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GOP contenders for Michigan U.S. Senate seat debate in DeWitt

DEWITT — Six of the men vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2012 squared off Thursday in DeWitt at a Tea Party-sponsored forum and came out in favor of abolishing numerous federal agencies.

Participating in the forum were Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan; Clark Durant, a charter school advocate; former Congressman Pete Hoekstra; former family judge Randy Hekman; Scott Bowman and Peter Konetchy. Two other candidates, Chuck Marino and Rick Wilson, were in attendance, but did not participate in the event as speakers. Marino at one point attempted to challenge Hoekstra, and was promptly ejected from the event altogether.

While the event mostly congenial, both Gary Glenn and Clark Durant took swings at the frontrunner, Hoekstra. But in general all the candidates shared the same ideas on how to fix the economy — “cut, cap, balance,” as Hoekstra said — to the need for a strong national defense. In addition, there was much talk about the debt problem. They also all said the U.S. was going off track and needed to be restored to its Constitutional principles.

There was also a great deal of support for drilling for oil in the U.S., as well as fracking to obtain natural gas.

“Drill now,” said Durant. “We can export our oil and defund our enemies.”

“Drill, baby, drill,” was the refrain from Glenn.

In the context of returning to Constitutional principles, several of the candidates mentioned eliminating federal government departments that were not mandated by the Constitution. Among them were the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Energy and Education.

“None are constitutional, and can be done by the people,” said Peter Konetchy. He also supports the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In a follow up interview with Konetchy, he acknowledged that some things the EPA does are good.

“There are a lot of things that the EPA does that are good — I’m not going to say they’re not good — but it’s not a federal function. There is nothing in the Constitution that grants the federal government that authority,” said Konetchy. “And it can easily be handled by the states. It can easily be handled by the free markets, you know we have the court system.”

Glenn also supports the elimination of the EPA, in spite of its work in Calhoun county where an estimated one million gallons of tar sands oil spewed into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River in July of 2010.

“Well obviously the EPA didn’t help them get it done,” said Glenn of the Calhoun clean up in Calhoun. “I think our 50 state environmental agencies can do the job.”

During the forum, Durant praised the free market principles behind the controversial Keystone XL project to transport Canadian tar sands oil to the U.S., but later said his words were not a specific endorsement of the project.

“No, but what I like about Keystone is that it started a discussion where you’ve had private investors willing to put their own money at risk,” he said. “The key thing is to make sure that it’s safe. It’s going through a lot of territory. So we need to make sure it’s safe and properly done. But it’s not picking winners and losers. Its people willing to take a risk that America needs more energy to bring down the cost of gasoline. So I think we need to seriously look at it as an alternative to bring down the cost of gasoline for all Americans.”

“I support building a pipeline from Canada down to our refineries,” said Hoekstra of the Keystone XL project. “We’re not going to shut down the tar sands. The Canadians are either going to build a pipeline and provide the United States with oil or they’re going to build a pipeline, probably to Prince Rupert, and put the oil on the world market and ship the oil to China or wherever.”

For Konetchy, Keystone was a no brainer for his support.

“Oh yes, very very much so,” he said. “We need oil. We can’t function without oil. Nothing is 100 percent safe.”

Glenn said he did not have enough information to take a clear stance one way or another.

“Somebody would have to tell me why not,” said Glenn. “If the only objection is that we make mistakes, then I would support it. We have made mistakes throughout the progress of mankind.”

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