By Michele Bourdieu
U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak speaks to Houghton County Democrats at a potluck luncheon the group held for him on Dec. 11, 2010, at the Super 8 Motel in Houghton to express appreciation for his 18 years representing Michigan's First District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)
HOUGHTON -- U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak told Houghton County Democrats his last few months before retirement have been busier than he had anticipated. He spoke at length about the tax bill now before Congress and expressed confidence it would be passed before the end of the year.
The Congressman also announced he would be leaving for Boston and Cambridge, Mass., soon to finalize a teaching fellowship at Harvard University to begin in January 2011. This commitment will soon be scheduled with half a dozen speaking engagements all across the State of Michigan early in 2011. Stupak was firm, however, about his decision not to run for public office -- at least not for the next four years.
Stupak, who announced his retirement last spring, has served 18 years as U.S. Representative for Michigan's First District, which includes the entire Upper Peninsula and part of Northern Michigan below the Mackinac Bridge.
He was the guest of honor at a potluck luncheon given by Houghton County Democrats on Dec. 11, following his appearance at the Michigan Tech Midyear graduation, where he was the guest speaker and received an honorary doctorate in Environmental and Energy Policy from the university.
"I can't imagine anybody who represents the Upper Peninsula and its values better than Bart Stupak, and I think people are really going to miss him," said Brian Hoduski, co-chair of the Houghton County Democratic Party.
Hoduski presented the Congressman with an engraved piece of local copper as a small gift of appreciation from the Houghton County Democratic Party (HCDP). Hoduski also announced the HCDP's annual service award will be named the Stupak Service Award.
Janet Gregorich, HCDP vice-chair, a longtime member of the group (since 1979), said she believes Stupak has been the best Congressman for the First District.
Congressman Bart Stupak reduces his height for a photo with petite Janet Gregorich, Houghton County Democratic Party vice-chair, during the Dec. 11 potluck luncheon HCDP members and friends held in honor of Stupak.
"He cared about the people of our district and knew the issues before he cast his votes," Gregorich said. "I will miss him, and I wish him well."
Gregorich presented Stupak's longtime Houghton Congressional Aide, Amy Wisti, with a holiday basket of goodies as a gift from the group.
Wisti praised the group for their ability to work and get things done.
"We've just got such a great party here. I think we've been able to accomplish an awful lot," Wisti said. "It really has been a wonderful 18 years and before -- and I will be here, still doing it."
Wisti was recently named HCDP Vice Chair for Candidate Recruitment.
Amy Wisti, Bart Stupak's Houghton Congressional aide, chats with Brian Rendel, left, HCDP co-chair, at the luncheon for Congressman Bart Stupak held Dec. 11 at the Super 8 Motel in Houghton. In the background are Scott Dianda of Calumet, former Democratic candidate for 110th District State Representative (the position now held by Mike Lahti), and John Laitinen, Franklin Township trustee.
Stupak noted Amy Wisti, her family and others in the Houghton County Democratic Party have been supporting him since he first ran in the primary for State Senate in 1990. Although he lost in that primary, two years later he was elected to Congress -- and stayed until this year. He praised HCDP for being the most organized Democratic Party in his district.
"Amy's right," he said. "Whenever something was asked of you, you always did it -- which made all of us successful. This election that we had here (2010) just defies logic."
People with "the most inexperience" have won -- across the nation, he noted. He gave examples of very experienced colleagues -- longtime incumbents -- who lost in this election.
"We (the Democrats) can't compete with corporate money," Stupak said in answer to a question on strategies for the 2012 election.
He said he'd like to see Congress pass legislation requiring corporate-sponsored campaign ads to indicate the name of the company paying for the ad.
"I think the Democratic Party as a whole must start recruiting -- actively, actively," Stupak said.
He noted the Democratic Party has done more in these last two years than any other modern Congress -- from Wall Street reform to children's health care, national health care and ending the war in Iraq.
"We've done it. No one gave us credit," the Congressman added.
Stupak expressed concern for the unemployed and said it's important to pass the tax bill in this session of Congress.
