Moolenaar Disses Voters in Favor of Special Interest Meeting


Moolenaar speaking with a Chamber of Commerce supporter.

Republican John Moolenaar is acting like a congressman even before he finds out if will become one.  That’s right, he is already putting special interest before his constituents.  Moolenaar had agreed to debate Dr. Jeff Holmes at Alma College on Monday, October 20th.  Both men are running for the right to represent the 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The Holmes campaign expected hundreds of people to show up to the event.  A week before the debate was to occur, Moolenaar got an offer he couldn’t refuse.  He was invited to meet with a handful of Chamber of Commerce members in Cadillac.  So Moolenar contacted Alma college last Tuesday to cancel.  Holmes was left to attend the debate alone.

Dr. Holmes' supporters greet John Moolenaar.

Dr. Holmes’ supporters greet John Moolenaar.

Supporters of the Holmes campaign greeted Moolenaar in Cadillac holding sings reading “We Demand a Debate” and “Public Discourse=Democracy.”  One person asked Moolenaar why he was afraid to debate.  Moolenaar only said he wasn’t afraid and walked into the meeting where a half dozen people awaited his arrival.  If Moolenaar is not afraid to debate, then he must be afraid to tell the Chamber of Commerce no.  For that reason, and many more, he will probably fit right into a dysfunctional Congress should he win the seat on November 4th.  The constituents on the other hand, will be the ones who will lose.

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Representative Potvin’s Business Claims are Misleading at Best

PotvinfaceAnyone remember when Notre Dame hired George O’Leary as their football coach and then fired him five days later for falsifying his resume?  Well, State Representative Phil Potvin and O’Leary seem to have more in common than just being Catholic.  Phil Potvin’s official GOP house website states “Potvin retired as Chief Executive Officer of Western Concrete in 2006 and continues as a consultant to the company for property management in Big Rapids and Cadillac.”  In a recent candidate questionnaire that appeared in the Cadillac News Potvin said “I joined my dad at Western Concrete in 1971 until 2006 when the business sold.”  Not only do these statements seem to conflict with each other, they also conflict with reports filed with the State of Michigan. If Western Concrete Products was sold, or Potvin retired, why did he continue to sign off as president on the company’s corporate entity documents until 2011?  Why was he the one that disbanded the company when he filed a form that amended the articles of incorporation to read “the term of this corporation shall expire effective as of March 31st, 2011?”

Also at issue is his work as a “consultant for Wexford Concrete Properties.”  Potvin organized that company in 2007 according to the corporate entity documents.   Potvin listed his home address on Petrie Road in Cadillac as the initial office, and that address is where the yearly annual reports are sent.  Potvin’s name is the only one that shows up in the seven filings for Western Concrete Properties.  He is listed as “organizer,” “manager,” “managing member,” “member manager,” and “managing partner” depending on the year.  Nowhere is he listed as a consultant.  One is left wondering who he would be consulting anyhow.
It appears that Wexford Concrete Properties exists to sell or rent out the defunct Western Concrete Concrete Products properties.  A 2011 article in the Traversce City Record Eagle highlighted problems Potvin was having renting one of the closed Western Concrete Products sites in Traverse City.  According to the article, a Vietnam veteran was renting space from Potvin for his hot dog stand but didn’t have the proper permits to sell food.  The Vietnam veteran was evicted by Potvin and he told the Record Eagle “they got to me through him.  Being a high-profile individual, he didn’t want to fight my battles.”

All along Potvin has touted his business experience to convince voters that he could work the same wonders for our government that he worked for Western Concrete Products.  However, it appears he has misrepresented the level of success that he had with the company.  On top of that, we know his company received a $162,500 fine from the Department of Environmental Quality when they buried hazardous waste about a half of a mile from Cadillac’s well field.

George O’Leary was fired after five days in office.  In a few short weeks voters will decide if they should send Potvin back to Lansing for a third term.  He hopes to do for our State what he did for Western Concrete Products.  That is a scary thought.

Posted in 2014 Election, Phil Potvin | Leave a comment

Educators Looking to Become Legislators in 2014

Public school teachers have taken a shellacking these past four years.  This fall a handful of educators are looking to turn the tables and unseat some of Michigan’s worst legislators. At least eleven teachers, or retired teachers, ran in the primary, and at least nine won the right to be on the general election ballot in November.  Although all six are running as Democrats, they have some pretty diverse views.  One thing they have in common though is that they will all be champions for public school children at the Capitol.  If you consider yourself a champion for public schools yourself, read up on these candidates and choose one to help by donating your time or money. Just click on the candidate’s name for more information.

masonsitsmLynn Mason is running for the State House of Representatives in 86th District.  Lynn is running against Lisa Pothumus Lyons, who we crowed as Michigan’s least ethical legislator.  Lyons chairs the House Education Committee despite calling teachers “Hogs” who need to be “slaughtered.”  Even one of her former teachers called her out for her poor behavior.  Mason brings experience as a teacher, an apple farmer, and a county commissioner.  Surprisingly, she has out-raised the well connected career politician Posthumus Lyons.  Mason and her supporters have also knocked on over 20,000 doors.  This is the most important race in the House in 2014.

