State Representative Gary McDowell (center, standing), Democratic candidate for Michigan’s First Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, greets Houghton County Democrats at their headquarters in Houghton during a brief visit on Aug. 29, 2010. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)
By Michele Bourdieu
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. -- State Representative Gary McDowell (D-Sault Ste. Marie) took to the airwaves this week with the first television ad in his campaign to represent Michigan’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The ad introduces McDowell to those northern Michigan residents whom he has not yet had a chance to meet in his travels across the sprawling district that covers nearly half of Michigan's landmass.
"These past few months I have had the privilege of meeting with and listening to people in every corner of this district, from Bay County to the Keweenaw, and look forward to continuing to do so over the next eight weeks," McDowell said. "This first television ad helps provide those whom I have not already served in the state legislature or had a chance to meet an opportunity to learn more before casting their vote in November."*
McDowell entered the Congressional race after First District U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) said last April he would not run for re-election. McDowell ran unopposed in the Democratic Primary and will face Republican candidate Dan Benishek in the November 2 election.
Recently McDowell -- accompanied by 110th District Michigan Rep. Mike Lahti (D-Hancock), who is running for the State Senate -- visited with local residents at the Democratic Party Headquarters in Houghton. Each one praised the other, noting they work together in Lansing and have become friends.
110th District State Rep. Mike Lahti, second from left, who is running for State Senate, joins State Rep. and Congressional candidate Gary McDowell in urging Houghton County Democrats to talk to their neighbors and reach out to undecided voters during the last few weeks before the Nov. 2 elections. Also pictured here are Jane De Martini, left, and Jacob Davis.
"I just can't tell you how important it is to get Mike in the Senate," McDowell said. "Mike is without question one of the hardest working, most honest, forthright individuals I know."
Lahti had similar praise for his colleague in the Michigan House of Representatives.
"Gary is a hardworking straight-shooter," Lahti said. "He's a man of his word. He works hard for his district."
For the last four years, Lahti added, McDowell has been chairman of the House Appropriations Committee on Community Health, which has the largest appropriations budget other than school aid.
"He really fights for the disadvantaged regarding community health funding," Lahti noted. "I sit next to him in the House and I have a lot of respect for him."
Both candidates encouraged Democrats to talk to undecided voters about the issues for the coming election.
"Since the (2008) election, it's the independents who have really moved away from us (Democrats)," McDowell said.
Both he and Lahti pointed out that, despite the criticism, the stimulus money voted by the Michigan legislature has had positive effects, including support for much-needed infrastructure, broadband, investment in the auto industry and an increase in manufacturing jobs.**
McDowell expresses commitment to Social Security
Social security is an important issue for McDowell, and he has recently talked to senior citizens all over northern Michigan about his commitment to a program that has meant survival for many families.
"We had great support (from seniors)," McDowell said. "Social Security allows them to retire in dignity."
McDowell noted his Republican opponent, Dan Benishek, would like to do away with Social Security.
"He doesn't need Social Security, and he doesn't believe anybody should," McDowell noted.
McDowell recently accused Benishek of pulling the wool over the eyes of northern Michigan seniors by hiding his plan to eliminate Social Security, an important government program here in Michigan's First Congressional District, where 26 percent of all residents receive Social Security benefits.
Gary McDowell speaks with Clarence McDonald, chairman of the Western Upper Peninsula United Auto Workers Retirees during McDowell's visit with Houghton County Democrats on Aug. 29.
"I am absolutely committed to protecting Social Security for today’s seniors and future generations, which is why I pledged to oppose any and all efforts to privatize Social Security, reduce benefits or raise the retirement age," McDowell said. "Dan Benishek can’t say the same because he has been and continues to be a strong advocate for fully eliminating Social Security, even going as far as to call the program a disaster."
McDowell on defending the Great Lakes
Asked whether he would follow Bart Stupak's policy of defending the Great Lakes, McDowell told Keweenaw Now he has supported the legislation opposing drilling in the Great Lakes. He is also opposed to diverting water from the Great Lakes for irrigation or bottled water.
"I feel very strongly that the Great Lakes water belongs here in the Great Lakes Basin," McDowell said. "It should not be diverted to other parts of the country or overseas."
As for the issue of sulfide mining near Lake Superior, McDowell agreed with Lahti's position. Both candidates believe northern Michigan needs jobs that the mining may bring -- as long as the mining is done according to Michigan's recent regulations governing non-ferrous metallic mining.
"Mining has been part of our heritage in the UP," McDowell said. "We need those middle class jobs, but it has to be done properly and safely."
McDowell added he feels the laws are strict enough and were voted unanimously by all stakeholders involved, including the environmental community.
"They (the mining companies) have to follow the laws. If they don't follow them they have to face the consequences of the law," he said.***
The Green Party candidate for Michigan’s First Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ellis Boal of Charlevoix, says he disagrees with McDowell on the sulfide mining issue.
"(McDowell) says Kennecott's metal sulfide mine at Eagle Rock ten miles from Lake Superior must have adequate safety plans. I say it should just be stopped," Boal says on the FAQ page of his blog.****
McDowell said he is in favor of green energy jobs for northern Michigan.
"These are the jobs of the future in northern Michigan ... creating fuels that are clean and sustainable, and the jobs would be created right here because the source of that fuel (wood for biomass) would be here," he said.
Asked whether he would support wind energy in Lake Superior, McDowell replied, "I have an open mind about it. I haven't made a decision on it."
A lifelong hay farmer, McDowell said he supports small farms, locally grown food and small businesses.
"We just passed legislation in Lansing helping small farmers," he noted. "If you create a job just for one family, you help sustain communities in northern Michigan," he noted.
Learn more about Gary McDowell by visiting his Web site.
* Click here to view McDowell's first campaign ad.
** See our March 17, 2010, article, "Federal stimulus money funding Hancock projects could total $15.9 million."
*** In July 2010, before the Primary election, Gary McDowell appeared to agree with Bart Stupak that the $17 million assurance bond put up by Kennecott does not provide nearly enough funding to address the damage that the Eagle sulfide mine could create. McDowell was also quoted as saying the company should pay for needed oversight. See the July 2, 2010, article by Eartha Jane Melzer in the Michigan Messenger, "McDowell: Kennecott mine must have adequate safety plans."
**** Click here to read Boal's comments on both Benishek and McDowell and the philosophical differences that inspire him to run against both.