DeVos Claims to be Public Education Advocate; Granholm Supports Militarization of the US-Mexico Border at Second Gubernatorial Debate

During Tuesday’s debate, governor Jennifer Granholm and Dick DeVos generally stuck to predictable refrains from their campaign advertising, although there were a few surprises with DeVos claiming to be an advocate for public schools and Granholm coming out in favor of the militarization of the United States-Mexico border. Media Mouse has highlighted some of the more interesting discussions in the debate.

The second gubernatorial debate was held Tuesday night in Grand Rapids at the WOOD TV 8 studio between Republican candidate Dick DeVos and Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm. While Media Mouse has posted a transcript of the debate and encourages voters to read the candidates words directly, there were a few discussions in the debate that merit further comment. There were certainly a number of surprising statements, such as Dick DeVos’ assertion that the best way to “get access to health care is to have a job”—a clear slap in the face to many workers in Michigan who do not receive health care—but there were also a number of arguments that were either irrelevant or lacked specifics, such as the argument over the already eliminated Single Business Tax or in the candidates discussion of how they would create jobs.

One of the most surprising assertions of the night was Dick DeVos’ statement that “the people of Michigan will not see a stronger advocate for public education than me” even as he has taken an active role in the national voucher and privatization movement, including the formation of the group All Children Matter (ACM) in the spring of 2003 in order to coordinate a national movement in support of pro-voucher political candidates. ACM was formed as a 527 organization that exempts the organization from any restrictions on the amount of donations it receives and allowing it to run advocacy advertisements in elections. After Dick DeVos publicly identified Florida, Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado, and Virginia as “opportunity states” for the pro-voucher movement, ACM began intervening in state races. Furthermore, DeVos supported the failed 2000 Michigan voucher initiative Kids First! Yes! and continues to support the privatization of public education through donations to advocacy groups via his Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. Granholm’s response was right to highlight a speech that DeVos gave at the Heritage Foundation stating he would bring vouchers back to Michigan, but Granholm missed an opportunity to draw attention to DeVos’ support and involvement with the religious and economic right. The Heritage Foundation is a prominent rightwing economic think-tank that has a pro-privatization orientation and the religious right—including DeVos and his family—has long funded the religious right. This could have led into a critique of DeVos’ support of anti-abortion organizations, because even as DeVos said that “our current laws are sufficient,” his Foundation has given money to a variety of anti-abortion organizations working to overturn existing laws or restrict access to abortions including Right to Life, the Pregnancy Resource Center, Baptists for Life, and the Justice Foundation who is fighting to overturn Roe vs. Wade in the courts. Granholm also could have DeVos’ ties to the religious right as a potential liability in bringing major automobile manufacturers in Michigan together, as his family is connected (via his wife) to a religious right boycott of Ford Motor Company over their support of for gay rights.

In discussing the environment, it is also worth noting that DeVos has made contributions through his foundation to a variety of think-tanks that could be described as anti-environment, including the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute that links free-market ideology with religion and receives funding from Exxon-Mobil and the Hudson Institute that is heavily subsidized by corporate money and has attacked critics of genetically engineered crops. DeVos also served on the board of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based think-tank that promotes the supremacy of the free-market over other concerns, in the 1990s. Its hard to imagine that DeVos is serious about how “We have got to reduce our requirement of our fossil fuels, and our use of fossil fuels and expand alternative energy” when he supports organizations fighting environmental regulations and receiving funding from corporate sources.

Granholm also made a few surprising statements during the debate, particularly around the issue of immigration. In response to a question from emails submitted to WOOD TV, Granholm stated that she supports the construction of a border wall as passed by the United States House of Representatives and the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush. Rather than supporting comprehensive immigration reform that addresses immigration from a perspective that looks at the reasons for immigration, enforcement, and a host of other issues, Granholm is essentially advocating an enforcement-only provision like the one sought by many Republicans. Her comments that she supports “a sensible pathway to citizenship so that those who are here aren’t penalized but that in fact they end up having a pathway to citizenship” were vague and unclear and summed up by a statement to immigrants that “you’ve gotta earn your way and you’ve gotta do it in a legal and documented way.” Unfortunately, Granholm’s stance on the issue of immigration offered no difference from Dick DeVos’ stance.

