Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Video report: Candidates for federal, state representatives offer views on issues, goals at Ontonagon Candidate Forum

By Michele Bourdieu 

Lon Johnson, left, Democratic Congressional candidate for Michigan's First District (Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan) and 110th District State Rep. Scott Dianda, who is running for re-election, are pictured here answering questions during the Oct. 4 Candidate Forum at Ontonagon High School. Also participating (not pictured here but pictured below) was Greg Markkanen, Republican candidate challenging Dianda for State Representative. Johnson's challenger, Republican candidate Jack Bergman, was invited but did not attend this forum. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

ONTONAGON -- A large crowd attended the Candidate Forum held on Oct. 4, 2016, at Ontonagon High School. The event was sponsored and organized by local members of both the Democratic and the Republican parties. Local Ontonagon County candidates, along with the forum candidates, mingled with the crowd in a "meet and greet" while enjoying refreshments before the actual forum began.

State Rep. Scott Dianda (center) chats with local residents and Ontonagon County candidates during the "meet and greet" event preceding the Oct. 4 Candidate Forum.

A panel of media reporters and representatives of both parties then asked questions of three major candidates: Lon Johnson, Congressional Democratic candidate for Michigan's First District, who is campaigning for the seat now held by retiring Congressman Dan Benishek (R); Scott Dianda (D), 110th District State Representative, who is running for re-election; and Greg Markkanen (R), who is challenging Dianda for that seat. Jack Bergman, who is also running for First District U.S. Congressman, against Johnson, did not show up for the forum, although he was invited.

Panel members who addressed questions to specific candidates during the first part of the forum are, seated at the table from right, Jan Tucker of the Ironwood Daily Globe and the Y-101 Jan Tucker (radio) Show; Sophie Erber of WLUC-TV6, Marquette; James Filmore of WDMN-TV3; Bruce Johanson of the Ontonagon Herald; Al Warren, representing the Democratic Party; and the Rev. Brian Mason, representing the Republican Party. At far left is Skip Schulz, sound engineer, Ontonagon County Republican Party secretary and co-organizer of the event. Seated in the background behind Filmore and Erber is Nancy Warren, Ontonagon County Democratic Party secretary, who co-organized the event with Schulz and other volunteers.

Janis Burgess, Ontonagon County trial judge, served as moderator of the forum. She opened the forum with an introduction of the candidates and the panel members:

Moderator Janis Burgess opens the forum by introducing the candidates and the panel members. Candidate Greg Markkanen is seated at Lon Johnson's right; Scott Dianda is at Johnson's left; an empty chair at far right awaits Candidate Jack Bergman, who did not show up. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Energy and Environment

Reporter Jan Tucker asked the first question, which concerned the White Pine emergency power plant. She addressed the question to Dianda and Markkanen:

At the Oct. 4, 2016, Ontonagon Candidate Forum, panel member Jan Tucker of the Ironwood Daily Globe and the Jan Tucker Show directs a question on the potential closure of the White Pine power plant to 110th District Rep. Scott Dianda (D) and his challenger, Greg Markkanen (R).  (Video by Keweenaw Now. We regret the temporary whistling sound in the microphone here, beyond our control.)

James Filmore of WDMN-TV3 directed a question on federal aid to education to Lon Johnson. Bruce Johanson of the Ontonagon Herald then asked Johnson about his views on climate change.

A question on federal aid to education leads to Johnson's voicing his views on reforming the tax code, which favors the wealthy and corporations, so that federal dollars will be available for needs such as education and infrastructure. To the question on climate change, Johnson replies he believes it is real and can be addressed by ways we invest in energy. He also outlines his plan for protecting the Great Lakes.

One of Johnson's beliefs is that the U.P. and northern Michigan can be both "beautiful and profitable." He mentioned three of his environmental goals for the Great Lakes:

1. Shutting down Line 5, Enbridge's 63-year-old oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac;
2. Banning hydraulic horizontal fracking, which displaces an enormous amount of fresh water;
3. Protecting against invasive species.

