Saturday, March 15, 2014

Potential state senate candidate, North Woods Conservancy founders speak to Houghton County Dems

By Michele Bourdieu

Chris LaMarche, right, of Gladstone, speaks to Houghton County Democrats at their March 5 meeting in Houghton. LaMarche, 22, hopes to run against State Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) in the November midterm election. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Houghton County Democrats heard from two energetic speakers at their March meeting last week -- first, 22-year-old Christopher (Chris) LaMarche, a new potential candidate to oppose Republican State Sen. Tom Casperson next November, and second, John Griffith of North Woods Conservancy (NWC). The first asked Dems for political support, the other for donations to help pay off a debt that has resulted from NWC's purchasing Keweenaw lands for environmental preservation and public access.

Chris LaMarche, potential State Senate candidate, cites priorities for change

LaMarche, 22, of Gladstone, an Eagle Scout, born and raised in the Upper Peninsula, introduced himself and his Dad, Gary LaMarche, who told the group Chris had just recently made the decision to run for the Michigan State Senate. Chris is about to graduate from Michigan State University with majors in microbiology and genetics and a minor in science policy.

In this videoclip, Chris tells the Houghton County Dems he has decided to run for office because he wants to raise his children in the U.P. and he sees a need in Michigan for investment in education, respect for labor rights and protection of the environment.

At the March 5, 2014, meeting of the Houghton County Democratic Party, Chris LaMarche gives a brief summary of his reasons for wanting to run for political office. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Chris LaMarche told Keweenaw Now he opposes the philosophy of those he calls "the 2010 class" -- Republicans and Tea Party candidates, including Casperson, who were elected in 2010 -- a philosophy intended to help businesses and keep taxes down for the wealthy.

"My philosophy is not that we have to tax the rich to the point where they get in trouble but that (the state) needs to give more tax cuts to the middle class," Chris said.

Noting he is from Casperson's home region, Chris said another objection he has to the 138th District Senator is his failure to do anything to improve roads.

"Tom Casperson is chair of our Transportation Committee, and he hasn't been able to fix the roads up here," the young challenger added.

In this video Clip, Chris LaMarche talks about his interest in politics, his recent opportunity to work with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, to meet President Obama for the signing of the Farm Bill, and more ...

Chris LaMarche gives a few details about his background and interest in politics. He notes he may be running in the Aug. 5, 2014, Democratic Primary against another candidate.

Brian Rendel of the Houghton County Dems mentioned at the meeting that a second Democratic candidate for Casperson's senate seat, Chris Germaine of Delta County, may be coming soon to speak to the group.

Potential candidates for the November midterm election must register by April 22, 2014.

Later in the meeting Chris LaMarche spoke with Houghton County Democratic Party members about his support of unions. He also welcomed their suggestions for his campaign.

Chris LaMarche exchanges views on support of unions with Houghton County Democrats. He notes both his parents -- Gary and Laura LaMarche -- are union members.

Chris LaMarche was among 15 Michigan State University students to receive the honor of participating in the William A. Demmer Scholars Program, which helps students experience the public policy decision-making that concerns preserving natural resources in North America. The program allowed Chris to work as an intern on the Farm Bill with Sen. Debbie Stabenow and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry in Washington, D.C., last summer.*

Local Democrats at the meeting had positive comments about the new young candidate.

"It was great to hear a candidate state -- among his top priorities -- a concern for environmental quality," said Houghton County Democratic Party member Ann Pace of Hancock.

Janet Gregorich, Houghton County Democratic Party vice-chair, saw Chris's youth as an advantage.

"I am glad to see a young person so interested to be involved in the political system and be willing to run for state senate," Gregorich said. "Chris seems to have the education and knows some issues for our district. Hope he can get the youth interested and out to vote."

Rick Kasprzak, Houghton County Democratic Party co-chair, noted any candidate is welcome to speak to the group.

"It is exciting to see a young person inspired to run for office," Kasprzak said. "I believe Chris has potential as a candidate and I like his priorities. However, it is too early in the process to make a clear choice. It appears we will have a choice of 'Chrises' as Mr. LaMarche appears to have a primary opponent in Chris Germaine. Mr. Germaine will have the opportunity to speak to our membership as well and make his case for why he should be our choice."

