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Low angled view of the U.S. Capitol East Facade Front in Washington, DC.
Low angled view of the U.S. Capitol East Facade Front in Washington, DC.

U.S. Senate Candidates

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Stars and stripes American flag

During the campaign season, incumbent Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and her opponent, Republican businessman John James, came into the Jewish News’ Southfield office to answer questions about their policies and priorities. Here are highlights from those conversations.

Jackie Headapohl Managing Editor

Republican

John James

John JamesNewsroom

John James

Q: Historically, support for Israel has been bipartisan, but now the issue seems to have been politicized. How would you address this?

JJ: No issue should be a partisan issue. It’s sad that things have come down to that. I think it’s tearing this nation apart. I was an army officer for 12½ years, counting West Point, and then went into business. I have always had to work with diverse people to accomplish tough missions both in combat and in business. I believe what makes us great as a nation is our diversity.

I was always raised to believe that Israel is the rightful home of the Jews and we must stand by God’s chosen people. There must be zero public space between Israel and the United States of America. We must do everything we can to preserve that relationship. That’s not a partisan issue and it blows my mind that it’s become a partisan issue.

Q: Now that the Trump administration has pulled out of the Iran Nuclear agreement, what do you see as a path forward to mitigate a nuclear Iran?

JJ: We must make sure that Iran is never in the position to develop a nuclear weapon or intercontinental ballistic missile. We must make sure that Iran is never able to destabilize the world community or the U.S. through cyber, terror or proxy means. And that means using every single tool in our toolbox to include economic sanctions and the like. And that means leaving every option on the table.

Our public pronouncement of alignment with Israel is the first and most necessary step — the security funding, the missile defense system, moving the embassy to Jerusalem … These public stances, I believe, are indicating to Tehran that Israel and the United States are in lockstep.

I was always taught that when somebody tells you who they are, you believe them. When Iran says, “death to Israel” or “death to America,” I believe them. Even former Secretary of State John Kerry said the $150 billion the previous administration gave to Iran would finds its way into terrorists’ hands. To reverse that, we need to make sure that we stand with Israel and work with the world to contain Iran because we cannot afford to kick the can down the road.

Q: What are your thoughts on trade?

JJ: I believe in free, but fair trade, reciprocal trade deals with mutual benefit for all parties, open markets and open access. I also believe that when you’re being taken advantage of, you have the right, the responsibility to stand up for yourself.

Nobody likes tariffs, and nobody wants them. I don’t like the term “trade war” for tariffs because I’ve been to war; I tend to look at these as trade negotiations. I’m a supplier for Ford Motor Co. [He is president of his family’s business, James Group International]. I recognize how taxes, tariffs and trade affect businesses. I also recognize the currency manipulation, the intellectual property theft and the predatory business practices of China, which has taken advantage of our economy.

The U.S. is negotiating better terms since the tariffs went into place. The U.S. economy has increased since the end of February and the Chinese economy has gone down. I’m looking forward to working with anyone in Washington and abroad to bring these negotiations to a swift end in a manner that will benefit the United States and Michigan.

Q: What kinds of policies would you pursue to help the middle class?

JJ: We’ve done an epically poor job of addressing the root cause issue of income inequality or — a better term — opportunity inequality. Until we address that disparity, then nothing will change. That is why I don’t just talk about jobs. Jobs are a part of the equation, but they’re not a solution on their own.

We need to make sure that we’re looking at early childhood development. That we’re looking at K-12 education, including vocational skills and skilled trades training. We need kids who graduate from high school to be college or career ready.

We need look at workforce development for the people who are already there in the workforce. We need criminal justice reform, and we need to take down the regulatory barriers that would stifle entrepreneurship, innovation and job creation. We still have jobs that are open because we haven’t trained folks.

In order to invest in education like this, you need to broaden the tax base rather than just increase the tax rate. A pro-business environment would attract talent and companies. I think that giving money back to the people who’ve earned it, enabling people to compete, providing better education and looking at economic opportunity are all things that we need to do.

Q: How would you improve access to healthcare?

JJ: The way you lower costs and increase quality of care is through transparency and reform. Tort reform, regulatory reform and increasing transparency would drop prices precipitously and increase quality of care exponentially.

I believe in a patient-centered, market-based approach that must take care of pre-existing conditions. I truly believe that patients and doctors should be empowered, not the insurance companies or the federal government.

Q: Your ideas to improve mental health care in our country?

JJ: We need more mental health research for one. But I also need to think we need to look at an overwhelming number of our teens engaging in social media and the damage that could potentially do to their psyches. Decades ago, people were dying from emphysema and lung cancer. We realized that cigarettes were the culprit. I believe that social media is the Philip Morris of today. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are having negative impacts on the mental health of our youth … the bullying, the shaming, the depression and anxiety that come from looking at everyone’s best self and feeling, in some way, inferior. Parents should have the right to know and regulate what their children are accessing on social media at all times.

Democrat

Debbie Stabenow

Debbie StabenowNewsroom | Detroit Jewish News

Debbie Stabenow

Q: Historically, support for Israel has been bipartisan, but now the issue seems to have been politicized. How can we address this?