In the Voter Guide published by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Michigan, Johnson also referred to the above three goals in answer to a question on meeting energy needs while protecting the environment. In addition, he mentioned responsible, sustainable logging and mining; updating the electricity grid to make it more efficient and secure; ending billions in tax breaks for fossil fuel industries and using those funds for renewable energy sources.

On the other hand, his Republican challenger, Jack Bergman, answered the LWV question by saying we should promote "clean coal technology" and the Keystone pipeline.*

Markkanen and Dianda were asked a similar question by Michigan LWV and differed in their answers in the Voter Guide, though both acknowledged the need to lower energy rates.

Markkanen blames state and federal government bureaucracy for the U.P. energy crisis.

"EPA and DEQ regulations are a significant contributing factor to the crisis," Markkanen writes in the Voter Guide.

Dianda, however, calls for an energy plan that allows the U.P. to take control of the future by generating its own energy and creating jobs as well as protecting the environment.

"We need to lower rates by introducing more competition and choice into the electric market," Dianda writes in the Voter Guide. "We need to make it easier for people to generate their own renewable energy through programs like net metering and ensure they receive fair value pricing."*

A question from Sophie Elber of WLUC-TV, Marquette, concerned the potential County Road 595, which was not built because of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerns about wetlands. The Marquette County Road Commission is involved in litigation against the EPA and again wants to build the road through an undeveloped area. While all three candidates replied they would support building the road, Rep. Dianda pointed out that the Marquette County Road Commission did not apply for a state permit for building the road -- a process that should have taken place. Johnson said he has conferred with Dianda on the issue and would be willing to work with the EPA, state officials and mining officials on building the road. Markkanen said the road would give people better access to recreation sites.**

Tourism, logging and mining

The Rev. Brian Mason, Republican Party representative for the forum, noted the importance of tourism in the U.P. ("Pure Michigan") but indicated the area includes more public than private land. He asked the state candidates their views on logging and mining on public land and asked Johnson more specifically to comment on whether federal land should be used for logging.

Johnson replied that he supports sustainable logging on federal land. He also commented on the importance of building infrastructure that will bring people to the U.P. -- such as passenger rail service -- and create more high-tech jobs so that young people can stay here.

In answer to a question on tourism and logging on federal land, Candidate Lon Johnson says he supports it -- and adds the importance of returning passenger rail service to the U.P. and northern Michigan to attract people to the area. He also mentions high-tech industries that will create jobs -- a new Soo Lock, high-speed Internet and cell phone service for the entire district.

Dianda and Markkanen replied to the question as well -- both supportive of logging and mining.

In reply to a question on tourism and logging and mining on public land, Scott Dianda calls for cooperation with the Michigan DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and mentions working with Michigan Tech forestry researchers. His challenger, Greg Markkanen, adds that downhill skiing at the Porcupine Mountains State Park, now under Gogebic Community College, as well as Mt. Bohemia in Keweenaw County, have added to the tourism economy.

Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act

Johnson replied to a question from Al Warren on whether Social Security should be privatized (Bergman's view) and, later, to a question from an audience member on Medicare.

Congressional candidate Lon Johnson answers questions on privatizing social security and Medicare -- positions taken by his Republican opponent, Jack Bergman, who did not attend this Ontonagon forum.

Al Warren later asked Johnson his views on the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare):

Johnson replies to the question on health care, suggesting reforms that could bring down costs and again opposing vouchers for Medicare (privatization).

As Johnson noted, his opponent, Jack Bergman, has called for repealing the Affordable Care Act. In the Michigan LWV Voter Guide, Bergman writes, "The number one priority of the next Congrsss must be to repeal Obamacare." Bergman suggests "personalized health savings accounts" to put citizens in charge of their health care.*

Education and Jobs

Filmore asked the state candidates, Dianda and Markkanen, to state what they believe is the most important issue facing the U.P.

Markkanen, who is a high school civics teacher, said for him it is education. He noted the need for more vocational education to prepare students who don't go to college for a trade so they could have the skills for a job after high school graduation.

