Friday, December 16, 2011

Dems turn out for Congressional Candidate Gary McDowell at fundraiser in Hancock

By Michele Bourdieu

Gary McDowell, Michigan First District Congressional candidate, speaks to a crowd gathered in Hancock's Orpheum Theater (Studio Pizza) on Dec. 11, 2011, during a fundraiser for his campaign, hosted by the Houghton County Democratic Party.
(Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- Michigan First District Congressional Candidate Gary McDowell (D-Rudyard) says he's looking forward to a rematch against U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Iron River), who now holds this seat after defeating McDowell by a slim margin in 2010, just a few months after former Congressman Bart Stupak, who held the position for 18 years, had announced his retirement.

Brian Rendel, Houghton County Democratic Party co-chair, introduces Michigan First District Congressional Candidate Gary McDowell (seated facing the audience in blue sweater) to a large crowd in the Orpheum Theater in Hancock at the Dec. 11 campaign fundraiser.

Speaking to a large crowd gathered in Hancock's Studio Pizza and Orpheum Theater for a Dec. 11 fundraiser in his honor, hosted by the Houghton County Democratic Party, McDowell pointed out how Benishek's campaign statements contradicted his votes -- especially on the issues of Social Security and Medicare. Benishek voted for a budget that would eventually eliminate Medicare and reduce Social Security, McDowell said:

During the Dec. 11 fundraiser for his campaign, Michigan First District Congressional Candidate Gary McDowell explains why he plans to run against U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek in the 2012 election. (Video clips by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

McDowell, who formerly served as a state representative in the Michigan House, noted also that Benishek voted for trade agreements that have taken away jobs from Michigan workers, favors tax cuts and subsidies for big oil companies, and has voted against the environment on issues such as EPA regulation of mercury.

"We cannot balance the budget on our senior citizens and working families," McDowell said.

Gary McDowell speaks about his campaign to beat U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek for the Michigan First District Congressional seat.

McDowell added he plans to run an "aggressive" and "hard-hitting" campaign against Benishek. He attributed his loss in 2010 to the fact that many Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents did not vote in that election. He said the atmosphere is different now.

"We have to start now," McDowell said. "I'm sure everybody's mailboxes are being flooded with all the fliers saying 'Benishek saves.' We need to get the truth out, get the other side out, write letters to the editor, point out what his budget will do, who's funding this," McDowell said. "We have to get our people to get out and vote."

He noted his campaign has a high priority nationally with the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), as well as the support of unions and the League of Conservation Voters.

"This race is going to be one of the hottest races in the whole United States," McDowell said. "It's going to be the only competitive seat in Michigan in the general election."

McDowell encouraged the Democrats in the audience to work with their local party. He praised the leadership and hard work of the Houghton Democratic Party and noted high enthusiasm among Ontonagon Democrats he recently visited:

Fielding questions from Mike Shupe, owner of Studio Pizza, and Bill Fink, McDowell comments on the Supreme Court treatment of corporations as persons, the Koch brothers and the recent Republican agenda in the Michigan state legislature.

McDowell noted as a model the organization of the Obama campaign in 2008 and the numbers of volunteers that made it a success. At that time McDowell was running for re-election as a state representative and asked his daughters to help with his campaign. He joked about the fact that they said they didn't have time to help him.

"I said, 'Girls, can you help me?' They said, 'No, Dad, we've got to get Barack Obama elected President.'"

Asked about whether he agreed with the platform of the League of Conservation Voters, McDowell said he believes in a proper balance between economic opportunities and environmental protection.

"It's not either or," he said. "We have to protect the environment. We can do it. We've done it in the past and we have to continue to do that."

Pat Gottschalk noted the high cost of college tuition today was putting a great financial burden on students and their families.

"This whole anti-tax thing is just abominable," she said.

Gottschalk said pointing out to people the difference in the cost of education with and without taxes should create awareness among those who oppose taxes but need them to pay for their children's education.

McDowell mentioned more than once his concern for investing in education. He noted the young people participating in the Occupy movement are evidence that higher education must be made more affordable for the middle class.

Melinda Quivek of Houghton asked McDowell to talk about his position on the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine:

Toward the end of his talk, Gary McDowell answers a question on the Rio Tinto / Kennecott Eagle Mine, noting the importance of funding the Department of Environmental Quality to see that it's done right.

Since McDowell's visit followed the Houghton County Democratic Party's monthly meeting, the audience included a number of active Democrats as well as visitors. The general reaction to the candidate was positive.

Joe Hernandez, Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech, was optimistic about McDowell's campaign.

"He's got a great chance," Hernandez said. "People are finally motivated to get out and vote. There's a lot of 'buyer's remorse' about the last election."

Mike Lahti of Hancock, who says he sat next to McDowell when they were both state representatives, had praise for his friend and colleague.

"Gary is a real fighter on issues for seniors, the needy and the young -- and also for the U.P. and U.P. jobs," Lahti said. "He's a tireless worker. In my time in the (Michigan) House, he was well respected and very effective. He would be an effective Congressman for Northern Michigan."

After his presentation, Gary McDowell chatted with people in the audience, including Rolf Peterson, Michigan Tech wildlife ecologist and co-director of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study, and his wife, Carolyn Peterson.

Janet Gregorich of Painesdale, longtime member of the Houghton County Democratic Party, told McDowell it was "disheartening" to see so many people in Houghton County vote Republican in the last election.

"We've got to turn these people around," she said.

Reba Andrews of Hancock was impressed with McDowell.

"I thought he was excellent," Andrews said. "He readily answered our questions."

Pat Bacon of Hancock said, "I asked him about the possibility of closing military bases overseas. He agreed (about closing unnecessary bases)."

Elise Matz, Houghton County Democratic Party vice-chair for communications, says she considers McDowell to be the Democrats' incumbent.

"He's experienced," Matz said. "He's got the know-how, the help and the experience to put together a campaign that can beat Benishek; and, given the fact that this could be an extra Democratic seat in the House, I think it's important that Democrats line up behind him early."

For more information about Gary McDowell's congressional campaign, visit his Web site:

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