Candidates for Congress debate at NMU

Von Lanier

The air was electric across podiums as two politicians faced off in a debate held in the Jamrich Hall Auditorium at Northern Michigan University this weekend.

re-debate-ssA recording of the 1st Congressional District Candidate Forum between Lon Johnson and Jack Bergman was taped before a live audience at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7 in 1100 Jamrich. The debate was hosted and moderated by Bill Hart from WNMU-TV alongside Greg Trick from TV6 News. NMU students from both the College Democrats and College Republicans were involved in the taping of the debate, which will be televised locally by WLUC-TV6 at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12.

At the forum, one student representative from both college political parties was given a chance to ask a question to their respective candidate during a Q&A segment hosted by Hannah Schutzkus, another NMU student who also assisted WLUC-TV6 with taping the event.

Johnson and Bergman are the Democratic and Republican candidates, respectively, who are running to serve in Congress for Michigan’s 1st District. The candidates debated on a variety of issues that impact Upper Michigan, from electrical power to making college affordable, as well as Veteran’s Affairs, Second Amendment rights and Social Security.

Lon Johnson formerly served as chairperson of the Michigan Democratic Party and unsuccessfully ran for the 103rd District of the Michigan House of Representatives in 2012. According to his website lonjohnson.com, he is running for Congress to make government as honest and hardworking as the people who pay for it, to create a Northern Michigan where families can succeed and also to keep the Upper Peninsula both beautiful and profitable.

Jack Bergman is a retired 3-Star General who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. According to his website bergmanforcongress.com, he considers himself a “political outsider” who believes that 100 percent conservative political outsiders, like himself, can return power to the people and restore American leadership in the world.

Bergman and Johnson are running in a race that some are calling the most competitive in the state with Bergman’s nomination marking the second time in six years that a candidate with no prior political experience won the Republican primary in the 1st Congressional District.

Both candidates tastefully expressed their views at the forum but the intensity of the debate could be felt by all who were in attendance, especially when issues were raised about mining in the Upper Peninsula and gun ownership.

Johnson said he will work to defend Second Amendment rights but there needs to be more prosecution for crimes with guns. He also said there needs to be more spending on mental health for gun-ownership rights.

“We need to put away people who commit crimes with guns—prosecutor throw away the key,” Johnson said.

Bergman said the Second Amendment is well-written and there is no purpose to change it. He also said he thinks that citizens have a need to defend themselves and he believes there would be no gun violence in open-carry places. He referred to victims of mass shootings as “soft-targets” saying there needs to be more responsible gun ownership and training within the nuclear family.

When it came to the environmental costs of mining in the Upper Peninsula and policies at the federal level, Bergman said we need to use our natural resources without excess regulation by the federal government.

“Let the state regulate its own economic environment,” he said.

Johnson argued that we need to strike a balance to keep the U.P. both beautiful and profitable.

“We can sustainably mine without hurting the environment and should continue,” he said.

The two candidates stand vastly apart on other issues like college affordability where Bergman argued that there should be less government-funded loans and Johnson countered with there should be more loans and Pell Grants given by the government. When it comes to issues of Social Security, Johnson believes the current status is good as long as everyone pays into the system and Bergman believes Social Security needs to be reformed.

“We can send a straight-talking Marine general [to Congress] or we can send a career political operative who’s worked for the Democratic Party his whole life,” Bergman said in closing remarks at the debate. “Vote to honor those who’ve served.”

Johnson used a different approach saying “We need to invest in ourselves and not let corporations middle-man for us in Congress,” in his closing remarks.

Ultimately, whoever is elected to the congressional seat will replace the current incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls. Benishek is a Michigan native from Iron River who has served constituents of the Upper Peninsula since being sworn into office in January 2011.

Andrea Kreiter, senior biochemistry major from the College Democrats, said she thinks Johnson was successful in giving reasons for wanting to get into Congress stating, “he had steps on what he was going to do and how he was going to do it,” Kreiter also said she found her participation in the debate informative given that she didn’t previously know anything about Johnson other than his party affiliation.

“It’s the easiest way to get involved with politics, especially when you want change and aren’t happy with the choices for president,” Kreiter said. “Get involved. Vote.”

Mason Pearce, senior economics major and head of the College Republicans, said he thinks Bergman was successful making it clear to voters that he will do everything his power to make sure he leaves a better world for future generations by fighting for conservative values in Washington. Pearce said as a former Marine, Bergman has a unique background that will be able to provide diversity and insight that you cannot find in other candidates like Johnson.

“Bergman can bring the change to Washington that we are looking for,” Pearce said. “Johnson will just give us more of the same.”

Pearce said attending events like the debate is a great way for students to decide which candidate is likely to best represent their values in Washington adding, “it is also a good way for students who don’t know very much about the political process to start getting informed and decide which party aligns closer to their views.”

Further information about both candidates at the forum can be found at voterguide2016.com under “Districts” on the link in red titled MI-0.