HOWELL, Mich. (WXYZ) — For the first time, the Republican candidates for Michigan Governor debated why they believe they should be the one to face current Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this fall.
The debate was held in Howell and hosted by the Livingston County Republican Party and MIRS News.
The crowded field includes 10 candidates, which is believed to be a record. They include Mike Brown, Tudor Dixon, Perry Johnson, Ryan Kelley, Michael Markey, Ralph Rebandt, Kevin Rinke, Garret Soldano, James Craig and Donna Brandenberg.
Along with Brandenberg, former Detroit Police Department Chief James Craig did not appear. His campaign claimed he had a prior commitment.
Nonetheless, the first debate had a packed stage and audience. The first question was a timely one, focused on abortion and Roe v. Wade. All eight candidates said they were pro-life, but some believed in exceptions such as for life of the mother and other cases.
“I am pro-life with exceptions," Brown said. "I've seen some terrible things in my state police career with incest and rape, and that’s my only exceptions. But I welcome this debate if Roe v. Wade is returned to the states.”
The next question was about COVID-19 vaccines. All candidates were against mandates, but differed on the vaccine's effectiveness.
“I also believe the data shows there were certain people that their lives were saved because they had the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dixon, who commended President Donald Trump for Operation Warp Speed.
“The answer is no, it was not helpful," Kelley said. "I think we need to continue to push against that narrative.”
“In certain cases where the people were over the age of 65, it looks like it did actually reduce the overall incidents of death,” said Johnson, who added he would not advocate the vaccine for younger populations.
Other questions involved investigating Whitmer over nursing home deaths, how to help children make up for lost learning during the pandemic and other school-related issues candidates did not shy away from.
“We can solve a lot of these problems we’re facing right now by giving parents a voucher, let them take their kids wherever they want to,” Markey said.
Among the other questions, a question of whether to continue funding state universities, drew a lot of debate.
“We are going to cut the budget, we are going to get our house in order and something we’re looking at is the universities. We’re starting to call them indoctrination centers aren’t we,” Soldano told the crowd. “Do we cut it all? No, but a lot of the money these universities are getting, they could privately fund with their alumni.”
Another big talking point was taxes, including a proposal by Rinke to entirely cut the state income tax.
“We've got the greatest state in the country. We have natural resources that can not be matched, and if we create an environment people will come," Rinke said. "That's the first step and that’s why I proposed it."
Also in the debate, hot button issues like the 2020 election. All candidates were asked if Trump won the 2020 election and most said yes.
Another question directed at some candidates with a law enforcement background centered on policing.
"Years ago, we would talk about police on a beat. They would walk the streets, they would know the citizens, they would know the problem people," Rebandt said. "I want to see that relationship built so there’s that strong bond between the citizens and the police.”
There will certainly be more debates ahead of the Aug. 2 primary, with the winner facing off against Whitmer on Nov. 8.