U.S. Rep. Gary Peters talks during a Political Action Committee reception Wednesday at the 2014 Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. (John L. Russell / Special to The Detroit News)
Mackinac Island — Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters went after his Republican U.S. Senate opponent’s stance on the 2009 federal auto bailout Wednesday during an appearance before business leaders at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.
Peters, of Bloomfield Township, said former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land couldn’t be trusted to support Michigan’s auto industry because she voiced opposition to the taxpayer rescue of General Motors and Chrysler, which he called “a great success” that Michiganians should be “proud” of.
“It’s certainly a difference of where I am and where my opponent (is), where she would not have supported that rescue,” Peters said. “You can’t be a U.S. senator from Michigan and not support something that is so important for our No. 1 industry and really the lifeblood of who we are.”
Land, a Grand Rapids-area Republican, dodged direct questions from reporters after the forum on whether or not she opposed the $62 billion bailout of GM and Chrysler. Taxpayers lost $12.5 billion on the rescues.
“I think it’s important that we have support for our auto workers,” Land said. “I think it’s important that we make sure that never happens again, that we don’t over-regulate, that we don’t overtax, that we make sure that our auto industry can have the ability to grow jobs and create a great economy here in Michigan.”
Peters raised the issue earlier in the campaign.
The Detroit Regional Chamber’s political action committee hosted Land and Peters for a $150-a-person fundraiser Wednesday morning before the official kickoff of the annual gathering of the state’s 1,600 movers and shakers at the Grand Hotel.
After the more than 100 attendees had time to talk with the two candidates, Peters spoke and answered questions from the crowd with Land not in the room.
Peters stood in front of a stage, while Land used a lectern and read a written speech during the first major gathering of the two candidates vying to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit.
Pollster Ed Sarpolus, who attended the event, said Peters’ answers to questions were too long winded and Land’s appearance was too scripted.
“Her team over-programmed it,” said Sarpolus, executive director of the Lansing marketing research firm Target-Insyght. “She’s much better than they allowed her to be. ... And she punted too many times.”
Land used her time to criticize Peters’ 2009 vote in Congress for a cap-and-trade scheme to limit greenhouse gases and require companies to buy credits to pollute more. Business opponents pointed at the time to an estimate by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation that proposed costs of cap-and-trade were about $821 billion and would have imposed $846 billion in new energy taxes over 10 years.
“I think climate change is something we have to deal with,” Peters said.
Peters “punted, too” on defending his vote for cap-and-trade, Sarpolous said, steering clear of the underlining issue.
Both candidates made remarks aimed at wooing support from the business leaders in attendance.
Land pushed for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, while Peters touted his support of a new Detroit River bridge and rail tunnel to Canada. Land also voiced support for the New International Trade Crossing from Windsor to southwest Detroit’s Delray neighborhood.
While explaining the need for a new rail tunnel that can handle double-stacked shipping containers, Peters also called for converting the existing 104-year-old tunnel into a pathway for high-speed rail from Chicago to Toronto.
Land said she would be Gov. Rick Snyder’s partner in Washington if elected to the U.S. Senate, but declined to say whether she supports Snyder’s push for higher state gas taxes to make up for a shortfall in state and federal funding for roads and bridges.
“That’s a state issue,” Land said.
Sarpolous said Land took the wrong track in answering a question on roads, a top issue on the minds of voters these days.
“She could have easily said ‘I support my governor on roads,’” Sarplous said. “She punted on that.”
The Detroit Regional Chamber PAC opted against holding a debate between Peters and Land.
“Negotiating debates between candidates is a tricky process and frankly we just didn’t want to go through the hassle of doing that,” Detroit chamber president and CEO Sandy Baruah said.
There were some lighter moments during the forum.
Chamber PAC Chairman Terence Thomas at one point asked Peters to “shorten up the answers” and later had to give Land more time to speak to make up for Peters’ responses to questions.
In vowing to work across the aisle with Republicans, Peters quipped: “I think there a number of diseases that are more popular right now than Congress.”
Peters leads over Land in a new statewide Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll released Tuesday night. The poll showed Peters up by 4.3 percentage points over Land, 39.6 percent to 35.3 percent, with 23 percent of likely voters still undecided.
Land is a former two-term Michigan secretary of state and Kent County clerk. Peters represents Michigan’s 14th Congressional District in the U.S. House. He also is a former state senator and lottery commissioner.
Detroit Public Television is carrying most of the conference speeches live on its website. The Land and Peters event was not broadcast live.