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Senate candidate talks higher ed, conservatism

Clark Durant has been an educator, a lawyer, and a businessman. He co-founded Cornerstone Schools, a group of independent charter schools in inner city Detroit. He rescued the Ann Arbor Railroad. He helped launch Imprimis, an influential conservative publication of Hillsdale College.

Now he wants a new job: U.S. Senator.

Durant is one of several candidates vying for the Republican nomination and the right to challenge incumbent Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat. For Durant, a change in the leadership in Washington is something many Americans—whether Tea Partiers or Occupiers—are demanding.

“If I was honored to serve the people of Michigan in the U.S. Senate, I would be challenging the status quo that has been brought to us by both Republicans and Democrats,” Durant said.

As a former Vice President of Hillsdale College and CEO of Cornerstone Schools, Durant is sympathetic to the plight of young people, including the many student protesters around the country who are worried about college loan debt. But he isn’t thrilled about simply forgiving debts for certain students, a plan proposed by President Obama last week.

“We have to take ownership over the decisions that we make and the consequences of those decisions,” he said. “So if you make a bargain with somebody, then you’re giving your word. If you’re putting your signature down, you’re giving your word.”

A better solution, in Durant’s view, is to scrutinize public universities. For one thing, he worries that federal subsidies have encouraged universities to spend recklessly and stick students with the bill.

“We have to look at these institutions of higher learning and ask ourselves, are they in fact bloating the cost of providing an essential education in a way that is inappropriate?” he said. “In fairness to students, institutions have to be held accountable of the fact that they may be bundling services, because they know the federal government is there to subsidize it. They may be trying to make money off these kids that’s wrong. So you have to look at both things.”

Some experts have questioned whether a college degree is worth the paper it’s printed on, given what it costs in time and money. Durant believes individual students are best suited to make that decision.

“There are many people who went on to be successful in life who never went to college,” he said. “So you’ve got to sort of understand what your talents and gifts are and what your passions are and they may not be enhanced by immediately getting an undergraduate degree. I’m not saying that’s not important. It’s important if it works for you and if it’s effectively and efficiently delivered.”

As far as the campaign goes, Durant is equally critical of his two main rivals: Stabenow, and current U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra, who is also seeking the Republican nomination. Both have disappointing voting records, according to Durant.

“My opponents, Congressman Pete Hoekstra and Senator Debbie Stabenow, on many of the critical votes have voted identically to increase debt and spending irresponsibly in our country,” he said. “So either you have an 18-year-member of Congress who has continually voted for bigger and larger spending, thousands upon thousands of earmarks, joining also Senator Stabenow in the same thing, and doing it over the course of his career, and never being a reformer but  in fact being a spender and debt enabler.”

Durant’s skepticism of Hoekstra stems from his frustration with incumbent politicians from both parties.

“Honestly, it’s not just about President Obama,” he said. “It’s not just about President George W. Bush. It has been this culture in Washington where both Republicans and Democrats who have served so long have continued to vote for increased debt, increased spending. They are both at fault.”

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