Laugh if you want to, but I have always felt that the Upper Peninsula should have some special status in the Michigan Constitution, something like a semi-autonomous republic. For it really is a land apart. Parts of the UP are closer to St. Louis than to Detroit. Snow starts most years in October, and often doesn’t vanish for good until late May or even early June.
Demographically it is vastly different. There are very few African-Americans, fewer Hispanics, and a whole lot of guys named Nels. Actually, there isn’t a whole lot of anybody. There are fewer people in the entire sprawling expanse of Upper Peninsula than there are in Washtenaw County.
The Upper Peninsula does have what is believed to be the world’s largest and perhaps oldest living thing, a giant fungus that lives under 37 acres of forest floor, and is perhaps 1,500 years old.
There used to be copper; there still is iron ore, though they have taken out more than a billion pounds of it, and there is lots of nature, spoiled, unspoiled -- and at risk thanks to sulfide mining.
Bart Stupak represents this entire area – and that’s less than half his district. He also has an enormous chunk of the lower peninsula extending more than halfway down the east side. That’s a lot of geography. If you chopped his district out of the mitten, the only finger not badly maimed would be the thumb. Yet while the congressman who represents inner-city Detroit leases a car at taxpayer expense, Stupak doesn’t, though frankly, he might be able to justify a helicopter to get around his district.
However, he seems to be in touch with his flock; they vote for him in large numbers, even as they reject national and statewide Democrats. Two years ago, he ran twenty points ahead of John Kerry; four years ago, he ran even further ahead of Jennifer Granholm. The reason why seems to be simple.
Long ago, Stupak realized the ultimate truth that all politics are local. He was a policeman who later put himself through law school after being injured on the job, and got into politics. You won’t see him much away from his district, which is both a good thing and a bad one. The law says that every congressional district has to have the same number of people.
But I think the Upper Peninsula deserves a full-time advocate of its own. The lumber barons and the copper barons raped our northern peninsula way back when, and shipped the profits far away from where the ore was dug.
Today, the UP desperately needs a crash program to rebuild the economy, sort of a domestic mini-Marshall plan. And it needs a full-time advocate in Lansing.
So here’s my proposal. Every candidate for governor has to pick a lieutenant governor from the other peninsula. That might at least raise Yooper consciousness in Lansing.
And if you think that’s a nutty idea … let me tell you about term limits.