Dawn Levy is running for State Senate in the 24th District.  The seat is held by Senator Rick Jones.  Thankfully, Jones is being shown the door due to term limits.  His most memorable moment came when he compared Lansing public relations executive Kelly Rossman-McKinney to a hooker for working with people in both parties.  Levy is not likely to launch such attacks as she has spent her life helping people rather than tearing them down.  She has spent more than two decades as a teacher and as a volunteer paramedic.  She also is a strong proponent of the second amendment and was the former President of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.  That should play well in the 24th Senate district that is home to a lot of sportsmen and sportswomen.  Levy would bring a strong female voice to a Senate that has far too few women and is losing Senate Majority Leader Gretchen Whitmer to term limits.


Mark Balcolm is running for the State House of Representatives in the 100th district.  He
is trying to upset the two term incumbent Jon Bumstead.  Bumstead called cutting funding to schools while cutting taxes on businesses, some of which were already making record profits, “hard choices.”  Balcom is probably the most fiscally conservative of the group of educators running in 2014.  In fact, it wasn’t long ago that Balcom was a Republican.  He is also a pro-life candidate which should help him out in the rural 100th district.  Balcolm currently teaches instrumental music in Hesperia.  If Balcom were elected, he would like to get people in Lansing working together again to solve our issues with funding for schools and roads.  He would also would like to work with businesses to grow the economy.

Ron Mindykowski is running for the State Senate in the 31st District.  The Bay City native, and 29 year teaching veteran, hopes to defeat Senator Mike Green.  Green authored a bill that would expanded concealed carrying into schools.  Governor Snyder vetoed it because it would not allow schools to opt out if they felt it was in the best interest of their students’ safety.  If voters elect Mindykowski, he plans to restore funding to public schools and cut taxes on middle class families.  He would restore common sense to the 31st District.

Robert Kennedy is running for the State House in the 106th District.  Kennedy is the dean of the group with his 38 years of classroom experience.  He also served in the Michigan Army National Guard.  Kennedy is running against incumbent Peter Pettalia.  Pettalia made news when he and two other GOP Representatives had their picture taken with a women’s fashion magazine and Pettalia remarked “don’t say we don’t understand women.” Kennedy is pretty much the complete opposite of Pettalia.  If elected, Kennedy plans to fight for marriage equality and the protection of reproductive rights for women.  Where Pettalia buckled and voted to cut school funding in his first term in the legislature, Kennedy would fight to restore school funding in his first term if elected.

Bette Pierman is running for the State Senate in the 21st District.  Bette is a retired teacher and has also volunteered for several worthy causes.  Pierman is running against John Proos who has been serving in either the State Senate or the House since 2005.  Proos, a political science major, has spent most of his adult life in politics.  He said in an interview that he has no problem taking money out of the school aid fund to balance the general fund budget.  Pierman would better represent the people of the 21st District because she is more like them.  She told M-Live “I know what it is like to struggle to make ends meet. I know what it is like to be unemployed. I know first-hand what it is like to experience age discrimination while searching for a job.”  She also knows how important education is and has made it clear that she would put students first, unlike John Proos.

Tom Stobie is running for the State House in the 101st District.  Stobie has a great deal of experience in education having served as a teacher, coach, principal, and superintendent.  He also served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.  If elected, Stobie plans to be an advocate for kids, veterans, small businesses, and he plans to fight to protect our environment.  Stobie is running against incumbent business owner Ray Franz.  Franz called nuclear energy “environmentally sound” and authored a law to ban offshore wind turbines.  It’s clear if you care about our future, namely our children and our environment, Stobie is the best choice for the 101st district.

Fred Sprague is running for the State Senate in the 33rd District.  Sprague served as a science teacher, a coach, and as a guidance counselor before he retired.  Sprague plans to focus his energy on education, economic development, and protecting the environment.  Sprague is running against incumbent Judy Emmons.  Believe it or not, Emmons was a school board president yet voted for the emergency manager bill and for the pension tax.  She was the target of an unsuccessful recall in 2011.  Hopefully residents of the 33rd District will penalize Emmons for turning her back on public school children and send Sprague to Lansing instead.

Cyndi Peltonen is running for State Senate in the 13th District.  Peltonen spent over a decade in the classroom.  Peltonon lists the environment, education, infrastructure, jobs, LGBTQ equality, and women’s issues as her top priorities if elected.  She is running against Marty Knollenberg who is currently serving in the State House.  Knollenberg was the original sponsor of Michigan’s right-to-work (for less) law.  He also authored a law that prevents teachers from getting raises based on experience (steps) when they are working without a contract.  This law creates a situation where the employer actually benefits from not settling a contract.  Knollenberg is one of the most anti-worker legislators in Lansing.  He doesn’t deserve a promotion to the State Senate.  Voters in the 13th District would be wise to choose Peltonen instead.

