On Monday, Grand Valley State University’s Haunstein Center for Presidential Studies and Michigan Radio held a forum titled “Election ’08’s Impact on Michigan: Energy, the Environment, and the Economy.” The event was billed as a forum that would look at how the presidential elections will affect what happens in Michigan.
Unfortunately, the forum did not delve that deep into the issues at hand. The forum featured surrogates for Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain. Mark Brewer–the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party–represented the Obama campaign and Joe Schwarz–a former Republican Representative and member of the McCain campaign–represented McCain. The two surrogates traded playful jabs throughout the night, which while humorous, exemplified the rather flippant attitude that many people have regarding politics. There was little substantive discussion of the details of their respective candidates’ policies.
Perhaps the most revealing comments came when both representatives indicated that many of the policy shifts being proposed by both campaigns would take a back seat to the financial crisis. Brewer said that many of Obama’s “visionary plans” cannot happen at once and that some will have to wait. Similarly, Schwarz said that he doubts either candidate will make substantive changes to the healthcare system or tax policy. These were interesting insights given that so much of the election has focused on the mantra of “change.”
Aside from the surrogates, there were individuals representing the three issue areas. GVSU professor of economics Paul Isely was the “expert” on the economy, Mark Coscarelli of the Public Sector Consultants represented the “environment,” and Imad Mahawili of the Michigan Renewable and Alternative Energy Center represented energy. There was no representation of third parties at the event.
While the full video of the event has been posted online (see below), there was some important discussion about the presidential election and its impact on Michigan that deserves to be highlighted.
The first question focused on Chrysler and the challenges facing the auto industry. According to their surrogates, both McCain and Obama support increasing loans to the domestic auto industry. Mark Brewer said that Obama also wants to increase investment in advance manufacturing and renewable energy. Joe Schwarz said that McCain is in favor of increased job training.
During the forum, there was also a lengthy discussion of energy as it pertains to Michigan and the two campaigns. Schwarz said that McCain has a multi-faceted energy plan but that a key component is expanding nuclear power capabilities by constructing an additional 40-45 plants. However, he also supports other measures such as increased drilling, geothermal, and biomass. When asked about Obama’s policy, Brewer said that Obama wants to see a transition away from fossil fuel and has a goal of requiring 25% of our energy to come from renewable sources in 20 years. He supports more drilling, is cautiously supportive of nuclear power, and supports a “cap-and-trade” plan for managing carbon emissions and generating funding for the transition.
The candidates’ surrogates–while eager to talk about their candidates’ plans–were more vague on how they would affect Michigan. Beyond mentioning the possibility for investment in alternative energy sources and the possibility that such investment might spur job growth in Michigan, there was little discussion by the two campaigns about how Michigan would factor into these policies. The three non-partisan individuals on the panel all expressed support for alternative energy–specifically wind power–as a way of helping Michigan.
The panelists also discussed Michigan’s share of federal expenditures and how the state’s share is considerably lower than other states. There was little said about how a McCain or Obama presidency would help remedy this situation. Brewer said that Obama would likely increase funding for federal mandates which he predicted would help Michigan.
Overall, while the forum was not quite the in-depth look that was anticipated, it easily exceeded the level of dialog present in the corporate media.