John Griffith outlines North Woods Conservancy's successes, needs

At the March 5 Houghton County Democrats' meeting, John Griffith of North Woods Conservancy (NWC) displays photos of Keweenaw sites NWC has purchased, with the help of grants and donations, for preservation and public access.

The second guest speaker at the Houghton County Dems' March 5 meeting, John Griffith of Allouez Township and Calumet -- co-founder with his wife, Jane Griffith, of North Woods Conservancy -- offered an enthusiastic history of NWC. He summarized how the couple came to found NWC, a 501(c)3 non-profit land trust and to invest their time, money and energy for the past 20 plus years in their dream of saving special Keweenaw sites of beauty, biodiversity and non-invasive recreation potential for environmental protection and public access.

In this video clip, John Griffith relates how it all started:

At the March 5, 2014, Houghton County Democratic Party meeting, John Griffith describes how he and his wife, Jane Griffith, founded the North Woods Conservancy in 1992 to save land on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

John Griffith gave an overview of how he and Jane successfully wrote government grants and collected donations to save such places as the Keweenaw County Gratiot River Park, Dore Woods, Merganser Pond, Gratiot River North, Seven-Mile Point and Conglomerate Falls -- as their mission statement says, "for the benefit of native biological diversity, science and education, and public enjoyment."

In this video clip, John shows photos of some of the NWC properties and describes their unique features:

John Griffith of North Woods Conservancy displays photos of properties the conservancy has purchased for environmental protection and public access in the Keweenaw Peninsula and explains why these places are worth preserving.

The NWC properties -- totaling 1,000 acres and two miles of lakeshore -- were purchased with funding from annual memberships, donations, state and federal grants, partnerships, member loans, and bank loans.

Now the conservancy is trying to pay off its debt with a fundraising campaign -- asking donors to give $10 a month, or 33 cents a day, in order to pay a monthly mortgage of $5000. Smaller and larger donations are also welcome.

John Griffith shows Houghton County Democrats a poster explaining North Woods Conservancy's current fundraising campaign to pay off their debt for preserving unique properties on the south shore of Lake Superior in Keweenaw County.

"This is ... part of why I'm a Democrat," John told the Houghton County Dems. "I believe in conservation, in science, in information, in public access, in wildlife, and education -- school kids can go there, long-term studies for Michigan Tech (are done) at some of these properties."**

Along with Jane Griffith, John requested also that anyone in the audience concerned about wildlife sign the petition for a referendum against the recent Michigan wolf hunt legislation, which allowed the Natural Resources Commission to designate the wolf as a game species and led to the limited wolf harvest, involving three areas in the U.P., last fall:

John Griffith of North Woods Conservancy explains, from a biologist's point of view, why a wolf hunt goes against good science and asks for signatures on the petition for a referendum on the recent Michigan wolf hunt legislation.***

Chris LaMarche, who said he is a hunter himself as well as a fisherman, asked about his views on the wolf hunt legislation supported by State Sen. Tom Casperson, said he believes any such hunt should be based on science.

"I would be in favor of postponing another hunt until more studies have been done to determine the effects on the environment and species populations," he said.

Houghton Dems Co-chair Rick Kasprzak commented positively on John Griffith's presentation.

"John Griffith and his wife Jane are obviously passionate about their conservation efforts," Kasprzak noted. "I felt his stirring presentation really hit home for many of our members, and I believe he may have inspired us to get involved in some way with his endeavors. Naturally protection of our most precious resource, our surroundings, is something a majority of our members strongly support and consider a top priority. The fact the Griffiths are preserving these very special areas in such a way as to continue to keep them available to the public is especially appealing to me."

Editor's Notes:

* Learn more about potential State Senate candidate Christopher LaMarche by visiting his Facebook page.

** To learn more about North Woods Conservancy visit

*** The petition with more than 229,000 signatures for a referendum on Michigan's wolf hunt was handed in this week. Click here for an update from Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.

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