State - Grand Rapids -- Gubernatorial Race Bernero, Dillon trade jabs at Democratic debate Candidates attack each other's record on budgets, more

By Tim Martin

Associated Press Writer

The two Democrats hoping to become Michigan's next governor drew some sharp contrasts for voters in a head-to-head debate Monday.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and House Speaker Andy Dillon of Wayne County's Redford Township traded jabs about each other's potential for fixing the economy and improving the state's budget situation in a debate sponsored and televised by WOOD-TV from a Grand Valley State University campus.

Bernero attacked Dillon's record as House speaker, saying he's been ineffective and hasn't helped the state deal with budget problems and job loss.

Bernero called Dillon's record "abysmal" and said a change is needed at the state Capitol.

"We need bold leadership now -- not the same tired ideas from the same people who've brought us budget gridlock and busted budgets," said Bernero, who was a state lawmaker before becoming Lansing's mayor.

Bernero also criticized Dillon's private-sector work as a business turnaround specialist, saying he had the "Midas touch in reverse."

Dillon defended his record and got in a few digs at Bernero, questioning his record as Lansing mayor -- including budget and job-creation numbers.

"There's no question there's going to be a clear choice for voters on Aug. 3," Dillon said. "You can hear a lot from the mayor about what he wants to do, but he's not real clear about the particulars about how he's going to do it."

Both Dillon and Bernero have a lot of work to do to make themselves better known among voters.

Dillon led Bernero 34 percent to 24 percent in a poll released late last week by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA. But both candidates have plenty of room for improvement because 42 percent of the likely 400 Democratic voters surveyed by phone June 12-15 were undecided as the Aug. 3 primary approaches.

The poll conducted for the Detroit Free Press and TV stations WXYZ, WJRT, WOOD and WILX had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

About half the likely voters in the latest EPIC-MRA survey said they didn't recognize Dillon's name. Nearly two-thirds didn't recognize Bernero's name.

Bernero has received endorsements from the Michigan AFL-CIO and the state's largest teachers union, the Michigan Education Association.

"I'm in the mainstream of the Democratic Party," Bernero said. "I'm not sure where (Dillon) is."

Dillon noted he has helped pass energy-related legislation and incentives that have boosted advanced vehicle battery manufacturing, with the House led by Democrats and the Senate led by Republicans. While Bernero says Dillon is part of the status quo, Dillon says he has been challenging it during his legislative career while working in a bipartisan fashion.

"The people of this state deserve us to work together," Dillon said. "After all, we're all in the same boat here. It doesn't matter if you're a Republican or a Democrat. It doesn't matter if you come from the east side of the state or the west side of the state."

Dillon has collected labor endorsements from the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters & Millwrights and Iron Workers, among others.

Bernero and Dillon are among the candidates seeking to replace Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who must leave office at the end of this year because of term limits.

Bernero and Dillon did find some common ground. Both said they support funding for some education programs such as a popular college scholarship program that has been gutted in recent years because of the state's budget problems, although they differed on specifics for reviving the program. Both candidates said they are against an Arizona-style immigration law that allows local police to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.

Republicans running for governor include Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, Attorney General Mike Cox, state Sen. Tom George, U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra and businessman Rick Snyder. All except Snyder are scheduled to participate in a Republican debate hosted by WOOD-TV on Thursday.

Published: Wed, Jun 23, 2010