ESCANABA - Gary McDowell is in the midst of his campaign for Michigan's 1st Congressional District seat, challenging Republican Rep. Dan Benishek for the second time.
McDowell, a Democrat from Rudyard, visited the Daily Press Wednesday to discuss his campaign, and what he believes needs to be done to get the country's economy headed in the right direction.
According to McDowell, this year's race has a different atmosphere from his previous campaign - when he unsuccessfully ran against Benishek in 2010.
"The debate now is about protecting Social Security and Medicare and bringing good, solid jobs back to the district, and that's not happening in the present leadership we have, and it's very obvious in the polling," said McDowell, citing a recent poll conducted by the independent Public Policy Polling that indicated a 32 percent approval rating for Benishek's job performance. A January poll placing the two candidates in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up had McDowell leading Benishek 46 to 41 percent.
"He (Benishek) got elected and he promised over and over again in the campaign he was going to protect Social Security and Medicare," said McDowell. "One of his very first votes was to end Medicare in order to give more tax breaks to the wealthiest in this country. I don't believe he's working for the district."
One example of this is his voting record, said McDowell, noting Benishek's vote "to end Essential Air Service," which is a critical funding source for local airports and vital to rebuilding the economy, he added.
He also disagrees with Benishek that recent new trade agreements are good for Northern Michigan.
"They're not good for Northern Michigan," said McDowell. "We've lost so many jobs. All our Michigan jobs have gone overseas. We need to protect them. We need to have fair trade agreements that will keep our jobs here, expand jobs here."
He said running for the seat a second time is something he feels he needs to do.
"I feel I have to run," said McDowell. "We need somebody in this district who's going to fight for the district and stand up and work for just ordinary working families and our senior citizens instead of the special interests."
Social Security and Medicare are important to the 1st District, he said, as it is home to the oldest population outside of Florida, and seniors are relying on these programs. This would be one of his priority areas should he be elected, he said.
Just recently, McDowell began a "Save our Retirement Listening Tour" to hear concerns from people in the district about the future of Social Security and Medicare.
"People are concerned, they're very concerned, about their ability to retire with that dignity and that security - not just this generation now, but future generations," said McDowell.
"We have to make sure that we get the cost of Medicare down so we can take those savings and offer more services and benefits to our senior citizens," he added.
Some other major issues he believes are affecting the 1st District include the loss of young people to other areas.
"We do not have the opportunities that we need to keep people here and keep them working," he said.
One suggestion he had was for the expansion of broadband Internet access, which would keep people better connected and even allow them to work from home, especially with home-based businesses. McDowell noted his work in the state Legislature, where he introduced a legislation package aimed to provide small, family, or home businesses the same services and opportunities afforded to larger businesses.
He also spoke of the revitalization of mining in the Western U.P., saying it's something that needs to be done safely.
"I remember when we had vibrant, strong communities here because of the mining, and we have to look at that again and make sure that it's done right so it brings those good, strong jobs back here," said McDowell.
McDowell said he has been a dedicated public servant his entire life, and has experience from serving in the state House of Representatives and as a county commissioner.
"I've served many, many different capacities in my local community," he said. "I was a volunteer firefighter, volunteer EMT, a combination of about 20 years. I'm the guy who's going to look out for the average working families and our senior citizens in this district, and that will be my priority."
To see what McDowell suggests is key to getting the economy headed back in the right direction, watch this portion of the interview at www.dailypress.net.