Ferguson, O’Dell seeking to replace Bergman
HOUGHTON — Two Democrats are vying for the chance to unseat incumbent Republican Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, in the 1st District House of Representatives race.
Dana Ferguson and Linda O’Dell are running in the Democratic primary Aug. 4.
Ferguson, of Marquette, is a third-generation U.P. resident. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Northern Michigan University while working for his father’s construction company. He continued working there until it closed after the 2009 recession. Ferguson then became a carpenter, also earning a master’s degree in public administration. He now works with his brother’s small business in Ishpeming.
O’Dell, the second generation of her family to graduate college, first worked on Wall Street until being repelled by the insider trading she saw there. Instead, she decided to use her understanding of budgets, markets and strategic planning to use working for non-profits.
In recent interviews, the two candidates tackled issues such as the COVID-19 response, the environment and infrastructure.
Ferguson said his top issues are climate change, the economy and health care.
“They’re so important and impactful to people no matter where they live,” he said. “It’s all coming to a head right now. These are issues important not only to members of the House and Senate, but they’re issues that are going to need to be addressed quickly.”
O’Dell said her first priority is focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said had magnified the impact in three areas already important to the 1st District: health care, the economy and infrastructure.
“I’m going to work hard to make sure we get the info we need from scientific and medical professionals and continue to keep our first district as safe as we can in the midst of the pandemic,” she said.
Ferguson said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of rural communities due to outdated health care services and infrastructure. He advocated for expanding telehealth and addressing areas such as mental health, where services have lagged.
If there is another pandemic, the federal government also needs a better chain of command and response team, he said. Too often, the federal government has gotten in the way of state and local governments during the crisis instead of helping them, he said.
“Communications is huge, but I think we could be working to improve our health care system and educational system,” he said. “The people suffering the most are the most vulnerable – the elderly, the youth, at risk,” he said. “We need to do more to address this so they are not the ones taking the brunt of something like this.”
When people aren’t able to get the health care they need, not only do they struggle, the country as a whole does, Ferguson said. He supports moving to single-payer health care, though he said he isn’t wedded to Medicare For All or any particular plan.
“The important thing is getting everyone covered,” he said. “If we move to this, we could be saving money, saving lives, and I think we’re all going to be better off.”
O’Dell also said her priority was to have health care for everyone. She condemned President Trump’s efforts against the Affordable Care Act. Were it to be repealed or overturned with no replacement, O’Dell said, it would be devastating to rural hospitals, which depend on funding from the act, to people with pre-existing conditions, who could be discriminated against by insurers.
As for what improvements could be made on the ACA, O’Dell said she was open to all suggestions.
“With my background as a research analyst, I want to make sure I will do my due diligence and research and listen to the people of the 1st District when we’re making this decision,” she said.
Ferguson said the government should be working to expand the middle class. In addition to pushing for higher wages, the federal government should be promoting the growth of unions, both of which create a more sustainable economy and broader prosperity, he said. The country also needs an economic system that boosts small business, he said.
“They are not only a source of income for the business owner and their employees, but they create a sustainable community,” he said. “They’re members of the community. There are more benefits to having more small businesses than a few big corporations.”
O’Dell agreed there need to be changes in policy that can promote entrepreneurship and add good-paying jobs in the district.
“New and small businesses have been left behind, especially with the stimulus packages,” she said. “We’re still waiting to see if we get that continued funding with small businesses.”
Infrastructure and green energy are promising sectors for job growth, O’Dell said. She’s also excited about the potential for a spaceport in Marquette, which she said could bring thousands of jobs to the district.
Both O’Dell and Ferguson believe climate change is manmade and the federal government should take steps to address it. That includes rejoining the Paris accords, which President Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from in 2017, taking effect as soon as the day after the November election. The U.S. and other countries had pledged to limit carbon emissions to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“If we aren’t working with the world, how are we going to protect this world for future generations?” O’Dell said.
She called for more renewable energy and green jobs. As targets, she called for the U.S. to get to net zero greenhouse gases by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 20 years after that. She also supported infrastructure spending on clean water, green energy and green transportation.
Not only does the U.S. need to recommit to that, Ferguson said, it needs to pledge to be a leader on the issue.
Ferguson said he also supports the Green New Deal, which he said is not the federal takeover described by alarmists, but a way to assist states in building a modern economy with a modern infrastructure. It would help a transition to regional energy independence, and away from fossil fuels, he said. It would involve partnering with state and municipal governments to determine what works best for them.
