Democratic candidates for governor during their first televised debate on Wednesday said they wanted to lower auto insurance rates, protect immigrants and consider gun control members to promote school safety.
The 60-minute debate took place at WOOD TV studios in Grand Rapids and featured the three Democratic candidates running for governor: former Detroit health leader Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Ann Arbor Businessman Shri Thanedar and former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer.
One hot-button question the candidates answered was on school safety and potentially changing state gun laws to address it.
One candidate, Shri Thanedar, left the gun portion of the question on the table. He talked about a need to improve school security through things like requiring keycards for entry and cameras. The only time he mentioned guns was in saying teachers should not carry them – something state lawmakers proposed.
Asked if he supported gun control measures after the debate, Thanedar said he supported tightening the system to make sure guns didn’t fall into the wrong hands.
“I support second amendment. At the same time I also insist that we have responsible gun ownership, absolutely,” he said, saying the state should have good control over things like internet sales and background checks.
El-Sayed and Whitmer went after gun control in relation to making schools safer during the debate.
El-Sayed said he was in eighth grade when the Columbine school shooting happened. He wishes his generation had stood up sooner, and applauds the students standing up and pushing for changes to gun laws now. He supports background checks and banning assault weapons.
“It’s time for us to stand with our young people,” he said.
Whitmer sends two daughters, ages 14 and 16, to school every day. She said she’s had to talk with them about, when they get to a classroom, assessing potential exits.
“Our kids are scared to death, and no one in Lansing is doing anything about it. That is going to change,” she said.
She wants to institute waiting periods, background checks and bans on assault weapons and bump stocks, she said.
Asked about the state’s highest-in-the-nation auto insurance, all three candidates said they would eliminate “redlining,” the process of setting rates based on things like where people live.
“We need to ensure that insurance companies cannot use non-driving factors in coming up with insurance rates,” Thanedar said.
Whitmer was the only candidate to promise a timeline, saying she would sign a bill to lower auto insurance rates Michiganders pay during her first 100 days as governor.
She said in an interview after the event that protecting benefits for auto crash victims was a priority.
“Part of what I mentioned was we have to remember that why we have no-fault in the first place was to bring down litigation costs but also to ensure that people that were tragically injured in auto accidents get the coverage that they needed, and those are important aspects that have to be a part of any solution that I want to sign into law,” she said.
El-Sayed said his auto insurance plan included eliminating redlining, creating a body to promote truth in insurance and instituting universal health care.
“If everybody has health insurance then we can stop asking auto insurance to be health insurance too,” he said.
On the subject of health care, Whitmer was the only candidate not to say she supported a single-payer system – an idea that gained traction in the 2016 election with Bernie Sanders, a candidate El-Sayed and Thanedar have emulated. She said after the debate it was a federal issue and taking positions on things that may not ever be debated in Washington was not good enough.
The debate kicked off with a question on immigration, where all three candidates expressed an intent to welcome immigrants.
Whitmer said the national stories of children being separated from parents at the border were heartbreaking.
“It is the worst of what we’ve seen come out of the (President Donald) Trump administration,” she said.
She said as governor, she would use the office as a “bully pulpit” and take a stand against things like providing National Guard assistance at the southern border.
El-Sayed made waves early in the election cycle for declaring an intention to make Michigan a “sanctuary state.” He reiterated that idea on Wednesday, saying when he was governor Michigan would not participate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Thanedar, who, born in India, is the only immigrant in the race, said he would encourage immigration and put in place immigrant-friendly policy.
“One of the reasons we are such a great country is because of how welcoming we are to immigrants,” he said.
The three Democratic candidates will face off in an Aug. 7 primary. Republican candidates running for governor include Brian Calley, Patrick Colbeck, Jim Hines and Bill Schuette. The winners of party primaries will run against each other in the final contest on Nov. 6.