Connecting to this issue is Granholm’s ongoing support of the World Trade Organization (WTO). While Granholm declares, “we [need to] stop the unfair trade agreements and enforce the trade agreements that we have,” she continually advocates for a stronger role by the United States at the WTO rather than calling for its abolition. Granholm could greatly shift the debate over trade if she addressed it from a broad, international perspective that recognized that trade agreements such as the WTO and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have been devastating for workers not just in the United States but around the world and that they are not benefiting workers in Michigan because they were specifically designed to promote the interests of corporations and neoliberal capitalism. It is also worth noting that Michigan is governed by procurement rules in three trade agreements including the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement, the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, and the United States-Chilie Free Trade Agreement. While Granholm has taken a positive step in objecting to provisions of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), she has not withdrawn Michigan from these procurement rules nor has she called for the elimination or substantial reform of trade agreements such as NAFTA and the WTO.

Demonstration Outside Grand Rapids Granholm-DeVos Debate Highlights Partisan Rhetoric

Last night before the Granholm-DeVos debate held at the WOOD TV studio in Grand Rapids, supporters of Democratic candidate Jennifer Granholm, Republican Dick DeVos, and Green Party candidate Douglas Campbell gathered to support their respective candidates.

Last night outside of the WOOD TV 8 studios in downtown Grand Rapids where a debate between Michigan gubernatorial candidates Jennifer Granholm and Dick DeVos was taking place, supporters of Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, Republican candidate Dick DeVos, and Green Party candidate Douglas Campbell gathered outside of the television station to support their respective candidates. In many ways, the gathering outside the studio was indicative of the political process as a whole in both Michigan and the United States, with the various people and groups in attendance reflecting the paucity of substantive political discourse within the corporate media and generally within the US citizenry that relies on the corporate media for their information. Rather than supporting their candidates because of a clear stance in favor of or in opposition to a specific issue, supporters instead engaged in an absurd shouting match consisting of simplistic chants repeated ad nauseam. Granholm supporters chanted “Four More Years” while DeVos supporters chanted “We Need Jobs,” in addition to other similar exchanges such as “Granholm” followed by “Go Home” on behalf of the DeVos supporters. Signs being waved and chants shouted across the street were largely devoid of issues and instead reflected an intense partisanship that came at the expense of any issue-based discussion. Even the Green Party, who of the three parties represented outside of the debate, has a truly innovative platform for Michigan, waved signs that read “Green Party” rather than communicating a specific stance on any issue to those passing by the WOOD TV studio.

The gathering outside of the studio was also instructive in terms of what it said about who is supporting the two major party candidates. Granholm’s supporters appeared to be primarily from the Michigan Construction Laborers Union, with the majority of supporters holding red and yellow signs that stated that they were paid for by the union. The union appears to have both spent a considerable amount of money supporting Granholm and in mobilizing her supporters, even as Granholm has expressed support for a stronger US role in the World Trade Organization (WTO), an institution that exists to promote the interests of neoliberal capitalists at the expense of workers both in the United States and abroad. The fact that Governor Granholm is not calling for the abolition of the WTO—or at the minimum a serious restructuring of the WTO, as unions such as the AFL-CIO have in stating that governments and the WTO need to “reexamine the fundamental assumptions and objectives of the WTO”—is an indication of how Granholm might take the support of organized labor for granted should she be elected. As was the case in the 2004 presidential elections, it seems that many unions, progressives, and others are supporting Granholm without making any serious demands just as Senator John Kerry was supported without anything being asked of him simply because he was not George W. Bush. Granholm supporters—at least those outside of the Granholm campaign—have long argued that DeVos is a candidate of the Michigan and national far right and this was shown to some degree by the supporters who attended. A prominent group among the DeVos supporters held signs blaming Granholm for abortions and for having an immoral stand on the issue. Some of these supporters were with These Last Days Ministry, a Lowell, Michigan group who is connected to a somewhat obscure Catholic group centered around religious visions allegedly seen by housewife named Veronica Lueken in Bayside, New York. In addition to supporting the authenticity of these visions in light of their dismissal by the Catholic church, These Last Days Ministry is opposed to abortion and attributes their beliefs to statements that they believe came directly from Jesus during the 1970s and 1980s, believes that there is a “clash of civilizations” between Christianity and Islam, is anti-communist and publishes news articles blaming Russia for a host of global problems, and is opposed to homosexuality—with all of the positions “supported” by statements that they claim came directly from Jesus or other religious figures within the past 30 or so years. One person at the gathering commented that the initial DeVos presence was mainly high school age youth that appeared to be drawn from area youth groups.

