Debbie Dingell – Congresswoman from a Political Dynasty
By most political analysis, Michigan’s 12th Congressional District should be a lock for Democrats. It’s a deeply blue region, anchored by strong liberal hubs in Ann Arbor and Dearborn. But incumbent Congresswoman Debbie Dingell says she doesn’t want to celebrate too soon.
“I’m Debbie Downer,” Dingell says. “I hate the word ‘blue wave.’ I think that puts the cart before the horse. It can potentially suppress votes where people don’t think their votes mater.”
Dingell, who ran unopposed in her Democratic primary, says she doesn’t want a repeat of the 2016 General Election.
“This country is better off when people engage and vote,” Dingell says. “Nothing’s on automatic pilot.”
Still, re-election of the 64-year-old former auto lobbyist isn’t a long shot. Dingell has raised and spent over a million dollars on her campaign, nearly 50 times more than the other three candidates in the race combined. She has the backing of major political institutions, unions and corporations. She’s received the most individual contributions in the race for the 12th.
And there’s the Dingell family name, which has established itself as a political dynasty on Capitol Hill. Michigan has voted a Dingell into Congress in every federal election since 1932. Her husband, John Dingell, holds the record for the longest-serving U.S. congressperson. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell says voters in Michigan’s 12th District should vote based on who she is, not on relatives who share her name.
“I started working on public policy issues when I was in college. I had my own career for 30 years. I want to be judged on who Debbie Dingell is.”
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell
John Dingell suffered a heart attack last month. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell says that event has given her a first-hand experience with the health care system, which she views as the number one priority facing the next Congress.
“I know I’m luckier than 99 and nine-tenths of the people in this country,” Dingell says. “I’m supposed to know how to navigate and do things, and there are days where I take my head and pound it against the wall.”
Dingell says she believes in healthcare-for-all, campaign finance reform, and more restrictive gun laws. She supports net-neutrality and a solution for DACA recipients. Dingell says those stances should give residents enough of a reason to vote for her.
“I think it’s time that women or any spouse be judged on who they are as a person,” Dingell says. “Not because they happen to marry someone who had a good last name.”
Jeff Jones - A Former Independent Candidate Runs on the GOP Ticket
But it’s the Dingell name and the congresswoman’s connections to the political and corporate establishment that has gained the ire of her challengers. Jeff Jones of Taylor is a 57-year-old businessman, minister and author running on the Republican ticket. As a life-long Michigander, Jones says voters in the 12th haven’t seen positive change under any Dingell leadership.
“They see a community for the last 50 years who has been slowly decaying and the same results over and over again,” Jones says. “I think we call that insanity, don’t we?”
Jones, who has never held public office nor faced an opponent in the Republican primary, calls himself a “constitutionalist.” In the past, Jones ran as an independent for the U.S. House and Senate. He says he’s not a “traditional Republican.”
“We do not have an immigration problem in America. The problem that’s been addressed is what’s referred to as illegal immigration or undocumented citizens, and that is a problem.”
Jeff Jones, Republican Candidate for Michigan’s 12th Congressional District
Jones believes in term limits for elected officials. For schools, Jones says he wants to introduce entrepreneurship classes and hands-on, professional experiences for students.
“We have problems with the funding of education,” Jones says. “What if we could tie children’s dreams and appetites with their tomorrows and corporate opportunity? What if we created a collaborative, integrated system?”
To cut pollution, Jones proposes using alternative fuel sources such as microwaving municipal solid waste and eliminating landfills.
“What if we can grow coconuts indoors, and I believe we could grow coconuts indoors,” Jones says. “The problem is the cost of energy.”
Gary Walkowicz – An Auto-Worker Looks to Inspire the “Working Class”
Jones opposes corporate influence in Washington. It’s a view also shared by Gary Walkowicz, who is running as the 12th Congressional District’s Working Class party candidate. The 69-year-old has worked at Ford’s Dearborn-Rouge plant for the last 40 years. He’s also served on the bargaining committee for the UAW. He says it’s time for workers across the country to decide how their taxes are spent.
“To me, that’s our money. We work for that, we produce the wealth of society and I think we have every right as a worker to say that we should get the benefit of our labor. That means taking money back from the corporations and the banks to use for public service, to use for jobs, to use for higher wages,” Walkowicz says. “We should have the right, and we should be fighting for that.”
Admittingly, Walkowicz doesn’t think he’d be able to enact any political change in Washington. He says his campaign is meant to inspire workers to form their own party and take their voices to the streets.
“I’m not here to promise that I can get in office and change anything. I don’t think any politician can change anything. Throughout history, we have not seen that. It has not been legislation, it has not been politicians who have made any basic changes. It has been struggles.”
Gary Walkowicz, Working Class Party Candidate for Michigan’s 12th Congressional District
Niles Niemuth - A Socialist Calling for Political Revolution
A working-class struggle against the powers-that-be is a platform also shared with candidate Niles Niemuth, who has his own vision to capture the means of production.
“Socialism means expanding democracy to encompass the entire economy,” Niemuth says.
Niemuth is the district’s Socialist Equality Party candidate. Born and educated in Wisconsin, the 30-year-old Hamtramck resident is the managing editor of the World Socialist Web Site. He previously ran as the party’s Vice Presidential candidate in the 2016 election. Niemuth is critical of the current two-party system and supports the revolutionary socialism of Leon Trotsky. He’s anti-war, anti-censorship and anti-capitalism. He says he wants to open borders, nationalize banks and seize the wealth of the billionaire elite. Niemuth says the fight for true socialism needs to be taken to the world stage.
“You can’t resolve the problems that workers and young people face in Wyandotte or in Ann Arbor or in Dearborn without addressing the root of those problems, which is the capitalist system and it’s an international economic system.”
Niles Niemuth, Socialist Equality Party Candidate for Michigan’s 12th Congressional District
Niemuth says Michigan’s 12th District represents many of the errors of capitalism.
“An area like Downriver, which has been devastated by de-industrialization,” Niemuth says. “Factories like McLouth Steel which was once one of the largest steel factories in the world and employed thousands of people now stands as a rusting hulk polluting the area.”
Niemuth says he’d use his position in Congress to advocate for socialist policies, such as forgiving student debt, establishing universal health care and a full withdrawal of U.S. military from abroad.
For all of the challenges, running against Congresswoman Dingell will likely prove to be difficult. She won two-out-of-three votes in her district in 2016. But for many of those opposing Dingell, running for Michigan’s 12th Congressional District isn’t just about getting elected; it’s about sending a message to the political establishment.
On November 6, Michigan voters will decide who will be the state's new governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Some state House and Senate seats are up for grabs, and numerous initiatives are expected on ballots.
WDET is committed to providing honest, fair, inclusive coverage of Michigan's 2018 elections. Join us now and all the way to the voting booth to be an informed voter.