Friday, August 19, 2011

Gov. Rick Snyder speaks to invited audience in Houghton

By Michele Bourdieu
with photos and video by Allan Baker

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, right, listens to a question from the audience read by Michigan Tech University President Glenn Mroz during the question-answer session following the Governor's presentation to an invited audience at the Bluffs Senior Community in Houghton on Aug. 16, 2011. (Photo by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Michigan Governor Rick Snyder spoke at what was called a "Town Hall" meeting at the Bluffs Senior Community in Houghton on Tuesday, Aug. 16. We learned about this meeting on very short notice from an announcement in the Daily Mining Gazette. Assuming that "Town Hall" meant a "public" meeting, i.e., a meeting open to the public, Keweenaw Now skipped many other obligations to attend the event and videotape the Governor's presentation.

We were met at the door by the "security forces" of what appeared to be Tea Party / Republican Party organizers. Apparently this "Town Hall" did not fit our definition of a Town Hall meeting.* (See Editor's Notes below.)

It was a meeting by invitation. Members of the local media were also invited and given name tags at the door if their names were "on the list." We had not received the invitation sent to the media and were thus not on the list. We were told we could wait in line and if there was extra room available after the "registered" visitors were accommodated we would be allowed to ascend to the third-floor room reserved for the event.

We found the third floor on our own and set up our video camera, although these same security forces again appeared and asked us to return to the first floor and "wait our turn." They tried to be polite in their failed efforts to evict us, and we were glad to read in the Aug. 18 Daily Mining Gazette some comments by organizer Mary Sears, explaining their difficulties in finding enough space to make the event open to the public. We are certain they believe in freedom of the press, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.**

Michigan Technological University President Glenn Mroz introduced Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R-Ann Arbor) with a summary of his academic and business background and accomplishments -- one being his initiation of legislative efforts in establishing Smart Zones (Michigan Tech's own Smart Zone -- an alliance between university and business intended to create high-tech jobs and contribute to local economic development -- is well known).

"He's (Snyder is) really versed in economic development," Mroz said. "The thing that's most impressed me about the Governor is his willingness to listen, his willingness to meet with people, his forthright response to very difficult questions about the challenges facing the people of the state of Michigan."

Snyder has also dealt with these challenges by making sweeping changes in his budget, Mroz added.

Snyder began by saying his goal is not to "fix" Michigan but to "reinvent" it. He mentioned two main issues: the need for more and better jobs and the need to keep young people in the state.

He noted his visit was a good opportunity to have interaction and feedback from his "customers."

Snyder then spoke about balancing the budget. He noted the importance of eliminating the Michigan Business Tax to help create jobs. He also mentioned Michigan students' lack of adequate preparation for college and the need to reform the educational system.

During his recent tour of the Upper Peninsula, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder addresses an audience of invited community leaders on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at the Bluffs Senior Community in Houghton. Seated behind the Governor is 110th District State Representative Matt Huuki (R-Atlantic Mine). (Video by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Gov. Snyder claimed he had signed a significant number of bills from the legislature in his first six months in office but gave few details about them. He said plans for this fall would include efforts to call attention to health and wellness, followed by work on infrastructure improvement including water and sewer.

Although Snyder didn't mention the Emergency Financial Manager law, he explained his objective to have communities and school systems balance their budgets and keep better accounts. ***

After Snyder's speech, written questions from the audience included several on education. Michigan Tech President Mroz selected some of these to read to the Governor for his comments.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder answers a question on education, including his plans for rewarding good teachers. Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz reads questions from the audience after the main part of Snyder's speech.

When it comes to economic development, Michigan now is doing "less hunting and more gardening," according to Snyder.

"We spent too much time over the last few years hunting -- which is going to get a few big out-of-state companies with huge incentive packages and trying to bring them to Michigan and essentially buying them into our state. That's not good business," Snyder explained.

"Gardening" means focusing on Michiganders creating and growing Michigan businesses through Smart Zones and other means that are already here.

Charlie Hopper of Eagle River, Mich., Pasty.NET general manager, who attended the event at the Bluffs, said that "gardening" idea -- taking the existing businesses and trying to help them develop -- was one thing he found interesting in the Governor's talk and an improvement over the last Republican governor.

"You've got to attract some out-of-state business," Hopper said. "But if you're doing that and neglecting the existing businesses that's not good."

Hopper noted that was the case under former Michigan Governor John Engler. He said he remembered hearing Engler speak with a focus on "bringing in the money" from outside the state and not really thinking about what could be done for businesses in the state.

Hopper has built his own local Internet service provider business, Pasty.NET from a basic dial-up to both DSL and wireless services in the Keweenaw and all over the U.P.

Besides adding 500 members in Marquette County, Pasty recently added Internet coverage in Sedar Bay.

"Cell phone companies are coming in, too, which is great," he said. "We've been in Copper Harbor since 2004, and they still don't have cell phone (access)."

Hopper said that may be because big corporations (such as cell phone companies) often neglect more remote areas, while a local Internet business such as his is able to provide services as soon as the technology is available.

In contrast to his stated priority for "gardening" -- cultivating home businesses -- Snyder expressed strong support in this speech for bringing mining back to the U.P.; and so far the companies showing interest by exploring, purchasing mineral rights and actually beginning construction for mining projects are not only from outside the state but from outside the U.S.