DS: It’s critical to have bipartisan support for Israel and, I would argue that, in fact, it has been, despite the political rhetoric. Funding for Israel has remained strong as has funding for joint research that Israel and the U.S. do in agriculture technology, for example. My commitment to Israel is strong and will remain strong. I support a two-state solution and Israel’s right to defend itself. I believe it’s is important that the U.S. be an honest peace broker to try to bring people together.

Q: Now that the Trump administration has pulled out of the Iran Nuclear agreement, what do you see as a path forward to mitigate a nuclear Iran?

DS: I supported the agreement — not because it was perfect — but because we had credible evidence that Iran was very close to having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon. Even as I supported the agreement, at the same time I supported and was a co-sponsor of continuing sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missiles and terrorist activity.

Pulling out of the deal was not a well-thought-out plan by the White House. I also know from meeting with leaders of other countries that it makes it more difficult for other countries to trust the agreements the U.S. makes.

Q: What are your thoughts on trade?

DS: Trade is always complicated in Michigan. We’re the fifth largest exporting state. We have more than $3 billion that goes back and forth across the bridge every day, and we have an integrated automotive supply chain between Canada and the U.S. We need a set of policies that levels the playing field so we’re exporting our products and not our jobs.

Also, Michigan farmers need markets. Our farmers are in a difficult spot right now because they are being used in this trade war. The retaliatory tariffs put on Michigan agricultural products are putting our farmers at risk. The answer is not to provide farmers subsidies — which are paid for by adding to the deficit. Our farmers say they want trade — not aid. I certainly want to help farmers, and we have a risk management system, crop insurance and other ways to support farmers, all of which I helped to develop and support.

We do, however, need strong trade agreements and trade enforcement, especially with China, who steals our intellectual property rights and creates counterfeit auto parts, for example. I would push any administration to be tough on China. The problem with tariffs is not having carefully thought through a strategy. I’m hopeful there’s a strategy, but, as of today, we’ve not seen it. I would like the administration to be successful, but what’s happening now is costs are going up for companies and consumers; and our farmers are being used and caught in the middle. We’re going to see some folk get gob-smacked.

Q: What kinds of policies would you pursue to help the middle class?

DS: I work on things to create a level playing field, such as working to close tax loopholes to keep more jobs at home. I’m working closely with many Michigan businesses to strengthen our “buy America” provisions as well as on-job training.

I’ve probably talked to about 200 different small businesses and I always ask them, “What’s your No.1 concern?” Every one of them said getting the skilled workers they need. So, I’m focused on skilled trades and technical training. Everything in school now is geared toward college — and we need to tackle that cost as well — but you can go into one of the great training centers in Michigan that’s funded privately by skilled trades and their business partners and become an apprentice. After five years, you walk out with a professional trade and no debt and into a job that pays $75,000-$80,000 a year.

Also, students shouldn’t come out of college with as much debt as if they bought a big house. I’m part of a coalition trying to get interest rates on student loans down and trying to get some college debt-free.

Q: How would you improve access to healthcare?

DS: The No. 1 driver of healthcare costs are prescription drugs. The system for pricing prescription drugs is rigged and not transparent, so people don’t know what the drugs really cost. I believe that Medicare should be able to negotiate group prices, and we should allow safe FDA-approved medicine to go back and forth from Canada.

Another thing I’m trying to stop is “gag clauses” for pharmacists, which prevent them from telling customers when their co-pay is higher than the price of the medication. That bill is moving through the Senate now.

Also, the Affordable Care Act made it clear that you can’t discriminate on pre-existing conditions. The Trump administration is committed to changing those rules. It has now allowed what we call junk plans to be put on the market. These plans cost less, but they don’t cover anything. Several us are working to organize and educate people about the risks to their healthcare. If the ACA is dismantled, people who have pre-existing conditions may end up being priced out of the market.

Q: Your ideas to improve mental health care in our country?

DS: Structurally, we need to change the way we fund community mental health and addiction services. For mental health care, most of the funding comes from grants. In a community setting, mental health care providers get paid much less than doctors or other healthcare providers. When the grant runs out, so does the treatment.

One out of five people in our country has a treatable mental illness. We need to treat it like any other health condition. The same thing with addiction. I authored the mental health parity provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which now are being undermined because insurance can now be offered without having mental health parity because of new rules from the Trump administration.

I’m also working on eliminating stigma with outreach on college campuses and high schools about how to talk about mental illness. One of the biggest problems in getting help is that no one wants to talk about their mental health challenges.

Newsroom

1 Comment

  1. miranda Davis on 10/20/2018 1:12 PM at 1:12 PM

    Thank you very much for this article and especially the final question. I believe this is the first time I’ve read/heard these candidates’ views on mental health. As a social worker, I know how little government support is being given to mental health and addiction treatment.

    On this issue – as on each of the questions in this article – Debbie Stabenow clearly is knowledgeable, realistic and has a plan. James, on the other hand babbles about parental controls for social media, which is only one tiny aspect of mental health issues.



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