Before arriving at the event and finding that there was no corporate media covering the event, and indeed while a couple of WOOD TV 8 employees mingled with the crowd and officers from the Grand Rapids Police Department, there was no reporting on the gathering outside. Consequently, Green Party gubernatorial candidate Douglas Campbell scrapped plans to enter the WOOD TV studios to gain access to the debate. At the last gubernatorial debate in Lansing, Campbell was turned away from Michigan Public Broadcasting station WKAR-TV as he attempted to check-in for the debate. Despite meeting ballot criteria even before the Democratic and Republican candidates, Campbell along with Libertarian Party candidate Gregory Creswell and Bhagwan Dashairya of the US Taxpayers Party, have been denied access to the debates. Campbell has criticized the debates as being nothing more than a re-airing of the major party candidates’ political commercials. The agreement governing the debates makes no mention of candidates outside of the major party, nor does it make any mention of serving the public by assisting them in becoming informed about all candidates on the ballot. The debate schedule and participation in the two debates are determined by the two major political parties and the corporate media and consequently third parties are excluded.

Agreement for Michigan Gubernatorial Debates Excludes Third Party Candidates; Paves Way for Continued Dominance of Two Party System

The agreement governing the debates that are to be held in the Michigan gubernatorial race between Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm and Republican candidate Dick DeVos, are the product of the two candidates’ campaign committees and exclude third parties and any hope of a genuine discourse on substantially divergent viewpoints.

Rather than being designed to provide for the goal of having an informed voting public, the guidelines agreed to by Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm and Republican candidate Dick DeVos and instead focus on specific details regarding the formatting of the debates rather than addressing larger questions about who has access to the debates and the ramifications of excluding viewpoints from the debates. Instead, the “Agreement Governing Debates and Joint Appearances in Michigan’s 2006 Gubernatorial Campaign” is essentially an agreement between two representatives of a plutocracy rather than a blueprint for a truly democratic debate process. The agreement is not the product of a non-partisan organization with a truly impartial interest in informing the state’s voters, but is instead an agreement between the two candidates’ campaign committees and does not even provide empty rhetoric about how candidates can obtain access to the ballot if they meet some fairly impossible requirements as is the case with presidential debates. The corporate media, who generally excludes third party candidates in their coverage, also agreed to the debate restrictions. The agreement focuses on how the sets will be displayed, how controlled the format will be, what type of refreshments will be in the candidates’ staging areas, and how the debate schedule will be publicized.

The agreement governs not only debates but also public appearances, and restricts the candidates, their spouses, running mates, and campaign committees from making any calls for additional debates or joint public appearences and reveals the extent to which the debates are highly controlled and choreographed. The agreement stipulates that there will be three debates and one joint appearance consisting of three one-hour debates and a joint appearance at the Economic Club of Detroit. At these debates, candidates are restricted from using notes, holding up documents such as newspaper articles, or even wearing lapel pins. The physical environment is similarly controlled, with the size of podiums, distance between the podiums, and the color of the backdrop all being agreed to before the debates. Cameras and camera angles are also outlined, as are restrictions on when the audience can be filmed and how many members of the candidates’ staff are allowed to inspect the stage and equipment used in the debate. Members of the media are required to view the debates in a separate room via closed-circuit television and the debates are not open to a public studio audience, but instead are restricted with no audience in the first debate, an audience eight persons selected by each candidate for the Grand Rapids debate, and a studio audience of “approximately 30 undecided” voters as deemed so by “independent pollster” Tim Kiska for the third debate. Time limits for answers and questions are also agreed upon, and questions by the so-called “undecided voters” in the third debate are to be pre-screened in advance. All of these measures combine to create a debate environment that is stale and predictable, with little opportunity for genuine spontaneity and no serious debate between viewpoints as their would be if third party candidates were allowed to participate.

Perhaps the only redeeming part of the agreement is its second provision, which places restrictions on when campaign ads can be aired before and after the debates. While both candidates have spent millions of dollars on television advertising, the debate agreement restricts this advertising by establishing a 30-minute window before and after each debate during which any station airing the debate cannot air advertisements from the two candidates. Of course, this is a minimal restriction, but with the lack of substantive regulations governing political advertising in Michigan, any break from the daily onslaught of misleading political advertisements should be welcomed. Regrettably, the two debates thus far have not provided many more specifics than what has been shown in the two major party candidates’ advertisements nor has there been any substantive discussion of campaign finance reform during the debates.