The Michigan Association of Timbermen
Posted on 08.03.2016 Under Legislative

Monthly Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, remedy Legislative Consultant

August 2016

1st Congressional Race Too Close to call—–

The 1st Congressional district is tough to comprehend since it spans 24,875 miles.  The district takes in the entire Upper Peninsula; it also includes a big chunk of the top of the mitten. There is not a single city with even 25,000 people. Every congressional district in a state is required to have the same population as measured by the last census, and it took a lot of space to round up the 710,000 people needed to form this district.

United States Representative Dan Benishek (R-Iron River) kept a campaign pledge to retire after three terms. That means it is an open seat – the only one in the state where either party’s nominee has a chance to win. Republicans do seem to have a four-to-five point advantage here. But Bart Stupak, a moderate-to-conservative Democrat, had no trouble holding the seat from 1993 to 2011.

Four years ago, Benishek was barely reelected, beating former State Rep. Gary McDowell by fewer than 2,000 votes. The Democrat might have won, except that President Obama was far less popular here than in most parts of Michigan. This year, there are tough and bitter primary races in both parties. Former State Senator Jason Allen of Traverse City, 53, expected to be the nominee six years ago–but lost the GOP primary that year to Benishek by a mere 15 votes.

Jason Allen, R-Traverse city is running again, this time against State Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba). Casperson, 56, has also run for this seat before; he was the GOP nominee in 2008, when he lost in a 2-1 landslide to Mr. Stupak. If Tom does not win he will continue as state senator and chair of the House Transportation Committee and the Senate Natural Resources committee. There is a wild card in the race, too: A little-known retired three-star U.S. Marine Corps General named Jack Bergman, 69, who lives in the little town of Watersmeet in the western Upper Peninsula. It isn’t clear whether the general, who holds very conservative views, has enough funds for his campaign, but he does have the slogan “Marines come to win.”

Some political pundits seem to favor Allen, since about 58 percent of the population lives in the Lower Peninsula where he lives, but voters in this district are unpredictable. On the Democratic side, the contest is likely to finally make or end the career of Lon Johnson, the controversial former state party chair. Johnson, 44, has a family home and is an official resident of Kalkaska, in the Lower Peninsula, but freely admits he grew up in blue-collar Flat Rock, south of Detroit.

Johnson later had a successful career as a campaign organizer in a number of states and then, in 2013, ousted Mark Brewer, the longtime state Democratic Party chair. He spent barely two years in the job. He worked hard, but was unlucky in that 2014 was an enormous year nationwide for Republicans. Johnson is proud that Michigan was the only state in which Democrats won an open seat in the U.S. Senate, when Gary Peters soundly defeated Terri Lynn Land.  The keystone of Johnson’s strategy was a campaign to greatly boost absentee ballot turnout which flopped.  In fact, it was worse than four years before. Shortly after he was reelected as party chair last year, Johnson resigned to seek the congressional seat.  Ironically, that meant he’d have a nasty primary fight against the man he recruited to run for the job two years ago, retired Kalkaska County Sheriff Jerry Cannon who feels betrayed by Johnson for entering the race.  Johnson has the financial backing to win where Cannon does not.

Expect this race to be one to watch right down to Election Night …if not beyond. If you live in the 1st Congressional District it is important to vote for our own Senator Tom Casperson and to take/convince 10 friends of your friends to vote for Tom because of the competitiveness of this race.  Tom has supported us in Lansing and he is the right person to support us in Washington.  Please Vote!

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