"We'll pass the tax bill and the part we're all struggling with -- those unemployed Americans who have not been able to find jobs in this slow, slow recovery where the corporations are filthy rich, they have the biggest bank accounts they've ever had in their history and they won't hire anybody because they want more," he said.
Questions from the group included concerns about the economy and Social Security.
John Slivon of Hancock asked, "If you approve this tax cut for the rich, how is it going to affect Social Security?"
Stupak said Social Security doesn't have a separate trust fund. (He noted some reforms in the health care bill could increase Social Security and Medicare.)
"All of us working, including myself, are paying for the retirees," he explained. "That's the way the system is designed."
Stupak estimated the amount of money coming in for Social Security will continue to be greater than the amount going out until about 2030.
"But on the massive ledger, where you had the war for Iraq, or (now) for Afghanistan, where we're spending $2 billion a month, that's draining us. We're not paying for that. We're borrowing the money."
Tax breaks vs. unemployment
Stupak pointed out that the tax break the Republicans want is over $900 billion -- greater than the stimulus ($787 billion) package Republicans opposed in the last election. His argument to Republicans complaining of tax increases is that it's really just going back to the Clinton economy.
"We had a pretty good economy under President Clinton, despite those so-called taxes," Stupak said.
He noted it's hard to "balance" the needs of unemployed people with the tax concerns of the rich.
"The best stimulus package is really giving unemployed people money, because they spend it all," he said. "Rich people don't spend it. They put it in their IRAs and everything else."
Stupak noted the Democrats' votes for the stimulus and Wall Street reform put the United States in a better position than some European countries that are struggling right now.
"Our economy, while slow, is stable," he said.
Stupak also praised Michigan's outgoing Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm for tough cuts to balance the budget. Those cuts put Michigan in a better position than other states whose budgets are now in the red, he said.
Stupak to stay active in Party
Stupak said he and his wife, Laurie, have been precinct delegates for the Democratic Party for about 36 years -- ever since they got married. He said they will still be active in politics. He plans to continue serving as a precinct delegate, though he doesn't plan to run for office, at least not in the next four years.
Stupak jokes with Democrats about living during retirement on money his wife, Laurie, seated fourth from left, has saved.
Stupak announced he will be doing a fellowship at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard beginning in January. He'll be teaching a course on how this Congress really works. In addition to teaching a class he'll be guest lecturing in other classes and in community organizations in the Boston-Cambridge area.
The Congressman told Keweenaw Now he already has at least six speaking engagements around the state of Michigan lined up for the first three months of 2011.
He also has been invited to speak for the Front 40 group that is opposed to the mine near Menominee, where he lives. Stupak said he has great objections to that mine because it is a potential sulfide mine right in the wetlands between Michigan and Wisconsin, in the Menominee River watershed.*
The Congressman, who has expressed concerns about Kennecott's Eagle Mine in the past, still considers it as being in an environmentally sensitive area; but he said Michigan's new mining law means the federal government has little to say about it now, especially since Kennecott obtained their underground injection permit without the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). As for Eagle Rock, the sacred Ojibwa site being used as the portal for the Eagle Mine, Stupak said he had spoken with members of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and other Native American groups about it but had no plans to talk to them now. He doesn't agree with the argument that treaty rights should offer protection for Eagle Rock.
Stupak said he thinks there will be more mining in the Upper Peninsula.
"As the oil goes up so does (the price of) precious metals," he noted. "Economically it's worthwhile going back to mine the precious metals and gold and other things we have in the Upper Peninsula."
Stupak said he's not necessarily in favor of mining. If he were to speak out against a mine now, it would be as a private citizen.
"I'd look at each mine on its merits," he said. "Hard-rock mining-- we've done that for so many years up here I don't have a lot of problems with that. Sulfide mining, which we've never done in Michigan -- I do have concerns."
He said he is not opposed to the potential Copperwood mine near Wakefield, since it is hard-rock mining, but not sulfide mining.
Asked if he had any plans to run for public office in the future, Stupak said he wouldn't say "never," but he really wants to step back for a while.
"I promised I'd give myself four years away from running for office," he said. "I want to be a private citizen for a while."