Rio Tinto, based in London, England, with its Eagle Project on the Yellow Dog Plains near Big Bay, hopes, with its subsidiary Kennecott Minerals, to begin mining for nickel and copper there as early as this September. Closer to Houghton, Highland Resources, Inc., based in Vancouver, Canada, recently announced a partnership with BRP LLC that will allow them to do exploratory drilling soon for a potential copper mining venture in Houghton and Keweenaw counties.****

Gov. Rick Snyder replies to a question on mining with "Let's go mine!"

Phil Musser, executive director of KEDA (Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance) expressed appreciation for Snyder's visit but noted the speech lacked certain details.

"We appreciate his coming here and meeting with community leaders," Musser said. "He mentioned the potential of the U.P. for tourism, mining and timber harvesting; and, in addition, we hope that he also recognizes the growing manufacturing and technology sectors in the U.P. and their potential for job creation."

In line with the "gardening" approach to local business, KEDA designs and implements proactive, sustainable programs that are focused on retaining and expanding existing firms, starting up new businesses, attracting entrepreneurs and companies to the Keweenaw and initiating projects that create the conditions for future economic growth.

Snyder did answer one question on green energy by noting its cost to power companies appeared to be going down. He called for greater energy efficiency but didn't mention concrete efforts to promote alternative forms of energy in Michigan.

To a question on delisting the Torch Lake Superfund site, Snyder admitted he wasn't familiar with it.

While Snyder made a reference to the "Pure Michigan" ads, noting he would like them to show people fishing or hunting, he did not really explain how mining could be compatible with the Upper Peninsula's existing tourism industry. He made no mention of protecting the Great Lakes or the Upper Peninsula's streams and wetlands except to express confidence that the Michigan mining laws would assure the mining is done correctly and doesn't harm the environment.

After the Governor's speech and question-answer session, State Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) concluded the event with comments about his plans to work closely with the Governor to facilitate development of the mining industry in the Upper Peninsula. He compared himself to Moses in his wish to shout, "Let my people go" -- to free them from what Casperson terms "the biggest problem" -- federal regulation.

After Gov. Snyder's speech, Michigan State Senator Tom Casperson speaks to the invited audience at the Bluffs Senior Community in Houghton, Mich., on Aug. 16, 2011. Casperson speaks about mining in the Upper Peninsula.

Keweenaw Now also had an opportunity to chat with Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean and Houghton Chief of Police John Donnelly after the speech.

"We're always excited when the Governor comes to town, and it was very nice to see a nice crowd come out and listen," Sheriff McLean said, "and hopefully some messages resound with everybody. Government being open -- that's what it's all about."

Houghton County Sheriff Brian Mc Lean gives his impression of Gov. Snyder's visit to the Bluffs in a brief conversation with Keweenaw Now. (Photo by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Asked if he was disappointed there was no protest rally, the Sheriff said laughingly, "Oh no, we're very happy. I hate wrestling!"

Chief of Police John Donnelly said he was glad everybody was well behaved and the event went smoothly.

"I enjoyed the setting," Chief Donnelly said. "It's the first time I've seen any governor speak in Houghton."

To a question on whether Snyder's budget cuts affect the local police, Donnelly replied affirmatively, but explained how law enforcement in neighboring communities share resources.

"Everything affects us," he said. "One of the things we're doing with the local law enforcement is making sure that we work together to be efficient."

One example is the partnering they do, especially with Hancock and Michigan Tech police, when certain serious calls, such as domestic violence, require the presence of two officers. Also, if the Houghton police have to go for weapons training, Hancock police cover the City of Houghton in their absence.

"You've got to work together, especially with shrinking budgets," Donnelly added.

Editor's Notes:

*After this experience, I searched for a definition of a "town hall meeting" and found this on Wikipedia (not always a reliable source, of course, but this seemed to be my own understanding of town hall meetings Keweenaw Now has covered in the past -- the most recent being one hosted by Tom Casperson and Matt Huuki at Michigan Tech, which was open to the public.) This is from Wikipedia's definition:

"A town hall meeting is a name given to an informal public meeting. Everybody in a town community is invited to attend, not always to voice their opinions, but to hear the responses from public figures and (if applicable) elected officials about shared subjects of interest."

For a second opinion, I searched again and found this definition on
"A town hall meeting is an informal public meeting which gives the members of a community an opportunity to get together to discuss emerging issues and to voice concerns and preferences for their community. A typical town hall meeting is attended by both citizens and officials, giving everyone a chance to talk personally in a relaxed environment about the things which matter to them."

Both of these definitions include the word "public"; therefore, one could assume a town hall meeting is open to the public.

A further search uncovered the one-word version: Townhall, which led me to and Townhall Magazine, which, I discovered, are politically conservative publications.

An interesting spelling distinction (or error?) appears in two articles about the Governor's visit to Escanaba on Aug. 17, 2011. The advance story calls the event a town hall (two words), while the follow-up story calls it a townhall. (Emphasis ours.)

**Finally, on Aug. 18, an article in the Daily Mining Gazette quotes Mary Sears of the Houghton County Republicans' Office as to why Gov. Snyder's visit to the Bluffs was by invitation. Click here to read the article "Admission Denied." The media release she mentions was not received by Keweenaw Now.

See also a 2010 Escanaba Daily Press article about Tea Party support of the U.S. Constitution. The article also identifies Mary Sears as "one of the Tea Partiers" and "co-founder of Concerned Citizens of the U.P."

*** Click here for an update on the campaign to repeal the Emergency Financial Manager law in a Michigan Messenger article posted Aug. 17, 2011.

**** See the Aug. 11, 2011, article in the Daily Mining Gazette: "Partnership buys mineral rights for exploratory action."

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