Six Republicans hoping to unseat U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow debated an incredible range of issues at a forum organized by the Ottawa County Patriots Tuesday night. This is the second time the presumed front runner, former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, has debated his rivals.
“It’s a great group of candidates. I could vote for any of them,” Bob Carr said after the 2-hour-long forum. Carr is a tea party member who drove more than an hour to Zeeland from Oceana County.
Dozens of the roughly 250 people crammed into the town’s library sport Carr’s own “Dump Debbie” political buttons. Carr says he’s given away around a thousand of them.
I tallied at least 15 different topics covered during the mix of in-depth and "lightening round” questions, including:
Immigration, abortion, gun rights, right to work laws, Medicaid and Medicare, social security, the EPA and other federal departments, President Obama’s health care law, military spending, participation in the United Nations, the federal tax code, embryonic stem cell research, Sharia Law, Supreme Court appointments, energy policy, and the recently repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy
The candidates generally agreed on the majority of issues.
Glenn targets Hoekstra's record
But conservative Gary Glenn was an outspoken critic of former Congressman Pete Hoekstra. Hoekstra was repeatedly forced to defend votes he cast in Congress to bail out the banks and GM and Chrysler. Glenn says GM and Chrysler would’ve emerged healthier from a bankruptcy proceeding than under the bailout.
“I’m not saying he’s dishonest,” Glenn said. “I’m just saying his behavior doesn’t match his rhetoric. And I think what people want more than anything right now is a person in Washington they can trust for a change.”
“You have to recognize how tough that decision was that people who look at the world through the same glasses came up with very different answers,” Hoekstra said.
Hoekstra admitted he’s not happy about how the bailouts were implemented. He complains President Barack Obama treated car dealerships, bond holders, and unions unequally.
“If I would have known that they we were going to be implemented in this way I might have done something else,” Hoekstra told me after the event. “But when you’re in office you can’t go back and say ‘well I’ll take that vote back’ - you just can’t.”
He says Congress should focus on getting rid of government regulations that he says led to the need for the bailouts in the first place.
Glenn said he offers no compromises, on anything. “There are plenty of dealmakers and compromisers in Washington DC right now. I don’t think we need more,” Glenn said.
Hoekstra said he’s the only candidate who’s proven he can consistently win elections. He was in Congress for 18 years. He lost the Republican primary for Michigan Governor in 2010. Hoekstra argues he’s not an ‘establishment’ but rather a ‘grassroots’ candidate; noting thousands of individual donors and volunteers.
“I’d argue, yeah, send the same guy and get the same results,” Hoekstra smiled, “I’ll implement a conservative philosophy.”
Also attending was Roscommon businessman Peter Konetchy, pastor and former Kent County probate judge Randy Hekman, Chuck Marino, Scotty Bowman. Attorney Clark Durant, known in Detroit as an advocate for charter schools, could not attend. (If you’re interested, I’ve reported more about some of them in the past.)
Audience discussed compromise, character
Holland resident Case Vanderleeste supported Hoekstra in his unsuccessful bid to become Michigan’s Governor in 2010. He says he’s known Hoekstra (also from Holland) for 25 years and his conservative credentials and personal character make him a strong candidate for the GOP senate nomination.
“These guys are all making theological references,” Vanderleeste said, “I mean it’s easy to say ‘oh God bless America and God bless you.’ But it’s hard to work it every day, you follow?”
There was no straw poll, as part of the conditions of the forum.
“He’s the only one with a real record,” Bob Carr said of Hoekstra, before quickly reminding me he doesn’t speak for the whole tea party membership. He also notes that the founding fathers struggled before coming to compromises to write the U.S. Constitution.
“The U.S. Constitution is our holy grail… to say that they didn’t compromise isn’t very realistic. It’s how you compromise. You can sell your soul for your vote or you can stand up for what you believe - fight the good fight and get as much toward your ideal as you can - and yet still get something done.”
The Republican who wins the August primary will face incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow in the general election in November.