Thursday, November 19, 2009

Remote, Pristine, Undeveloped and Poor: Just the Way They Like It

cross posted at Right Michigan

It is easy to identify the geographic division between Michigan's two peninsulas. The Straits of Mackinac provides a clearly visible deep blue barrier between the two disparate land masses. Even though they are today connected by a mighty ribbon of concrete and steel that stretches the five miles between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, the human division is sometimes a bit harder to detect.

The two areas, while now sharing a statehood and a bridge, have lived quite different lives and have not always been the most understanding of neighbors. In fact, it was a shotgun marriage of sorts that got the two together in the first place with the pre-statehood Michigan legislature in 1836 finally accepting the U.P. as a booby prize in its war with Ohio over the Toledo Strip. It wasn't long after this however that mining proved that there was indeed great intrinsic value in the Upper Peninsula if one only cared look beneath the surface of the Earth.

During the years since the wedding there have been many freezings and thawings of the relationship. Generally there was tolerance but there were also some spats. A few dozen years ago there was even a movement afoot to turn the U.P. into the 51st state of Superior, a movement that left me deeply upset for having been left out of the plan.

As Detroit boomed by selling high quality Gremlins, Vegas, Pintos, and Pacers to discerning buyers from places like Ishpeming and Hessel, the mining sector of the U.P.s economy was already struggling. The opening of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957 helped to replace some of the area's reliance on the waning mining industry by making the U.P. more accessible to the thick wallets owned by those on Detroit's payroll.

By 1995 the last of the copper mines had been closed and today iron ore is only mined in the Marquette area. Detroit's major industry has fared a bit better (okay, arguable) as portions of it only tentatively hang on, and even that much due in part to the support of U.P. taxpayers.

Those early year attitudes have changed toward the U.P. While it was once considered a sterile wilderness, it is now a coveted vacation destination to be scenically enjoyed from the deck of a boat, to the seat of a snowmobile, to the back of a horse, though I wouldn't recommend all in one day. Most of these weekenders want the region to remain a wilderness and unblemished by any future mining ventures, regardless of how many of those scraping by on meager restaurant tips and the sales of smoked whitefish feel about it.

There are a few northern state legislators from the solidly democratic Upper Peninsula that are tiring of being thought of as a tourist only region, especially in light of a renewed interest in the U.P.'s mineral potential.

Five of the six legislators that represent any part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Sen Mike Prusi, Sen. Jason Allen, Rep. Mike Lahti, Rep. Steve Lindberg, and Rep. Judy Nerat, signed on to a press release that attacked Detroit area activists for a ballot proposal that would severely restrict future mining operations in the U.P. under the "guise" of water safety. All but Allen are Democrats.

In a state where divisions between people and regions have held us back for far too long, we can’t help but look askance at proposals that divide our state, rather than unite us.

As elected leaders from the U.P., we view a recently-announced ballot proposal to ban mining under the clever guise of protecting water to be nothing more than an attack by special interests on the U.P. and its people, heritage, and economic future. The people of the U.P. should have the right to decide what is in their region’s best interest. Additionally, a statewide precedent could be set where ballot initiatives could negatively impact other industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, or siting of renewable energy facilities.
The Upper Peninsula is solidly Democrat. Not only are all the state representatives from the UP Democrats, but the only state senator whose district is totally within the U.P. is a Democrat. Democrat Bart Stupak represents all of the U.P. as well as much of the northern lower peninsula in the US House. To add insult to injury, Jennifer Granholm and Barack Obama received a majority of U.P. votes cast in their last elections.

Let us be honest. If there was ever a region outside of the city of Detroit that more deserved to suffer the consequences of dumb votes cast, it is Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And yet, there might be a slight shaking of the foundation.

For many years it has been the Democrat Party that pushed initiatives that favored collective causes over the desires of the individual. A great democrat philosopher once put it perfectly..."the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one." Unfortunately for the Yoopers hoping to find economic deliverance from renewed mining interests, they are now outnumbered by many others from Michigan's south side that feel that the whitefish and pastie industries should be plenty for Yoopers to live on. I understand too that Spock absolutely loves him some pasties.

If people from Michigan's U.P. (and indeed from all of its rural areas) want to preserve their ability to look after their own best interests, they will make it much easier on themselves if the stop buying into a political philosophy that prevents the individual or the few from having to succumb to the desires of the many. Individual rights are the backbone of this country, and this is the reason that our Founding Fathers feared democracy rather than embrace it (despite what you might hear blathered about by today's politicians on National Socialist Radio.)

Our Founding Fathers did not want distant Kings controlling the citizenry any more that they would want Detroit and Washington DC. area lawyers and vacationers controlling the economic destiny of Marquette and Iron Mountain.
The U.P.’s business, labor, and governmental leaders are already coalescing around efforts to defeat this ill-timed and ill-intentioned proposal. Just this past October, the Upper Peninsula Association of County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution opposing the ballot proposal. We will stand with them in their efforts and oppose this attempt by narrow, selfish interests from below the bridge to impose their will on those of us proud to call the U.P. home.
Perhaps the solidly Democrat Upper Peninsula is waking up.


Matt said...

You've missed the real major industriy of the UP; Higher education - 3 major state universities! particularly notable as we listen to our Govenor and Pres beat the table that higher ed will be the salvation of our state and nation. No one questions how it can be that the UP population is dwindling and they've been stuck in the econ crapper for the last 50years! Why should we expect anything different?

The Rougman said...

Dolts like Granholm have the problem flipped on its head. They believe that an educated work force will attract business opportunities. Of course the way that it generally works is exactly the opposite and people go off to college and get a highly subsidized education, and then travel to where the jobs are.

Matt said...

An idea that I've proposed to my state reps is to go ahead and zero out all state aid to State Universities and throw in the Promise grant, (I currently have 2 kids in college and receive no dirrect aid) and replace them with a tax credit system helping in the future to help pay off a student's loans, (over a number of years), to any college, tech school, Medical school, what ever, from any college, public or private, in state or out. But only against Michigan state income taxes - then maybe we can make suckers out of other state's tax payers!