It was too bad that only in the closing days of the expensive ad war between 1st District U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Iron River, and Democratic challenger Jerry Cannon, did they finally appear together last week on a broadcast event to respond to a wide range of voter-generated questions on domestic and foreign issues.

Michigan League of Women Voters affiliates and Interlochen Public Radio broadcast a superb 90-minute forum before a Traverse City audience that was archived and can be seen at as well as heard on

The district includes the entire Upper Pensinula and currently 16 and half counties below the bridge after latest redistricting. It has a long Democratic tradition, but Benishek won election big in 2010 and then had a nail-biter win in 2012. The district tilted GOP in the last presidential election.

Last week, I was struck by how, in these days when both parties are so extremely rigid and deadlocked in views on Capitol Hill, that Benishek, who was a surgeon in a veteran’s hospital, and Cannon, a retired major general and ex-Kalkaska County sheriff who lives in Fife Lake, emphasized importance of working with the opposing party.

Beniskek cited his involvement on bipartisan efforts in passage of the farm bill, championed by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Yet he said a problem in Congress is Senate failure to act on many pending issues and lamented “bureaucratic relapse” on some issues.

Cannon said that on many issues “the solution is in the middle. That’s where we’re going to make progress.”

Green Party contender Ellis Boal of Charlevoix, a seasoned lawyer, was included in the forum. Not surprisingly, he stated: “…climate change is the defining issue of our time.”  He also did a solid job in dealing with many other issues.

Benishek and Cannon also dealt with a range of environmental issues. Benishek does not “believe in the science of climate change.” Cannon, who’s more open to climate change arguments, has strong views against the aging pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, saying that if it is needed, “replace it.”

(On Saturday, the Traverse City Record-Eagle, reporting on responses it got from the candidates, said: “Cannon said he listens to the experts on climate change matters. He said it’s too important an issue to do nothing and that support of green energy can reap economic benefits.)

In the forum, candidates also responded to questions on health care, taxes and other fiscal issues, immigration, education, voting rights, Native Americans, a range of foreign issues and other matters for the most part not dealt with in their campaign ads.

Several of the latest congressional TV ads have been in the attack mode, especially those financed by outside interests for Benishek and Cannon. Yet the negative ads in this race are not as negative as some others airing in Michigan.

Benishek and Cannon, among their many self-financed ads, have had ones that have been positive—indeed appealing.

Notable was Benishek’s warm and fuzzy spot with his grandchildren, ending with Dr. Dan calling his youngest “Doc.” Also good was Cannon’s ad stressing his career of service that began with his wife saying she took in stride early morning calls on enforcement emergencies when he was sheriff.

The weirdest spot I saw was one sponsored by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee that ended with an attack on Cannon showing a supposed Cannon, in a dark suit, flapping around on the ground in the grass.


George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was political columnist for The Detroit News, and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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