Democrats: "We'll miss him."
Several Democrats at the potluck event said they would miss Stupak, especially because of his dedication to the people of the First District.
Houghton County Democrats served this special cake at the luncheon for Bart Stupak on Dec. 11.
Catherine Lewis of Houghton, one of the youngest members of the group, said she joined the Democrats when Obama was running and then "just kind of stuck around." She plans to continue to be involved with the Democratic Party.
Lewis expressed disappointment at Stupak's retirement decision.
"I'm sad he's retiring. I'm going to miss him," she said. "I think he really took into consideration the people of his district. He really represented us."
Stupak also expressed encouragement and his wishes for success in the future to fellow Democrats despite their losses to Republicans in the recent election -- State Rep. Mike Lahti of Hancock, who ran for State Senate, and Scott Dianda of Calumet, who ran for the 110th District State Representative position Lahti now holds.
Lahti said he had no plans to run for public office again.
State Rep. Mike Lahti of Hancock and his wife, Sharon, attended the luncheon for Congressman Bart Stupak on Dec. 11.
"It's nice to be back home. It feels like I'm retired," Lahti said. "I'm still going to be involved with the Democrats and with the community."
Dianda had words of praise for Stupak.
"Mr. Bart Stupak has always been there for the people of his First Congressional District," Dianda said. "He's always put the needs of the people first, and he's always been so accessible. He's a true man of the people to be so accessible to the voters."
Dianda said he would continue to be involved with the Democratic Party. He was recently named HCDP Vice Chair for Political Organizing.
"I'll still be one of the watchdogs for the people," he said.
Brian Rendel, co-chair of the Houghton County Democratic Party, predicted people will miss Stupak even more in the future.
"Bart did a huge amount of work for District 1 in Michigan, and I think the District will appreciate all that work even more as we get to know our new Congressman. Bart will be a tough act to follow," Rendel noted.
Barbara Manninen of Hancock, who was recently named HCDP Membership Chair, said she always tried to watch Stupak on C-Span because, as Chair of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (under the House Committee on Energy and Commerce), he demonstrated a good grasp of many issues -- from food safety to Toyota's sudden acceleration problem to the BP oil spill to Great Lakes protection.
"It was amazing -- the knowledge that man has, in addition to legislative skill," Manninen noted. "He was a real worker for protecting the Great Lakes. We all treasure our Great Lakes -- our habitat, our tourism, clean water -- all depend on the Great Lakes."
Thomas Baldini of Marquette, Congressman Stupak's district director for the past eight years and former chair of the International Joint Commission (IJC) for the Great Lakes (a board of experts appointed by the United States and Canada to protect the Great Lakes boundary waters) was also present at the event.
Thomas Baldini, left, of Marquette, Congressman Stupak's district director for the past eight years and former chair of the International Joint Commission (IJC) for the Great Lakes, talks with Scott Dianda of Calumet, former candidate for Michigan 110th District State Representative and now HCDP vice chair for political organizing.
"He and I go back a long, long way," Baldini said. "We were friends even before he was running for office."
Baldini noted he was chair of the IJC at about the time Stupak was first elected to Congress during Clinton's administration. He said Stupak, as a boss, was very supportive and easy to work with. At the time Stupak announced his retirement from Congress, Baldini praised Stupak's work and dedication to protecting the Great Lakes from water sales, oil drilling in and under the lakes, and contamination.**
Congressman Bart Stupak says good-bye to supporters and friends after the Houghton County Democratic Party's potluck luncheon of appreciation held for him on Dec. 11. In the foreground are, from left, Scott Dianda and Mike Lahti.
Ann Pace of Hancock, an active member of the Houghton County Democrats, offered this comment: "I didn't always agree with him, but I was always proud that he was my Congressman, and I value his tenacious fidelity to what he believes is right."
* The Front 40 is a grass-roots environmental group specifically opposed to mining company Aquila Resources' proposed Back 40 mining operation along the Menominee River in Menominee County, Michigan.
** See our April 9, 2010, article, "Stupak announces decision not to continue in Congress," with Thomas Baldini's comments on Stupak as "Guardian of the Great Lakes."