By Mike Kruzman /

The two candidates for 8th District U.S. Congress squared off in their first of three debates.

Democrat incumbent Elissa Slotkin, from Holly, took on Republican challenger Paul Junge, from Brighton, in the televised event, Monday night. Junge continued his challenging of Slotkin’s voting record and claims of being an independently minded member of the House. He cites that Slotkin votes with Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi 96% of the time. Slotkin said bi-partisanship runs in her blood and that he was cherry-picking information. She said his statistic represents 70 of 800 votes, and that 640 have had a Republican on it. Slotkin said she has voted 56 times with Republicans against her party, which is on average, roughly once per voting week in Congress. Junge said this shows that Slotkin’s definition of a bi-partisan bill is that at least one Republican votes for it. Slotkin challenged Junge to pick 3-4 things that he can to demonstrably prove he has differing views from President Donald Trump or Senator Mitch McConnell. Junge said one specific disagreement with Trump was on cuts to Great Lakes restoration.

Slotkin then took the fight to Junge on what she calls the most important issue to her- healthcare, and protecting people with pre-existing conditions. Slotkin lost her mother to cancer, who at the time of diagnosis was without insurance due to pre-existing conditions. She said this isn’t a talking point- it’s about putting your money where your mouth is, as this is a real thing for many. She called for Junge to take a stance on that and on the Trump administration’s related lawsuit that is before the Supreme Court. Junge said he was in support of protecting people with pre-existing conditions, but also felt having to make a decision on the lawsuit to be a “false choice,” as Congress doesn’t have a say in the administration filing a lawsuit.

Slotkin said former Republican Representative Mike Bishop celebrated the House voting to repeal Obamacare and the only reason it didn’t pass the Senate was because John McCain walked across the aisle to vote against it. She asked Junge if would have voted to “repeal and replace” or if he would have voted with McCain against his party. Junge said the Affordable Care Act was a partisan issue of the past he didn’t want to litigate, asking Slotkin where her big votes against the party, like McCain, were. Slotkin was cut off by the moderator before she got a chance to respond.

With record numbers of people voting absentee this year, Slotkin said she finds it as a legitimate form of governing, and has great belief in the clerks within the 8th District to administer the elections. As a former national security professional, she said she has concerns about the President not supporting absentee voting and remarks about questioning the results. Junge also showed support for the clerks, but said Slotkin is ignoring a segment of Democrats that are saying they must resist results at all costs and are urging Biden not to concede.

Junge showed support during the debate for another COVID relief bill but not one like the HEROES Act which he said offered too many provisions to non-COVID-related things. He said passing it would have caused delays in getting relief to people who need it. Slotkin supported the bill, but said she didn’t love it. She said she did so because Michigan was being “walloped” and it would have brought money for small businesses, schools, internet, cities and towns. After talks broke down, she said she worked with the bi-partisan Problem Solvers Caucus on a $1.4-trillion “bridging” bill that would get them to February where they could then re-assess where we’re at with COVID-19 and the recession. She said it was sad that leadership didn’t pursue it.

Candidates were asked about police and racial tensions that have been prevalent this year. Slotkin said it was inspiring to see and hear people saying they are done with racial injustice and institutional racism. She added that violence cannot be condoned. If someone is using violence on any side, she said, they should be treated accordingly. She also said she doesn’t agree with defunding the police. Junge said he respects the work police do and they deserve their political support. He said too many leaders in major cities in America are turning their backs on police, making their difficult job more difficult. He said that while there were some peaceful demonstrations this year, some were not, with rioting and looting and innocent lives taken. He was critical of Democrats, saying that they had 4 days of national conventions and said “not one word” was said against it, with Junge claiming they were turning a blind eye to what was happening. Slotkin responded saying it was unfair to say the Democratic Party has not condemned the looting and violence, as she, Biden, and many others have recently done so. Junge said Speaker Pelosi’s comments about the tearing down of statues, saying “people will do what people will do” was unacceptable and that keeping Slotkin in Congress is keeping Pelosi in a leadership position. Slotkin said what she sees are people fomenting the idea that to divide people and create fear gives one political party an advantage. She asked Junge where he was when white supremacist groups came out to Lansing, using violent slogans, threatening violence, and bringing Nazi symbols. She then asked him to speak clearly about the Proud Boys and hate groups in the community. Junge said he has always been against hate groups and Nazi-ism, and that he’s willing to take that stance publicly or privately at any event. Slotkin said he had a chance now to speak out against the hate group, and didn’t.

Both candidates saluted Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg during the debate, but had differing views of finding a replacement. Slotkin felt that the next elected president should have that choice, while Junge feels that President Trump has every right to do so now.

They were asked about the budget deficit, if it was a concern, and what cuts should be made. Both also agreed it was a concern. Slotkin said the first thing she would do would be to allow Medicare to negotiate for drug prices. Junge said they will need to look for cuts, but he didn’t have a list of priorities.

When asked if they believe the Earth’s climate is changing, both agreed that it was. Junge said we need to look at fuel efficiency and clean energy as we can, but also said there were trade-offs to wind and dam energy, such as not being as consistent while also bringing their own environmental impacts. Slotkin said we need to think big about transitioning off of fossil fuels, and that Michigan is actually in a better position than many other states with plans. She said we need what she calls the “Green Manhattan Project,” which is the “the greatest minds of a generation” with a budget and a plan to help transition off of fossil fuels in a way that is responsible, preserves and transitions jobs, and helps mitigate the devastating effects of climate change.

Slotkin and Junge will square off again next on WDIV-TV this Sunday. And tune in on Tuesday October 6th, when WHMI, in partnership with The Livingston Post, will host the third and final debate, at Cleary University in Howell. It will be aired live on WHMI and streamed on Facebook by The Livingston Post. 8th District residents with questions for either candidate are asked to email them to for possible inclusion in the broadcast on the 6th.

(Photos - WLNS)