By Gary Neese
Continuing U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek's policies would be disastrous for the 1st Congressional District, Democratic U.S. House of Representatives challenger Gary McDowell said in an interview Sunday.
McDowell, from Rudyard, is running against incumbent Dan Benishek, R-Iron Mountain, for the 1st District seat. The race is a rematch of 2010, when Benishek beat McDowell.
McDowell is in the Upper Peninsula on his "Our Lakes, Our Livelihood" tour stressing the importance of the Great Lakes to Michigan's economy. A recent University of Michigan study found 1.5 million jobs in the U.S., and 526,000 in Michigan, are directly tied to the Great Lakes.
Zach Kukkonen/Daily Mining Gazette
Gary McDowell, seen here in The Daily Mining Gazette's office Sunday, is running against Dan Benishek, R-Iron Mountain, in the battle for the U.S. House of Representatives 1st Congressional District.
McDowell said Benishek has "no regard" for the lakes. For that, he pointed to Benishek's recent vote for a bill that allowed cement plants to dump more mercury into the Great Lakes. Mercury is one of the major contaminants in the Great Lakes, McDowell said. The state Department of Natural Resources recently advised pregnant women not to consume Great Lakes fish because of the potential for birth defects, while other people are advised not to eat Great Lakes fish for more than two meals per week.
McDowell also attacked Benishek's votes against bills aimed at stopping the infestation of Asian carp and for funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal plan including cleaning up toxins, protecting watersheds from runoff and restoring wetland areas.
McDowell also touted his past actions as a state representative, such as working to ban drilling in the Great Lakes and intervening to stop the Canadian government in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, from dumping sewage that was washing up on American shores.
"The 1st Congressional District has more shoreline than any district outside of Alaska, more freshwater of any district, and that's why we need a Congressman who's going to protect the Great Lakes, not help add more pollution," he said.
On the issue of jobs, McDowell said one key is continuing to invest in education, citing the ability of Michigan Technological University and Finlandia University to draw talent to the area.
"Those are the students and entrepreneurs who will be creating the jobs in the future," he said. "One thing they're looking at is alternative and renewable energy, that will create jobs locally and reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
One thing he won't do, he said, is repeat Benishek's 2011 vote to end Essential Air Service for rural airports (Benishek has since expressed support for the program). Benishek's support of "fair trade" deals and inaction against Chinese manipulation of currency has also hurt Michigan workers, he said.
He also assailed Benishek for comments made to The Daily Press in Escanaba in which he said high unemployment in the U.P. is "because the people of the U.P. do not want to work."
"It's not just an insult to our work ethic, it also sent a terrible message to future employers, to insinuate that we are lazy up here," he said.
Republican President candidate Mitt Romney has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act if elected. McDowell said he supports many provisions of the bill, including keeping children on parents' health plans until they are 26, ending the Medicare "donut hole" for senior citizens and not letting insurers deny people with pre-existing conditions. However, he said he is concerned about additional costs for small businesses.
"We have to see what works, make sure it works, and what doesn't, we have to correct it," he said.
McDowell criticized Benishek for backing the budget proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Ohio, which would replace Medicare with a voucher-like system in 2023 for any seniors who are now younger than 55. According to the Congressional Budget Office, an earlier version of the plan would shift $6,400 per year in medical costs to seniors (the CBO has yet to release a score for the latest version of the plan).
"At the same time, he was giving tax cuts to the wealthiest in this country," McDowell said. "That's wrong."
McDowell's stops in the area included a Houghton County Democratic Party picnic and a visit Sunday to Keweenaw National Historical Park sites in Calumet.
"What an opportunity there for economic development, with our social history, our cultural history, and telling the story of the Copper Country," he said. "It's such a unique story, and you have so much left of that era that it needs to be preserved, and needs to be promoted nationally."