Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, Attorney General Mike Cox trade barbs at debate
Accusations were flying Thursday as the five Republicans and two Democrats running for governor shared the stage in their first joint debate.
The seven candidates took swipes at each other on issues ranging from whether unions are a detriment to Michigan to personal morality and whether oil drilling should be allowed in the Great Lakes.
The sharpest exchange took place between two Republicans, Attorney General Mike Cox and Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, over two issues: Whether Snyder benefited when computer maker Gateway Inc. shipped jobs overseas while Snyder was on its board of directors, and what Cox's confession in 2005 that he'd had a marital affair several years before said about his morals.
"You plundered the jobs that went overseas," Cox said.
"I didn't like what was going on, but they did it to help the company survive," Snyder replied.
After Cox again questioned some of his business dealings, Snyder shot back: "I'm not going to stand here and be lectured by you on ethics, morality and family values."
"My wife is here, and you can talk to her if you want to talk about my ethics and morality," Cox replied.
Other differences in the debate were largely along partisan lines.
Cox blamed the Michigan Education Association and United Auto Workers for focusing more on protecting what he were "bloated" pay and benefits than on helping schools and state government succeed, a characterization Democratic Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero protested. Bernero has been endorsed by both unions.
"I don't appreciate the way he talks about unions," said Bernero, asking why all the sacrifice had to come from the middle and lower classes. He said he has worked out agreements with unionized city workers to cut costs and criticized those who cut state revenue sharing money for local governments, noting that "our cities need to be the hub of the wheel, not the hole in the doughnut."
Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon, who has proposed legislation that would put all public employees in the state into one health care pool to save money, denied Cox's charge that public employees were making more than their private-sector counterparts.
"If you are a degreed employee in the state, you make less than in the private sector," Dillon said. "I agree we do need to address the benefits, because those are unsustainable."
Dillon was the only candidate to support a new bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Canada, that would be built by the public and private sectors, a move Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra said he also could consider. Most of the others back letting the owners of the Ambassador Bridge build a second span linking the two cities, a move Canada opposes. All of the candidates except Snyder said they'd received campaign contributions from existing bridge's owners, although Dillon said his contributions were received several years ago.
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, another Republican, called on public sector employees to make sacrifices because taxpayers no longer can support their pay and benefits.
"The government unions need to get on board with today's economic reality," he said, adding that the current system will pass on too much of a burden to future generations. Bouchard pointed out that the state doesn't have enough money set aside to pay for future retirement benefits for teachers and state workers.
All of the candidates said they disagreed with Canada's decision to allow slant drilling in the Great Lakes, but had different ideas on whether the state or federal government had the authority to engage Canadian officials on the matter.
Hoekstra got a laugh when he said that he'd take the matter up with the Canadian premier.
"I'd take him down," he said, echoing some of the other candidates' tough talk, then added, "to the Gulf Coast." He said he'd show the Canadian leader the devastation from the oil spewing from an uncontrolled oil well off the Louisiana coast to make his point that neither Michigan nor Canada would want a similar disaster in the Great Lakes.
Republican state Sen. Tom George got in some one-liners among his more serious comments.
On the oil issue, he dryly noted, "We've had disputes with Canada before. One resulted in the capture of Mackinac Island."
He also took an indirect dig at Cox's unsuccessful lawsuit to close the Chicago-area locks so Asian carp couldn't enter Lake Michigan.
"You can sue all you want. The carp don't know when they're entering Michigan waters," George said.
The debate was held by Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island. The $200-per-person event was a fundraiser for the chamber's political action committee.