First District Democratic Congressional Candidate Lon Johnson (center in dark jacket) holds an informal Town Hall discussion at Slim's Café in Mohawk on Oct. 5. Jacqueline Jaaskelainen (in background behind Johnson), Keweenaw County Democratic Party chair, arranged the venue when Johnson expressed his wish to meet with Keweenaw County residents. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
MOHAWK -- In the final weeks of the election campaign, First District Democratic Congressional Candidate Lon Johnson traveled all over the 32 counties in the district holding Town Halls and participating in candidate forums. He made a special trip to the northernmost county -- Keweenaw -- with a Town Hall visit to Slim's Café in Mohawk on Wednesday, Oct. 5. Thanks to the organizing efforts of Keweenaw County Chair Jacqueline Jaaskelainen, Slim's offered their dining room that day to fit the candidate's busy schedule -- following his participation in the Ontonagon Candidate Forum on Tuesday, Oct. 4, and a Wednesday morning Town Hall at Carmelita's in Calumet -- and preceding a Town Hall he held at the Downtowner in Houghton that Wednesday evening.
On Nov. 2, 2016, Lon Johnson posted on his Facebook page this map of his tour of the First District, showing his extensive participation in candidate forums and town hall meetings. (Map courtesy Lon Johnson for Congress)
In an email reply to Keweenaw Now, Brian Spangle, Johnson's campaign manager, confirmed Lon has visited with voters in all 32 counties of the 1st Congressional District.
"On a comparison of the mileage from his home in Kalkaska, it seems that Ironwood / Gogebic County was the furthest he traveled, with Mohawk and Keweenaw being a very close second," Spangle notes. "The great news is we covered everywhere in between Gogebic and Chippewa counties, and from coast to coast (Mason County to Alcona County) in the Lower Peninsula, and left no county unvisited."
The Mohawk event was very informal, allowing participants to ask questions and discuss issues such as fresh water, Social Security, education, renewable energy, tourism and gridlock in Congress.
Johnson began by stating some of his priorities: a better government (not divided, angry and partisan as it is now), a tax code that doesn't continually favor the wealthy, trade deals that work for us, a strong economy along with environmental protection. He noted we should be thinking 10, 20, 30 years into the future.
Lon Johnson and his wife, Julianna Smoot, are pictured here with the 1985 Coachmen RV in which they have traveled all over Michigan's large First Congressional District to attend candidate forums, debates and Town Hall meetings. (Photo courtesy Lon Johnson for Congress)
"We've got to make money here, but we also have to protect our environment," Johnson said. "That means continued sustainable logging and sustainable mining practices, but it also means a renewed effort to protect our Great Lakes. Fresh water is who we are."
Fresh water, Line 5, climate change
Johnson noted the First District has more fresh water than any district in the United States.
Ruth Mohr of Eagle Harbor congratulated Johnson for being concerned about the pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac.
"I'm not opposed to pipelines," Johnson said. "Pipelines are the safest way to move oil. We don't want oil moved on a truck or by train or, heaven forbid, on a boat."
Johnson noted there are smart places to put pipelines but putting pipelines in the Great Lakes is not smart.
"This current pipeline that we're talking about -- Line 5 -- this is a 63-year-old oil pipeline pushing a half a billion barrels a day through the Straits of Mackinac, and it hasn't been independently inspected," Johnson said. It's dangerous. And when you operate in our Great Lakes -- or anywhere on land -- you must be 100 percent transparent. If you're not willing to be transparent you forfeit the right to use our resources."
This pipeline could be shut down at the Straits and propane could still be delivered via Line 5 to the U.P., Johnson added.
Here's a video ad showing Johnson's fight to shut down Line 5 and protect the Great Lakes:
Mary Byers of Eagle Harbor said she was glad to hear Johnson is looking years ahead with his concerns, because some local residents are too shortsighted in thinking Lake Superior is here forever.
"With climate change California, Arizona, the whole southwest is coveting our water," Byers noted. "They want it. And if we get the wrong people in Congress we could lose our water."
Johnson said our water is his concern because those Western states have more members of Congress than the Great Lakes states do. Besides working right now on our legal protections, we have a moral responsibility to show the world how to use and protect fresh water, he said.
"We need to create and make the U.P. and northern Michigan the hub for the use and protection of fresh water," Johnson noted.
This means, for example, showing manufacturers, farmers, the military and the energy industry how to use less water and build a better economy.
Byers noted she has met many Republicans who don't believe in climate change and don't see the problem.
"The climate's changing," Johnson said. "The question is can we do something about it, and I believe that we should."
