For weeks last December, Rackham student Daniel Marcin browsed through newspapers and brooded over the deteriorating condition of the climate and increases in pollution. Then, one morning, he decided to do something about it.
In March, Marcin launched his campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.), who will seek to extend his tenure as the longest-serving member in the House of Representatives with a 30th term this fall. If he gets on the ballot, Marcin will be Dingell’s first primary challenger since 2002.
“I think it’s been long enough that he had a primary challenger that he should have to answer to,” Marcin said. “It’s not a monarchy.”
Marcin pointed to the economy, climate change, federal tax code and same-sex marriage as failings he believes are critical for Dingell to address in the August primary. He primarily criticized Dingell’s performance on environmental issues, accusing the former chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee of delaying bills with gas mileage requirements in order to coddle the automakers.
“I had enough of reading about Democrats who aren’t going to take any action on pollution or climate change or energy issues,” Marcin said. “John Dingell’s one of them, and I want to take him down.”
Though Marcin is a candidate for a doctorate in economics at the University, called the environment the most central issue to his campaign. After learning about the amount of pollutants emitted by an average coal plant and the lack of accountability placed on plant owners by the government, he said he believes that manufacturing plants should be charged not just for carbon emissions, but also for mercury and lead emissions.
“Everybody in the environmental movement knows that Dingell is not with them, but he likes to pretend that he is,” Marcin said. “That’s just the way that he’s been forever.”
Marcin noted that his decision to enter the race also stemmed from his desire to reform the tax code, which he claims “needs to take a bath.” One reform proposal Marcin offered was the option for taxpayers to write in directions for how 20 percent of their taxes should be spent.
“I don’t know of any other Congressman that wants to give that power to ordinary people,” Marcin said. “I’ve never heard that proposed, and that’s another idea that I don’t think people are against — I just don’t think they’ve ever even considered it.”
Marcin said he cast himself as a political outsider whose ideas, including the proposal for mercury and lead emissions taxes, were not derived from either Democratic or Republican platforms or ideals.
Referring to Dingell’s perceived status as the Dean of the House of Representatives, Marcin said he doesn’t believe Dingell does an adequate job supporting working families.
“You can go to his website, right there, right in your face it says ‘Fighting for Michigan’s Working Families,’” Marcin said. “That doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Zinnia Kallabat, an administrator for Dingell’s campaign, refuted Marcin’s charge that Dingell’s promise to fight for the families of Southeast Michigan is meaningless.
“Whether it is affordable health care, protecting Medicare from Republican attempts to replace it with a voucher system, making sure our food is safe and our water is clean, or fighting to bring jobs to our region, the well-being of the families of Michigan is his top priority,” Kallabat wrote in an e-mail interview.
Kallabat also denied the notion that Dingell has marginally considered issues of pollution, climate change and contamination of the Great Lakes. In his 57 years in Congress, Dingell has held oil companies responsible for spills, authored the Clean Air Act and pushed forward the cleanup of the Detroit River, according to Kallabat.
“Protecting our environment and making sure we have a secure energy future are and have been critical issues for Congressman Dingell,” she wrote. “In Southeast Michigan, you can see the impact from his leadership.”
Dingell’s opponent in the 2002 Democratic primary election was Lynn Rivers, a four-term incumbent in Congress who landed in Dingell’s district due to state redistricting following the 2000 Census. Dingell defeated Rivers by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.
His most recent challenge in the general election was in 2010, when he defeated Ann Arbor cardiologist Rob Steele with 56 percent of the vote. After conceding defeat, Steele said the vote was closer than he had anticipated.
Though Marcin said his candidacy is “a long shot,” Kallabat wrote that Dingell is not brushing off Marcin’s chances.
Marcin said he is hopeful because he believes Ann Arbor could be receptive to a candidate who is attentive to environmental issues and supportive of same-sex marriage.
“Here’s my question: At the end of the day, what’s John Dingell going to do in his 30th term that he couldn’t do in his first 29?” he asked.