GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Republican Dick Posthumus and Democrat Jennifer Granholm accused each other of flip-flopping on a number of issues in the pair's first gubernatorial debate.
"Who is the real Jennifer Granholm?" Posthumus asked, noting that she has switched her position on the state's concealed weapons law, teacher strike rights, slavery reparations and property tax increases.
"It's a pattern of Jennifer not being able to say 'no' to special interests," he added.
Granholm said Posthumus has changed his position about onshore drilling under the Great Lakes and vouchers, as well as on the status of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
"It's an election year conversion," she said.
Posthumus questioned Granholm's integrity while Granholm accused him of trying to divide the state along racial lines.
"This campaign is about choices. ... It's about which candidate will stand up and lead with honor, with integrity and for all of the people," Posthumus said at the conclusion of an hour-long debate sponsored by WOOD-TV.
Granholm said Posthumus was trying to use race and anti-Detroit politics to divert attention from the multimillion-dollar deficit facing the state and Republican-led cuts in early childhood and literacy programs.
"He has ... tried to divide us, and divisiveness will not lead this state. Frankly, Dick Posthumus will not lead this state," she said.
Granholm also said Posthumus has tried to tar her with a memo from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's office asking for more jobs for African-Americans and Detroit residents in her administration and in state contracts, she said.
The memo was never sent to Granholm, but the Michigan Republican Party has made it the subject of an anti-Granholm TV ad.
"I'm being accused for something that occurs in a memo that I never received, was never sent, that I publicly disagreed with," she said. "This tactic of dividing people east and west, city and suburb, is deplorable."
She said Posthumus was making an effort "to distort, divide and distract because he has nothing else to say."
Posthumus, however, insisted the memo is part of a pattern Granholm established while she was Wayne County's top lawyer from 1995-98, before she became attorney general.
"She has been unable to say 'no' to the illegal no-bid contracts" handed out at Detroit Metropolitan Airport while she worked for Wayne County, he said. "This is about a pattern of behavior that the very least is very poor judgment by my opponent, at the very worst is almost corruption."
He denied he was trying to divide state residents.
"This is not racial politics. Corruption whether it's black or white is corruption. It has to be stopped," he said.
They both called each other's position on abortion extreme.
Granholm supports abortion rights, while Posthumus opposes abortion except to save the mother's life.
The two candidates both said they would not raise property taxes used to fund K-12 education under Proposal A. Posthumus said Granholm's comment that she would "tweak" Proposal A meant she would raise property taxes, a charge Granholm denied.
"I will not raise your property taxes. Let me say that very clearly," she said.
The two agreed they would cut state government spending rather than raise taxes to balance the budget. The state ended the last budget year a week ago $200 million to $300 million in the red and could be $500 million short in the current budget year.
Both support raising the state diesel tax by 4 cents to 19 cents a gallon, the same as the state gasoline tax. They both now support the state's concealed weapons permit law, which Granholm originally opposed.
Granholm, the attorney general, and Posthumus, the lieutenant governor, have only one other debate scheduled. The pair will meet Oct. 15 at a joint meeting of the Economic Club of Detroit and the Women's Economic Club.
The number of debates has been an issue in the campaign.
The Green Party of Kent County demonstrated outside the studio to protest the exclusion of third party candidates from the debate. Douglas Green of the Green Party and Joseph Pilchak of the U.S. Taxpayers Party are running for governor but were not invited to the WOOD debate.
"The Green Party of Kent County gravely rejects the methods employed to undermine the people's freedom of choice, especially in a public forum broadcast over public airwaves," the group said in a news release.