Johnson noted his Republican opponent Jack Bergman, when asked about Line 5 on television, called it a "business decision."
"Protecting our Great Lakes is not a business decision," Johnson said.
Invest in people, not corporations
Johnson also said he wants the U.P. and northern Michigan to be a place where families can stay and succeed.
"Number one we've got to protect what you've already earned -- your Social Security, your Medicare, your V.A. benefits," Johnson said. "There is a real effort in Washington, D.C., to move those benefits of yours -- that you worked a lifetime for -- to private corporations -- to privatize them. I'm opposed to that."
Johnson said thinking years ahead means bringing high speed Internet and mobile telephone service into the whole district, investing in our infrastructure and renewable energy, funding a new Soo Lock and restoring passenger rail service to the area to promote tourism. It means making college affordable and investing in local school districts and making sure they're not privatized.
Johnson said the biggest difference between himself and his opponent Jack Bergman is that he, Johnson, believes in investing in people, our land and the Great Lakes.
"Jack Bergman wants to take basically our tax dollars and send them off to Wall Street in the hopes that it will trickle down and support us. That doesn't work. When you give these massive tax breaks to these corporations -- number one, it doesn't come back to us, and number two, they take the revenue and hide it overseas."
Jacqueline Jaaskelainen, a former teacher, said she was glad to hear Johnson supports public schools, because we have to be committed to investing in public schools to be sure children are being educated. While home schooling can be done correctly, she said, sometimes there are loopholes and the children do not receive the education they need
Gridlock in Congress
Ernest Mooney of Eagle Harbor said he believes the biggest problem in this country -- that stands in the way of education, immigration reform, building infrastructure and more -- is gridlock in Congress -- the inability to compromise.
"In the Congress nobody gets along," Mooney said. "I think what made this country great, at least up to the Civil War, was the ability to compromise and find common ground between people."
During the Oct. 5 Town Hall in Mohawk, Ernest Mooney of Eagle Harbor, left, asks Lon Johnson about gridlock in Congress and what he would do about it. Also pictured are Thomas Renier, second from left, and Gordon Jaaskelainen. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
Mooney asked Johnson how he would combat gridlock if elected to Congress.
Johnson said it begins with example and common courtesy, civility, not questioning others' motives.
"When you're an elected officer you have an obligation to serve everyone regardless of what their party is," he said. "We also need to start looking at institutional changes to our political process."
Johnson said the way congressional lines are drawn (according to parties) elected officials have no institutional incentive to compromise -- for fear of losing re-election in a primary.
"We also have to get these billions of dollars of corporate money out of politics," Johnson said.
He noted his admiration for former First District Congressman Bart Stupak, who has endorsed him. Stupak is a good example of compromise, being able to work across party lines, Johnson noted.
Ruth Mohr told Johnson there seems to be a lot of interest in solar energy locally. She mentioned the Keweenaw Research Center's finding that solar energy is feasible in this area, but the example of some electric companies that have reduced the rewards for net metering on residential solar makes her wonder what the future holds for such efforts to introduce renewable energy sources.
Johnson said people shouldn't be punished for investing in renewable energy. Policies shouldn't go backwards. Renewable energy can create jobs and lessen our dependence on foreign carbon-based energy.
"We need to start investing in renewable energy -- be that bio, geothermal, solar or wind," Johnson said. "Our nation gives an enormous amount of tax breaks to the oil and gas industry. We need to start incentivizing the same for renewable energy."
Mooney commented that the Republicans, as opposed to the Democrats, are pushing for the use of coal, and the coal and oil and gas industries have lots of money. To fight Republicans you have to fight the money they spend on legislatures, he said.
"I think we have to demonstrate to people the advantages of solar and wind," Johnson replied, "and at the same time we've got to start to move resources away from the oil and gas industry and over to solar. We're starting to see more -- as individual consumer demand goes up for it -- private industry will follow."
To a question on wind energy, Johnson said he's in favor of renewable energy, but decisions on what kind of energy and where to put it should be made by the local communities.
After Johnson left to go to his next Town Hall in Houghton, Paul Taipale of Eagle Harbor told Keweenaw Now he was very impressed with the candidate.
"He was at our level, listening carefully and answering the questions directly," Taipale said.
Mary Byers of Eagle Harbor also had a positive reaction.
"He seemed sincere," Byers said. "He doesn't talk just to hear himself talk. He was very open to our questions and comments, and he did seem knowledgeable about the issues that voters are concerned about."
To learn more about Lon Johnson's positions on important issues, click here.