Michigan GOP candidates for U.S. Senate agree on most issues in debate

The seven Republican candidates vying for a Michigan U.S. Senate seat, currently occupied by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, met in a mostly cordial forum Saturday at the University of Michigan - Dearborn campus.

Competing for Stabenow's seat are former U.S. Congressman Pete Hoekstra; former juvenile court Judge Randy Hekman; Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan; Clark Durant, who used to head up a private charter school program in Detroit; Scotty Bowman; Peter Konetchy; and Chuck Marino.

And for two hours, the room of Michiganders, most of whom were over 40, watched the candidates agree on mostly every issue.

The only real friction in the meeting occurred between Hoekstra and Glenn. Glenn has successfully mounted a challenge to the better-funded congressman-turned-lobbyist with attacks on Hoekstra's 18-year record in Congress, particularly on his working with the Teamsters, specifically James P. Hoffa, who presides over the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

When asked if the candidates would support a federal right to work act, Glenn verbally lunged at Hoekstra.

"Jimmy Hoffa told ABC News that because of his relationship with Pete, he was out of consideration for right to work," Glenn said.

Hoekstra countered that the labor reform brought by right to work is "at the state level."

"I support a state right to work," he said. "Maybe some of my judgments were clouded by the experience I had in Washington, D.C."

Hoffa drew the ire of tea party activists last year during a Labor Day union-led rally in Detroit.  Talking Points Memo reported:

Hoffa described the recent Republican-led assaults on collective bargaining rights as a “war on workers” and described Obama as union workers’ general who will lead them to victory in 2012 over the Tea Party and like-minded allies.

“President Obama, this is your army,” Hoffa said. “We are ready to march. Let’s take these sons of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.”

All of the candidates said they support right to work legislation in some form.

In another interesting exchange, a student asked the candidates if they would support preserving the new health-care law mandate that allows children to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26.

The general consensus was that none would support a "government mandate," with many arguing that it should be left to the market to provide access to insurance.

Durant, a former president of the State Board of Education, said the insurance companies would create a product for such a situation because there is "a large market" for it.

"Let's create an economy so the kids can get jobs and move out," Glenn said.

The candidates also agreed it was necessary to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Additionally, they all agreed the recent decision by the Obama administration to kill plans to build a 1,200 mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Texas was wrong. The pipeline would transport a thick, low-quality oil known as tar sands oil. Environmentalists raised concerns about the pipeline because the oil is laced with contaminates such as mercury, nickel and cadmium. And as residents of Calhoun County, Mich., discovered in July 2010, once the thick oil seeps into the environment and becomes separated from the lighter, thinner petroleum mix used in the current pipeline system, it is difficult, if not impossible to get out. None of the candidates addressed the environmental concerns associated with the oil that would be transported in the pipeline.

"The Keystone Pipeline is only one example of how the Obama administration is killing jobs," said Hoekstra. "It should have been approved, and by the way, it also keeps us safe."

The candidates similarly failed to note that while those pushing the Keystone pipeline say they will simply shift the line to the Pacific coast in Canada and send the oil to China, First Nations in Canada -- over whose land the line would have to run -- are vehemently opposed to such plans.

Photo: Candidates for the GOP nomination for Senate prepare for a debate in DeWitt, Mich., in 2011. (MICHIGAN MESSENGER/Todd Heywood)