Dianda said he was aware of educational needs, but his first priority would be to support industries -- including those based on the natural resources of the area -- such as mining, timber production and agriculture -- that would provide jobs to attract young people so they would stay in the U.P. A better economy would help support better education, he noted.

Al Warren asked the state candidates a question on making funding for schools more equal among school districts across the state.

Dianda points out certain needs for funding in U.P. schools that aren't taken into consideration in Lansing. Markkanen stresses the need for more local control of schools.

Later, a question from the audience concerned vouchers and privatization of education. All three candidates gave their views.

Markkanen, Dianda and Johnson all give reasons against privatization of public education. Johnson also notes that his opponent, Jack Bergman, was involved with a for-profit university system that failed.

Another audience question challenges the candidates to describe the "economy of the future" for the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan.

During the question-answer session for audience questions the three candidates comment on their vision of a future economy for the Upper Peninsula. All three mention technology. In addition to pointing out the need for a new Soo lock, high speed Internet and mobile phone service, Johnson speaks about his vision of a Fresh Water Institute that would show people how to use less water and protect the fresh water we have.

In answer to Michigan LWV's Voter Guide question on policies to improve the economy, Johnson lists the same ideas mentioned in the above video clip and also mentions returning passenger rail service to the U.P. and northern Michigan, protecting Social Security from privatization, investing in public education and lowering the cost of college, opposing unfair trade deals like the TPP and creating tax reforms to lower the tax burden on middle class and lower income families.*

During the Ontonagon Forum Johnson elaborated on the importance of tax reform in his answer to a question on the national debt.

National Debt

The Rev. Brian Mason, representing the Republican Party, asked Lon Johnson what can be done about the national debt -- which Mason said is now about $19.5 trillion.

Lon Johnson answers a question on the national debt by pointing out the need for reforming the 72,000-page tax code to prevent corporations and the wealthy from hiding their money off-shore in places like the Cayman Islands.

Candidate residence

A detailed question from the audience challenged Lon Johnson to defend his claims of residency in Congressional District One, since his Republican opponent Bergman's campaign has tried to cast doubt on whether he really lives in Kalkaska.

Lon Johnson calls Bergman's ads false and intended to distract voters from Bergman's own situation as a self-identified "snowbird," from Louisiana.

Bipartisan Organizers: Forum attracted 107 people

The organizers of the forum, Nancy Warren, Ontonagon Democratic Party secretary, and Skip Schulz, Ontonagon Republican Party secretary, sent a thank you to members of the media for their participation in the forum and noted they counted 107 people in attendance.

"I was pleased with the turnout for the forum but very disappointed that Jack Bergman failed to attend," Nancy Warren wrote in an email to Keweenaw Now. "Plans for the forum began in early August. The date was selected by Bergman’s campaign and Lon Johnson rearranged his schedule to accommodate the Bergman campaign. Throughout the planning stages, I was in contact with all the candidates but it wasn’t until a few days before the forum that Bergman cancelled. Voters deserve a candidate who is willing to meet with them and debate the issues in an open forum. I have since learned that Bergman attended a breakfast fundraiser in Lansing; however, it only lasted until 8:30 a.m. and Bergman still could have made the trip to Ontonagon if he wanted to attend."

Editor's Notes:

* The Michigan League of Women Voters Voter Guide includes comments from candidates who answered their questions -- including federal candidates for U.S. President and for U.S. House of Representatives, as well as candidates for state offices that will be on the local ballot. Click here to access the League of Women Voters of the Copper Country Web site, which now has links to both this Voter Guide and the local Copper Country Voter Guide. See also our Oct. 25, 2016, article, "Houghton County candidates in contested races present views at League of Women Voters Forum" on the Copper Country LWV forum for Houghton County candidates held in Hancock Sept. 29.

** In a recent conversation since the Ontonagon Forum, Scott Dianda told Keweenaw Now he believes the purpose of building CR 595 now would be to benefit local landowners interested in residential development. As far as he knows, Dianda said, the Eagle Mine trucks would continue to use their route through Marquette rather than using this woods road.

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