“It’s pretty easy to get behind if you take two minutes to read it and see what it says,” he said. “What’s missing are the leaders who can map out a blueprint for how we can get from point A to point B.”
FEDERAL MINIMUM WAGE
Ferguson said the federal minimum wage should be higher than the current level of $7.25, which has remained unchanged since 2009. He called for working toward a sustainable, stable economy without hurting small businesses.
He’s less focused on the level of the wage than in working towards a livable wage, which would require systematic change and a move away from policies tilted towards big business. He said living wages should be determined at more of a district or regional level.
“I don’t think it does much to set a federal minimum wage when the cost of living in Ontonagon is nothing like what it is in Los Angeles or New York City,” he said.
O’Dell said the minimum wage should gradually be increased to $15 per hour. The pandemic is destroying the middle-class, she said: partially through the minimum wage, difficulties in getting unemployment payments to workers and the lack of stimulus for businesses.
“We should be supporting this middle class and that’s one way to do that,” she said. “It’s taken way too long to readjust that to what our cost of living is.”
Both said the $1.5 trillion tax cut passed by Congress did too much to aid the rich and not enough to help the middle and lower classes.
O’dell said the tax code should be reformed to reduce taxes on lower- and middle-income taxpayers. Small businesses should also receive assistance in navigating the tax code, she said.
“The very wealthy, they need to pay more,” O’Dell said. “I do believe when it comes to small business, they need a tax break more than ever, and they were left behind with that tax code.”
Ferguson said he would be in favor of repealing that tax cut and restructuring the rate to have higher taxes on the top 1% or 2% of earners.
“I think we can lower taxes on virtually everyone across the country, and that’s going to have tremendous benefits if we do it right,” he said.
CALLS FOR AUSTERITY
Ferguson said he would resist calls for a move to austerity similar to the ones that followed the 2008 financial crash. While cutting spending in tight times is fiscally responsible on a personal level, doing the same for a government hampers the economy even more, he said.
“I don’t know if you can look to one instance where austerity has assisted or improved the situation,” he said. “It really does not work under most circumstances.”
He called for monetary reform in which the federal Reserve is moved into the treasury to enable better regulation of banks and limit inflation. Money creation should be moved back to Congress, which he said would lead to a more stable economy without many of the fluctuations and recessions of the past century.
O’Dell said while the government should look at places to downsize, it also needs to continue to spend and provide support to the people in the COVID-19 crisis who need it most.
“This is unprecedented, and we don’t have the information that we need … there were plans put in place to deal with the pandemic that were set aside. Now more than ever, we need a plan for the future if this happens again.”
O’Dell said funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative should be increased from its $300 million. She also called for more being done to protect against invasive Asian carp entering the Great Lakes. President Trump has disagreed with the creation of a dam in Illinois to prevent them from entering the Lakes, which with O’Dell disagrees.
“They present a huge potential threat to our Great Lakes,” she said.
Ferguson also agreed funding for the GLRI is essential. Sustainability should be a key priority, he said.
“If we are going to be doing anything that could possibly compromise our water, our environment, we should be critical of it and finding ways to move forward with absolutely minimal impact to our environment,” he said. “It’s just too important to who we are.”
Ferguson said some degree of criminal justice reform is necessary, possibly in training or in mandating more use of non-level methods. He said the federal government’s role should be to build a floor individual states can build on as they determine.
He said he would be discussing the issue with different groups, including police officers.
“I’m not the kind of person to classify all of them (as bad actors) because of a few,” he said. “Demonizing an entire group because of a few is not the right solution. but I do think there have been enough cases that w need to work towards a solution to make sure it doesn’t continue to happen.”
O’Dell called for an end to racial injustice and police brutality, and praised peaceful protests for awakening people to the need for changing systemic racism. She said President Donald Trump’s decision to send federal officers into Portland is not what the country needed.
“I do not think it’s right to send armed troops who basically have no clear chain of command into the streets of American cities… these distractions are taking our focus away from what this country needs to focus on more than ever, and that’s the pandemic.”
O’Dell said voters should choose her because they can trust her, and because of her experience as a leader, business professional and advocate.
“I will listen to people here and I will serve every constituent in our district,” she said.
Ferguson said having gone through his own struggles, he can relate to those of people in the 1st District. He said his “strong, bold vision” was what the 1st District needed to catch up.
“It’s bold, it’s progressive, and it’s something completely different — maybe even the opposite — of what Bergman is presenting,” he said. “I have a positive view of the future … we need to strive to do more and be better. That’s what this campaign is all about.”