A hard-charging Dick DeVos showed up for the second gubernatorial debate Tuesday night, one who accused Michigan Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm of lying and blamed her for the state’s economic woes.
“We’re the only state that has lost jobs in the last three years. … Michigan is going backward,” said DeVos, a Republican businessman from Ada, as he ran through a list of economic indicators he said showed Granholm isn’t getting the job done.
For her part, Granholm took more time to explain the specific ways she’s rejuvenating the economy, whether it’s through training more workers for the health care and skilled trade jobs available or investing in new, high-tech companies that will help move Michigan away from being so reliant on the auto industry.
She also criticized DeVos for getting tax breaks for Amway Corp. and its parent company, Alticor Inc., that saved the company $19 million while he was president there from 1993 through 2002.
“I would never give a tax break as a subsidy to a company that cuts jobs and invests overseas,” she said. “It’s not a success to lose jobs.”
DeVos opened the debate at WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids by accusing the governor of lying in last’s week debate.
“I can’t say I’m disappointed. I’m furious,” DeVos said in his opening statement.
He was upset about Democrats’ charges that DeVos, along with his family, controlled a troubled company that ran assisted-living facilities and was cited for allowing elderly patients to be abused. He said residents “deserve better.”
DeVos gave few details on what he would do to improve Michigan’s economy, instead saying, “We have to fire the governor and head in a new direction.”
In addition to the economy, the candidates answered questions about the environment, education, business taxes, illegal immigrants and abortion.
When discussing health care, DeVos noted that “the best way to get access to health care is to have a job.”
“We have 53,000 more people without health care today than when the governor took office,” he added. “We have to get this state back on track.”
Granholm shot back that the state has nearly 900,000 residents who are working but have no health insurance. She said she has proposed a plan that, with the help of federal funds and small premium payments by the insured based on ability to pay, would ensure universal health care coverage in Michigan.
She then took a shot at DeVos, noting that “Mr. DeVos’ own company, so I’m told, hires temporary workers so they don’t have to supply health care.” The Granholm campaign backed that up with a letter published Sept. 6 in the Fremont paper from a woman, Molly Frendo, who said she worked at Amway for up to 32 hours a week but was never offered health coverage.
DeVos said Alticor provides good health benefits for nearly 4,000 employees.
Asked why his performance was so much more aggressive Tuesday than in last week’s debate, DeVos said he was trying to be a gentleman in the first debate.
Granholm held a slight lead in a poll taken last week after that first debate in East Lansing. DeVos needed to make up ground Tuesday, and even Democratic Lt. Gov. John Cherry said after the debate that DeVos had improved.
But he added that Granholm did a better job overall.
“She used questions as an opportunity to spell out her programs and her accomplishments,” Cherry said.
DeVos campaign chairman Greg McNeilly said DeVos won the debate.
“He put the governor back on her heels and held her accountable,” he said. “She foundered.”
The tone of Tuesday’s debate, which was broadcast on NBC affiliates across Michigan, was foreshadowed in new ads the Granholm and DeVos campaigns began running ahead of the candidates’ second showdown.
The new DeVos campaign ad has an announcer intoning, “When Governor Granholm took office, 10 months went by before she got her top job recruiter on the job.”
The ad goes on to mention tens of thousands of jobs lost and companies going bankrupt or laying off workers before the executive committee of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. _ the state’s economic development arm _ hired Don Jakeway as its new president and CEO. The ad ends with the words, “Governor Granholm. No leadership. No results.”
The Granholm campaign, meanwhile, has been running an ad that criticizes DeVos for supporting President Bush’s trade and outsourcing policies that the governor says have hurt Michigan, which has lost 186,000 manufacturing jobs. “It’s time to tell Dick DeVos his game is over,” an announcer says as the ad ends.
The Michigan Democratic Party has reinforced the message in another new ad that shows a photo of Dick DeVos morphing into President Bush, then back into DeVos. “If you love what George Bush has done for America, you’ll love Dick DeVos,” an announcer says. It ends with the words: “George Bush. Dick DeVos. Do you see any difference?”
Voters were hoping to see a difference Tuesday night in the debate. After the last debate, the percentage of voters who were undecided increased. But with less than four weeks before the election, voters are looking for reasons that will help them choose one candidate over another.
Granholm and DeVos will meet again Thursday at the Detroit Economic Club, where each is scheduled to speak for 15 minutes.
Their third and final debate will take place next Monday at WXYZ-TV, the ABC affiliate in Southfield.
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