U.S. SENATE RACE Candidates spar over spending, health care, border

Jan. 20—ACME — Michigan's high-profile race for the U.S. Senate — which will draw the eyes of the nation this year as a swing-state contest impacting Senate control — kicked off in Northern Michigan Friday as four candidates squared off in a debate at the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance's annual Policy Conference.

Four candidates in the crowded primary race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow took part in Friday afternoon's debate at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

Of the eight candidates invited, Republican candidates Peter Meijer, Michael Hoover, Nikki Snyder and Democrat Hill Harper participated, with Kyle Melinn of the Michigan Information and Research Service (MIRS) moderating the event before an audience of more than 100.

Meijer, a former U.S. congressman from the Grand Rapids area and part of the Meijer store chain family, described himself as a "nut and bolts, meat and potatoes" candidate who said he was running because of the "phenomenal disconnect between the issues of the day, and how my colleagues were proceeding." Meijer said both Michigan families and businesses are being "crushed" by inflationary woes, and listed rising administrative costs, both in the health care and education sectors, as a major challenge the Senate needs to take on.

"The faculty-to-student ratio has stayed relatively constant in the past 50 years, while the administrator and faculty ratio have gone up 5X," he said.

Hoover, a businessman and former Dow Chemical Co. employee, hammered on the federal deficit and specifically what he characterized as unsustainable spending in Medicare and Social Security.

"It's about time that real politicians, or statesmen, start talking about that future and what it looks like," Hoover said. "It's by far time that we start being honest and saying that we can no longer be taking out three times more than we're putting in Medicare, and we can no longer afford to put out 15 to 20 percent more than we take out in Social Security. We've got to fix it."

Harper, an actor and attorney who served on President Obama's Cancer Panel, said health care is the biggest challenge facing the U.S. Senate. He said U.S. citizens pay the highest costs for prescription medicines in the world, and that people are rationing medicine to pay everyday living expenses.

"There's no question that (health care) is an existential threat that we have to solve. ...if we don't take it on, we're going to continue to see the No. 1 cause of personal bankruptcies being healthcare," Harper said.

Snyder, a nurse and member of the state Board of Education, criticized the federal government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including school and business closures. She called on the Senate to revisit a 1963 U.S. treaty on biological warfare which she said limits the country's ability to properly respond to virus-related pandemics.

"When we close down schools and small businesses as a general way of handling policy in relationship to the virus, that is because we don't have people leading in health care," she said.

All four candidates criticized the federal government's handling of the immigration crisis and its border security, and agreed that both parties shared blame. The three Republicans said they favored federal agencies accelerating approval of the Enbridge Line 5 energy tunnel proposal through the Straits of Mackinac, while Democrat Hill said the federal government should shut down Line 5.

When asked about presidential endorsements, Hoover said he endorsed former President Donald Trump, Hill endorsed President Joe Biden while Meijer and Snyder said they would back the winner of Michigan's presidential primary election in February.