Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference Media Coverage > Detroit Chamber Cancels Senate Debate After Rogers, Slotkin Decline to Take Part

Detroit Chamber Cancels Senate Debate After Rogers, Slotkin Decline to Take Part

May 22, 2024

The Detroit News
May 22, 2024
Melissa Nann Burke

The Detroit Regional Chamber said Wednesday it had called off the bipartisan U.S. Senate debate planned for May 30 during next week’s Mackinac Policy Conference because two leading candidates, Republican Mike Rogers and Democrat Elissa Slotkin, refused to take part.

“The leading candidates’ refusal to engage in this vital forum points to a deeply concerning trend. It undermines our democratic process and hampers our state’s progress. This is a clear reflection of today’s political dynamics, which increasingly discourage candidates from directly addressing voters’ concerns,” the chamber said in a statement.

“Today’s dynamics favor sound bites, clicks and ‘likes,’ and let political strategy take precedence over informing voters by standing ‘in the arena’ debating ideas, priorities, and values with others vying for the same position of public trust.”

At least three candidates agreed to participate: Republican businessman Sandy Pensler of Grosse Pointe Park and Democrats Hill Harper of Detroit and Nasser Beydoun of Dearborn.

Former U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, who is seeking the GOP nomination, also didn’t accept the debate invitation.

The debate would have been the first time that Rogers, Slotkin and other candidates participated in a forum together.

While Rogers declined the debate invitation over the weekend, then Amash, the chamber intended to move forward with the remaining participants; however, Slotkin’s team didn’t want to take part unless there was a balance between Republicans and Democrats on the stage, according to those familiar with the conversations.

“In early May, the Slotkin campaign agreed to participate in the debate with all six leading candidates and an equal partisan split on stage,” Slotkin spokesman Austin Cook said.

“Unfortunately, Mike Rogers and Justin Amash pulled out of the debate at the last minute, and their unprecedented refusal at this late stage has made it impossible to proceed with the agreed upon format. We have been clear that if an equally partisan debate had been arranged, we would have been happy to participate.”

Pensler said in a statement that Rogers was “scared” to debate him.

“Rogers wants to be anointed by Washington, DC, special interests and cannot defend his record of unprincipled, big spending failure as a career politician. We need a candidate who is not afraid to debate their ideas with other candidates,” he said.

Harper said in a statement it is “outrageous and shameful” that Slotkin and Rogers “cowardly” pulled out of the debate at the last minute.

“Michigan voters deserve better. People from all across our state have told me that they want to hear, experience and understand their very different choices of candidates seeking one of the most important elected office’s in our state,” Harper said.

“The actions by both Slotkin & Rogers are disingenuous, reeks of entitlement and is a slap in the face to every voter. By not debating they are putting the interests of the people last and political gamesmanship first.”

Beydoun also expressed disappointment, saying Slotkin isn’t willing to defend her views and record in public. “I urge @RepSlotkin to work with me and find a time and place for us to share our visions with the people of our great state,” Beydoun tweeted.

Rogers spokesman Chris Gustafson said Wednesday that “three candidates who are working against President Trump agreeing to share a stage together is not a debate, it’s desperate,” a reference to Pensler, Harper and Beydoun.

“When Elissa Slotkin wants to debate and defend her horrible record of supporting the failed Biden agenda that’s crushing Michigan families and small businesses, Mike Rogers has a simple message: anytime, anywhere,” Gustafson said.

The chamber in its statement said canceling the debate was “certainly not something we expected” after the group initially gauged campaigns’ interest starting April 1 and then commissioned a poll to determine which candidates to invite. Invitations were extended April 30.

“This decision to cancel the debate also marks a significant departure from a tradition of civic engagement and public discourse that has been upheld by leading candidates for statewide office at our conference since 2010,” the chamber said.

“The Mackinac Policy Conference can and should serve as a crucial platform for leading candidates for statewide office,” adding that leading officials such as Gov. Rick Snyder, Ambassador Pete Hoekstra, Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer all participated in debates at the Mackinac event “to foster a robust dialogue on issues that matter to Michiganders.”

Rogers and Amash were among the Senate candidates who last month said they would be willing to participate in three debates ahead of the fall general election organized by the new Michigan Debate Taskforce.

“Anytime, anywhere, Mike Rogers is ready and eager to debate Elissa Slotkin over her wholesale support of the Biden agenda of higher prices, open borders and big government mandates,” Rogers spokesman Chris Gustafson said in an April 30 statement.

The first debate organized by the new task force is planned for the Grand Rapids area on Sept. 12, the second in the Traverse City area on Oct. 10 and the last in Metro Detroit on Oct. 22 that would be broadcast by television partners. The task force is comprised of universities, chambers of commerce and the Urban Leagues of Detroit and west Michigan, among others.

At the time, three-term U.S. Rep. Slotkin of Holly was the only candidate not to explicitly commit to the proposal, though she didn’t rule out participating. Slotkin participated in debates in her three runs for U.S. House in mid-Michigan.

“Elissa has always done general election debates in each of her last campaigns, and she plans to do the same in this race,” spokesman Antoine Givens said in an April 30 statement. “She welcomes the chance to highlight the differences between her and her opponents, and we look forward to working out those details in the coming months.”