with candidates invited to two of the events.

Event organizer Belinda Chandler, WCMS executive director, said she wanted to add more variety to the sessions that were originally dominated by medical questions and answers.

“We are trying to open it up more. It used to be just doctors that would come and it was all medical topics,” Chandler said. “We would like to have people come, ask questions and give us input for topics.”

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