Lon Johnson, second from left, Democratic primary candidate for Michigan's 1st Congressional District, addresses supporters at a Democratic fundraiser for his campaign held on Dec. 6, 2015, at the Landmark Inn in Marquette. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
MARQUETTE, HOUGHTON -- Lon Johnson, Democratic primary candidate for Michigan's 1st Congressional District, recently completed a fundraising "meet and greet" tour across the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan, with stops in Houghton, Escanaba, Marquette, Sault Sainte Marie, Northport and Traverse City.
In a recent letter to supporters, Johnson writes, "So far, our campaign has received support from over 1,500 contributors; we've been endorsed by hundreds of local activists and elected officials, 13 current or former State Legislators and the entire Michigan Democratic Congressional delegation."
That's good news for Democrats who would like to see Johnson take over the U.S. Congressional seat held by retiring Republican Dan Benishek and potentially coveted by Republican State Sen. Tom Casperson.
In his letter and on his Web site, Johnson states his three main goals should he be elected to the U.S. Congress:
"Together, we will:
- Create a U.P. and a Northern Michigan where our families can stay and succeed;
- Keep the U.P. and Northern Michigan both beautiful and profitable; and
- Rebuild our government to become as hardworking and honest as the people who pay for it.
On Dec. 6, 2015, Johnson addressed a room full of supporters in view of the largest of these lakes during a fundraiser on the sixth floor of the Landmark Inn in Marquette. Some local residents spoke with Keweenaw Now during the event.
"I think he's a very strong candidate," said Robert Kulisheck, former Marquette mayor. "He is somebody who has an understanding of the issues that apply to the Upper Peninsula but also in the context of the whole country."
Kulisheck added he believed Johnson's purpose in traveling through the U.P. during the past month is listening to people's concerns in order to address policy positions that would be appropriate for the U.P.
Marquette area residents ask questions and offer comments following Lon Johnson's talk at the Dec. 6 Democratic fundraiser. Pictured seated at right is Robert Kulisheck, former mayor of Marquette. Former State Sen. Mike Prusi, standing at far right, and Marquette County Commissioner Joe Derocha, standing third from right, are among the many current and former elected officials who have endorsed Johnson for Congress. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
The 1st Congressional District, which includes 32 counties, is the second largest congressional district east of the Mississippi. It includes the entire Upper Peninsula and a large area of the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, with coastlines along three Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan and Huron.*
"We understand that the U.P. and Northern Michigan have distinct needs, and I will work to be a Congressman that works for both the U.P. and Northern Michigan," Johnson told Keweenaw Now after his talk in Marquette.
Following his talk in Marquette Lon Johnson visits with Bob and Valentina Anderson, Marquette Democratic supporters who helped organize the Dec. 6 fundraiser. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Johnson also attended an event sponsored by Save the Wild U.P., a grassroots environmental group concerned about local mining, on Dec. 5 in Marquette. Asked about his views on mining in the U.P., Johnson said he plans to focus on striking a balance between keeping the U.P. and Northern Michigan both beautiful and profitable.
"We can strike that balance, but we have to understand that our natural resources are terrific assets to us," Johnson said. "In particular in the U.P. we have a resource-based economy, and again we have to make sure that we are balancing our ability to make a living and be profitable here -- but at the same time retaining our value in beauty and our natural resources."
Extracting the value from those natural resources, whether in mining or logging, has to be done very carefully, safely and responsibly, he added.
Johnson also commented on fracking, a method of extracting natural gas in areas of Northern Michigan.
"Right now I don't see how fracking is safe," he said. "Until fracking has been proven to be safe, I don't think we should use that as a technique to draw out our natural gas."**
Johnson has also expressed concern about Enbridge's Line 5 oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac and has asked that it be shut down until proven safe.
"We have a 62-year-old pipeline," he said. "It's being operated by the same company that was responsible for the number-one pipeline disaster in U.S. history. I believe that this pipeline needs to be shown to be safe -- independently. It needs to be independently inspected and independently proven to be safe. There are smart places to put a pipeline and there are not-so-smart places to put a pipeline. And having a 62-year-old pipeline run through the Straits of Mackinac and along the U.P. in our Great Lakes watershed without knowing independently that it's safe -- it's not wise."***
During the Sept. 6, 2015, Pipe Out! Paddle flotilla protest, canoeists and kayakers near the south end of the Mackinac Bridge call for shutting down Enbridge's Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac. (Keweenaw Now file photo)
To protect the Great Lakes Johnson suggests forming an international water institute.
"We have to show the world how to use and protect fresh water," he said. "This district has the most fresh water of any district (in the U.S.)."
Johnson envisions an institute that would bring together universities and non-profit organizations in order to compete for research funding for water protection from governments and businesses -- both domestic and foreign.
Johnson also said he believes in reinstating passenger rail service in the U.P.
"We used rail to export value here for decades -- lumber," Johnson noted. "We now need those same right of ways to bring value to us in the form of tourism. Imagine what it could do to our economy if we had a line running from the Sault all the way over to Duluth with lines moving up to Marquette and to Houghton and down to Escanaba."
Johnson said rail service could help the economy by moving people and goods and by bringing tourists to the area to spend money.
"Our ancestors figured it out. Why can't we?" Johnson added.
He also said the more remote areas of the U.P. and Northern Michigan are in need of high-speed Internet and mobile cell phone service. Johnson explained he is familiar with this need since he lives in an area of Kalkaska County where he is required to have a satellite connection.
On gun control, Johnson said he is a gun owner himself and believes in the right to keep and bear arms; however, unlike some members of Congress, he is opposed to allowing people on the terrorist watch list to purchase firearms.
"If our national security agencies have determined that these individuals are not safe to travel, well then I think the same determination should be made that they're not safe to purchase weapons," he said.
