In February, U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) announced his retirement, leaving his seat open after 58 years of service. Vying to replace him are two candidates — Democrat Debbie Dingell, his wife, and Republican Terry Bowman.
Bowman, though never an elected official, has been involved in several statewide policy issues as the founder of Union Conservatives, a group that seeks to promote conservative values among union members. He is currently employed as an assembly line worker at a Ford Motor Company plant, where he has worked for most of his career.
‘Not a Dingell’
The first thing Bowman wants to make clear is he’s not a Dingell.
Collectively, the Dingells have held a seat in the House for the past 81 years, through John Dingell’s service and through his father, John D. Dingell, Sr., before him. Bowman has run on the platform of ending the “Dingell dynasty” and bringing a fresh perspective to Washington.
“It’s no fault of the individual, but I think that if you’re in Congress for a long time you completely lose the ability to connect with what goes on each and every day,” he said.
He added that his campaign is not about partisanship in general. He said he’s against family legacies in politics, whether it’s a Clinton, a Dingell or a Bush.
Right to work
In 2012, Michigan passed right-to-work legislation, which prohibits unions from requiring employees to join or pay dues in workplaces. The issue proved divisive, with unions arguing that the policy would take away their ability to effectively bargain. Bowman, a member of the United Automobile Workers union, was influential in the passage of the legislation through his role with the Union Conservatives.
“Union officials don’t like right-to-work because it holds them answerable and accountable to their membership,” Bowman said. “But for the rank and file it’s different. What right-to-work does is it holds their union officials answerable and accountable, and it forces those union officials to start focusing on them in their day-to-day work instead of being focused on politics on a national level. Right to work is pro-union worker, even though you hear from the other side that it’s anti-union.”
Bowman has also made health care, specifically his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, a policy focus. He pointed an economic issue — the requirement for businesses with 50 or more employees to offer health insurance to their workers if they work 30 or more hours per week — as the basis for his concern.
“For the first time in history, the Affordable Care Act designates full-time employment as 30 hours a week or more,” he said. “And so businesses are not willing to work their employees more than 29 hours a week. So this is a law, a bill, that actually encourages unemployment, and it encourages part-time employment, which is not beneficial to the middle-income people in the United States, or the working families in the United States.”
Bowman characterized energy prices as one of the most important policy issues for the United States because of its significance to the economy both for families and businesses.
“What people need to understand is that if your businesses are paying a high amount for energy, they have less money to grow, to hire new people and to give the existing employees wages and benefits,” he said. “Energy policy is our lifeblood.”
Bowman added that he’s not opposed to exploring and supporting wind and solar energy, but decried a focus on switching to them entirely. He also said to keep prices down he would look to coal as well as hydroelectric and nuclear energy sources.
“There’s no reason to demonize the existing energy plants today, like the coal-burning plants,” Bowman said. “I think we’ve been very blessed in this country with an incredible amount of coal.”
Tough race to win
No formal polls have been conducted for the race, but most predict Dingell will win due to her position as the Democratic nominee in a historically blue district. Bowman’s campaign does not have the money or the name recognition to match his opponent, a fact he has acknowledged.
“We know the district is very Democrat,” he said. “But what we had said from the beginning is that what we have to do is make sure we have the ability — meaning the funds, the donations, the support of people in the district — we have enough in order to get our message out to the people in the district. And, we’ve been very successful in doing that.”
He added that he would not have entered the race if he didn’t think winning was a possibility, and he thought his message was something that would resonate with the district.
“Even before we were able to get out there and start campaigning full-time, while I’m working on the assembly line at Ford, people would walk up to me and say — it’s kind of loud in there — but they would kind of yell ‘Hey Bowman, are you running for Congress?’” he said. “And I would say ‘Yeah,’ and they’d say, ‘Alright, you’ve got my vote.’”