On Wednesday at Grand Valley State University, incumbent United States 3rd Congressional District Representative Vern Ehlers debated his Democratic challenger Jim Rinck. In keeping with Media Mouse’s effort to provide substantive election coverage, we have summarized the candidate forum below. We also urge people to review Vern Ehlers’ voting record.
Jim Rinck (JR): He is running on four issues—the war, the environment, the economy, and corruption. He believes that the United States needs to get out of Iraq sooner not later and that the war was poor policy. He further argued that the war was “necessary” because of the American lifestyle which is making excessive demands on the environment and is wasting resources while causing the United States to consider getting oil from nuts like Hugo Chavez. The economy needs work and money from Iraq could be spent here.
Vern Ehlers (VE): He has spent 22 years in the education field teaching at Berkley and Calvin. He has worked with local schools and served in the state legislature and on the County Commission. He got into politics because of the environment and is one of the most active environmental congressmen in the House and has passed and promoted Great Lakes legislation. He works well with others because of his intelligence, honor, and integrity.
Q: At a news conference earlier today by President Bush, he used new language to describe the situation in Iraq. Is today a turning point for Iraq policy?
VE: He did not hear the news conference, but does not think it is a major turning point. The policy has to be modified as events occur. He was unhappy with how the war was handled once Saddam Hussein was deposed. The US should have used Iraqi forces better. The United States needs to get out as soon as practicable while honoring our commitment to Iraq.
JR: This might be the end of the Bush parallel universe where he thinks that things are going well in Iraq. The Bush policy was so disastrous that his own party turned on him. Afghanistan was the right war. The Bremer legacy was a disaster and caused a civic implosion and has almost brought about a civil war.
Q: Can sanctions deter Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions?
JR: Alternatives are limited because the United States in bogged down in Iraq (where there aren’t enough troops). The US could put pressure on China, but is not sure the world will follow us. It might work to halt trade with North Korea.
VE: Sanctions will probably work with North Korea if applied by China, but sanctions will not work in Iran. China supplies North Korea and money flows through China into North Korea. China is currently pressuring Korea at the behest of the US. Iran is more difficult because of their location and opposition to Israel in the Middle East.
Q: Bush said this year that the US is addicted to foreign oil; how can we resolve the energy issue and address prices?
VE: He agrees, the US behaves foolishly towards oil. The war in Iraq and the war against the terrorists are funded on both sides by oil money with US funding troops for oil and terrorists using oil money to fund terrorism. It is important to create efficiency and develop alternatives.
JR: Where has everyone been? After 9/11 this could have been addressed by asking for sacrifices from the American people as was done in World War II. Bush is not doing anything about it, concrete steps are needed.
Q: Is global warming for real and should the US adopt the Kyoto Protocol?
JR: Yes, it was a mistake not to join. Money from the Iraq War could have funded costs related to Kyoto. There will not be an economy if the US keeps producing huge vehicles. Global warming is a huge crisis that could potentially destroy what makes Michigan Michigan.
VE: He talks about “global climate change” not global warming because it is a broad problem with droughts and hurricanes, not just higher temperatures. Bush has provided more money for research on the subject than other presidents. Climate change will help some areas and not others, for example Michigan may think it is good but it might hurt Florida because of the coasts.
Q: Is the current military disconnected from the new War on Terror?
VE: Every war has a new dimension in the modern era and the US military is not equipped to deal with terrorism. The US did not know what it was getting into with Iraq. Huge armies are not necessarily the best for fighting terrorism but are necessary for national defense and to deter countries from invading.
JR: We do not necessarily need aircraft carriers nowadays. Too much money is being spent on the military while Ehlers and Bush have a poor record on treating veterans whose healthcare is very expensive.
Q: Is the budget imbalance and lack of surplus due to the Iraq War and tax cuts?
JR: The US should not have gone to Iraq and cut taxes on the wealthy. Local governments and citizens are hurting from these policies.
VE: The economy is almost as complicated as physics, it is not true that if you increase taxes you get money. Bush’s tax cut helped get us out of a recession. Michigan’s economy is still in the doldrums, only state worse is Louisiana.
Q: The president has proposed changes to Social Security, how much longer is it before we need to address this issue?
VE: The president was right to call attention to this issue, but he had no success because it is not popular with the public. If it is not addressed it will hurt the economy.
JR: He works with social security in his law practice. He works with it as it relates to disability and he pointed out that it is not just a retirement system. It needs to change because it has to have long-term viability. He suggested an increase in taxes on the wealthy and the institution of means testing.
Q: Immigration reform has been a topic this year, what policies do you support – guest worker programs, fences?
JR: he would have voted for the Kennedy-McCain compromise legislation. He represents illegal aliens in his private practice and he said that sending them back would be like a second Trail of ears. He supports prosecuting employers hiring undocumented immigrants and tightening the borders.