As for his goal of rebuilding a better, honest government, Johnson said he is a capitalist but is in favor of addressing income inequality with fair tax and trade policies and greater education funding.
"The wealthy and the well connected are rigging this economy to the detriment of capitalism itself," Johnson said. "We all have a right to economically prosper, but when you have a Congress and a government that continues to favor Wall Street and the wealthy and the well connected over the people who work for a living it will ruin this economy."
Johnson noted the "dark store" tax policy issue and Citizens United as examples. He said he has a problem with Congress passing legislation that favors the wealthy and corporations over people who work for a living.
"Citizens United is wrecking our democracy and it's wrecking our economy," Johnson said. "We have Wall Street that seems to be socializing loss and privatizing profit. These bankers and investors -- they make a bet on Wall Street and when that bet wins they keep a profit but when that bet loses they go to our government and say they need to be bailed out. That's not capitalism."
Johnson said he believes corporations or banks that break the law should not be bailed out.
"We've got to continue with Wall Street reform, and that means prosecution -- that means jail for some of these people," Johnson said.
Following Johnson's talk and question-answer session, some members of the audience shared their impressions with Keweenaw Now.
Two of these were Northern Michigan University (NMU) students.
"I think he had some really good ideas," said Maggie Rose, treasurer of NMU Democrats.
Rose noted she was especially interested in Johnson's suggestions for passenger rail and for protecting the Great Lakes.
Ellen Lindblom, NMU Democrats president, was also impressed.
"I think we are poised at a great position to take back the 1st District and turn Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula blue," Lindblom told Keweenaw Now.
Marquette resident Karlyn Rapport, who brought up the issue of gun control during the question-answer session, commented on the recent failure in Congress to pass stricter gun laws.
"I feel distressed that Congress was not able to enact legislation to ban even semi-automatic weapons, and I agree with Hillary that if you're on the watch list and you can't fly then you shouldn't be able to buy a gun," Rapport said.
Joe Derocha, Democratic Marquette County commissioner and former Humboldt Township supervisor, was positive about Johnson as a candidate.
"I like him," Derocha said. "We need a strong candidate that can put a Democrat back into Congress."
Lon Johnson meets with Houghton County Democrats
The Houghton County Democratic Party (HCDP) held a fundraising event for Johnson on Nov. 19 at the Magnuson Hotel Franklin Square Inn in Houghton. It was the most recent of several events he attended in the Keweenaw, including HCDP's picnic last August, where he was a guest speaker.
Lon Johnson, left, chats with a supporter at the Houghton County Democratic Party fundraiser Nov. 19 in Houghton. (Photo by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)
"Lon made 900 telephone calls to Keweenaw area Democrats in advance of his most recent of many visits to our community," said Brian Rendel, HCDP vice-chair for Communications and former co-chair. "As a result of this personal contact, nearly 50 attended his fundraiser last month, which is impressive for a primary candidate -- especially this early. I think the reason for the enthusiasm is because Lon takes the time to connect to folks, a critical element lacking in the previous three campaigns."
Lon Johnson speaks about his congressional campaign program at the Labor Day weekend picnic (not a fundraiser) sponsored by the Houghton County Democratic Party. (Photo courtesy Houghton County Democratic Party Facebook page.)
Rendel also shared with Keweenaw Now his own opinion of Johnson's chances in the primary compared with those of other candidates.
"Will Lon Johnson vote exactly the way I want every time? Of course not," Rendel said. "For a congress member to vote 100 percent my way would not be a very good gauge of a good representative of our district. I do, however, want my representative to honestly and fairly represent our district again, even if they cast a few votes I do not support. Much worse would be electing Tom Casperson to Congress because that would be a disaster for our district for decades to come. Democrats will waste precious time if we wait until the August primary to choose which candidate to support in the November election."
At the well attended Houghton County Democrats' picnic on Labor Day weekend, 110th District State Rep. Scott Dianda (standing in blue shirt) spoke positively about congressional candidate Lon Johnson. Dianda is one of many current and former state legislators endorsing Johnson. (Photo courtesy Houghton County Democratic Party Facebook page.)
Rendel added he plans to ask Houghton County Democrats for a formal August primary endorsement of Lon Johnson, at their next regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2016 at the Super 8 Motel in Houghton.
"He is the best choice," Rendel said. "I support Lon because he is best qualified, connects with people, and keeps his word. He clearly demonstrates the capacity to win. With his sustained efforts this year Lon has worked hard to earn our full and early support. We must do our part to elect a Democratic winner. I invite the Houghton County Democratic Party to officially join me in endorsing Lon Johnson in the August primary so together we all can help win this seat back for the people of our district."
John Slivon, Hancock City councillor -- who attended both the HCDP Nov. 19 fundraiser and the September picnic with his wife, Ann Pace -- compared Johnson's campaign to that of Democrat Jerry Cannon, who is also a congressional candidate in the primary race.
"Lon Johnson is currently the only Democratic candidate that knows how to run a winning campaign for the congressional seat," Slivon said. "The most important thing is to win that seat. Jerry Cannon, up until his car accident, was doing a terrible job with his campaign, which frankly is unacceptable. So Lon is looking like the best possible choice. He is for GMO labeling, which makes me and Ann want to support him. The republicans are becoming a national embarrassment and need to be removed from any possibility of governing anybody."
To learn more about Lon Johnson's campaign, visit his Web site.
* Click here for a map of the 1st Congressional District.
** See: "Unchecked Fracking Threatens Health, Water Supplies," by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
*** See Lon Johnson's Oct. 20, 2015, press release, "On Anniversary of Clean Water Act, Lon Johnson Renews Call to Shut Down Enbridge-Owned Line 5 Pipeline."