VE: The influx over the border must be stop as it is easy for terrorists to get across. He agrees that there should be a guest worker program and that it would be good to seal the border in addition to implementing a guest worker program.
Q: With states raising the minimum wage on their own, is there still a role for congress at the federal level?
VE: Congress should set a minimum. States know their needs and it makes sense for them to set an appropriate wage.
JR: There is a federal role still as many state legislatures have to be dragged kicking and screaming on this issue. Ehlers could have supported an increase in the minimum wage but instead he tied it legislation regarding the death tax.
Q: Michigan has an un-enforced law requiring a photo ID to vote, should this be the law?
JR: It is not necessary as there has not been massive fraud. It brings back memories of poll taxes and literacy tests.
VE: He favors requiring a photo ID by 2008 and proof of citizenship by 2010. He was involved in crafting legislation to this effect that is going to the Senate. There is fraud going on and there are groups using immigrants to inflate voting totals.
Q: Stem cell research has become an issue around the country, what is your position on it?
VE: He wants to see lots and lots of research with stem cells but not on embryonic ones as adult cells are just as good for research. The argument has become so intertwined with the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate that it has become distorted.
JR: He does not understand the problem with it.
Q: Give an example of an issue that you succeeded on by working with your colleagues?
JR: He worked with the school board to close buildings and chose superintendents.
VE: He has a reputation for working well with others. He does not care if he gets credit as long as the right thing is done, so his name is not attached to many of his achievements such as Great Lakes legislation and bringing fuel tax money back to Michigan.
Q: Why are we coddling the Big 3 when they are not building cars that use alternative fuel?
VE: The government cannot tell corporations what to do. He is the only congressman from Michigan voting for higher CAFÉ standards. The government can only offer incentives to encourage the Big 3 to come out with energy efficient cars.
JR: You can tell the Big 3 and corporations what to do and we have done with seatbelts and CAFÉ standards. We should tell them to make fuel efficient cars, they should not have been making SUVs.
Q: Is there a need to reinstitute the draft?
JR: He would almost like to see it come back as a volunteer system as a way of reintegrating society with respect to race and class. The military draft might be needed if there are further invasions.
VE: He is opposed to it. The military was initially opposed to the voluntary military, but they have since realized that it works well. The military is very selective and 50% of those wishing to join are rejected, the draft would make them accept those who are currently rejected.
Q: If the Democrats regain the majority, how will you address partisanship and will a change affect how congress works?
VE: It wouldn’t change, he wants to get things done and will work with anyone on them.
JR: The projections are clear that the Democrats are within four seats of taking back the House. The Bush administration has not cultivated a bipartisan spirit.
VE: Bush has not caused partisanship, it is being driven by the fact that with jet airplanes congress goes home on the weekends and as such does not socialize together.
JR: Districting is a major cause of partisanship.
Q: The schools are failing, how can we ensure that students receive a proper education?
JR: Mandate preschool to overcome the gap between rich and poor. There is a need for more special education funding. No Child Left Behind is a problem.
VE: Preschool is a good step, but disagrees that schools are failing; they just need some work (especially with math and science). No Child Left Behind is working better than any other K-12 education program as it demands accountability and increases funding.
JR: Should evolution be taught in schools?
VE: Should teach evolution and intelligent design, it is wrong that public schools cannot teach intelligent design.
Q: What can be done to stop outsourcing to China and what is the government’s role?
VE: Trade with China must be fair, not free—there can be no hidden tariffs, no currency adjustments, no patent violations, etc. There must be a better work force here, it is the lack of an educated work force that is driving jobs to China, not wages.
JR: Why subsidize China? Reform the tax code in a way that prevents companies from going overseas to incorporate.
Q: How do you feel about live fire exercises on the Great Lakes?
JR: It is a bad idea to pump lead into our lakes.
VE: He is totally against it and training could be done on the open seas.
Q: If elected how will you control healthcare costs and how would you address this issue?
VE: Almost 50% of people get healthcare from the government (military, Medicaid, etc) and universal health care is not free, taxes will go up to pay for it. The costs will be the same.
JR: The current healthcare system causes money and productivity and the US system is the worst in the industrialized world. There is an issue with people making unhealthy lifestyle choices. The Massachusetts approach offers an idea.
VE: The Romney plan in MA was developed for universal healthcare at no greater cost than what is currently spent.
JR: Something has to be done, the current system is too expensive.
Q: Do you support a law that would disallow babies of undocumented immigrants from becoming a citizen?
VE: It would be difficult to change, it is likely in the Constitution and has been tradition for 220 years.
JR: It may be a matter of international law.
VE: It is essential for citizens to see these kind of debates and he never turns down the opportunity for such discussions. There was little disagreement with his opponent because he respects those with different views and is willing to work with them. He does not attack others like Rinck.
JR: We need to be stateswomen and statesmen and rise to the challenge. Bush finally realized the Iraq War was bad and its well past time to call things a mess and to take care of them.