Note: This post is being updated as I hear of additional candidates.  Robert Kennedy, Bette Pierman, Tom Stobie, Fred Sprague, and Cyndi Peltonen did not appear in the original posting.

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I Just Became a Registered Democrat. Here is Why.


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just became a registered Democrat.  I’ve always leaned left, but I’ve never felt compelled to join a political party until now. However, I believe in a balance of power.  In the past, the traditional big money donors of the Republican Party have been balanced out by small donations from common folk and larger donations by unions.  Since Republicans in Lansing have weakened unions for their own political gain, all that stands in the way of Michigan workers becoming like third class passengers on the Titanic is the Democratic Party. Need proof that Democrats are on the side of workers while Republicans are on the side of wealthy CEO’s? Let’s compare Governor Snyder’s most recent campaign finance report to Mark Schauer‘s most recent campaign finance report.  The top 100 donors to Governor Snyder are people with titles like executive, president, chairman, publisher, CEO, CFO, and investment banker.  They are the people who benefited most from the 1.8 billion dollar tax break that Snyder signed into law his first year in office (the same year he admits to cutting school funding). Meanwhile, the occupations of Mark Schauer’s top 100 donors include several doctors and at least one writer, professor, educator, retired educator, pharmacist, and legal assistant. It’s not just who is donating that matters, it is how much they donate. Governor Snyder had just 2,227 total donations but they added up to over $651,000! Mark Schauer had 4,458 donations but he only took in about $143,000.  Even though Schauer had twice as many donors, he took in a half of a million dollars less! Now lets take a look at special interest money.  The largest amount that any one union donated this election cycle was about $71,000.  Union donations come from combining small donations from plumbers, steel workers, carpenters, teachers, and other organized workers. They do not come from union dues as some would like you to believe.  Meanwhile, big business has found another way to trump union donations.  Blue Cross Blue Shield employees escaped the special interest moniker by donating as individuals, and they gave over $112,000 to the Snyder campaign!  Employees of Michigan’s two biggest electrical companies donated $158,000 to the Snyder campaign!  This clearly shows that Republicans have weakened unions enough that a bunch of high level employees of a single corporation can donate more than all the union workers in a particular union.  Surprisingly, the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy provided all this information in their CAPCON newsletter. I believe that you have three options in the next 47 days.  If you believe in an economic policy that helped billionaires’ income grow 22% last year while the rest of us struggled to keep up with the cost of inflation then you should support Rick Snyder.  You could do nothing to help Mark Schauer win effectively supporting Rick Snyder.  Finally, you could get behind Mark Schauer and the Democratic Party.  However, you need to do more than vote.  You need to talk to people and explain to them why they too should support Democratic candidates this year.  You should strongly consider donating your time and money to a candidate.  You should get started now!  I made my choice.  Have you?

Posted in 2014 Election, Richard Snyder | Leave a comment

Tea Party Candidate Wants the Michigan Legislature to Follow Congress’ Example!

It appears that beating Democrats to a pulp in the State House over the past four years just isn’t enough for some conservatives.  Republican/Tea Party candidate Todd Courser, 82nd District, went on Off the Record last week and criticized Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger.  He didn’t criticize him for his central role in the ethical scandal that has become known as “Bolgergate.”  Instead, he criticized him for working too much (read at all) with Democrats!

English: Seal of the Speaker of the United Sta...

English: Seal of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Courser told the panel he believes Republicans should follow the so called “Hastert Rule.”  The Hastert Rule requires that a majority of the majority be in favor of a bill before it can even be brought up for a vote!  This unwritten rule was put into effect in 2004 by U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.  The rule further limits the power of the minority party.  In fact, one could say it almost eliminates the need for the minority party.  The implementation of the Hastert Rule in congress has coincided with both hyperpartisianship and near paralyzation.  It should also be noted that the approval rating for Congress is only at 9%, the lowest on record.

So far Courser has only won the Republican Primary.  Although, he seems pretty confident about winning the November general election noting “it kind of changes the State House when there is the three of us coming in,” referring to fellow Tea Party primary winners Lee Chatfield and Aaron Miller.  It’s hard to believe that a moderate state like Michigan could be pulled even further to the right.  However, if Democrats don’t get control of something in December, these three Tea Partiers will make sure that Michigan is run more like Congress.  That will only add inefficiency to insult.

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Mackinac Center’s Education Director Audrey Spalding’s Service on Charter School Board Raises Serious Questions

Audrey Spalding is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Director of Education Policy.  Like so many of today’s education reformers, Spalding has never been an educator, unless you count five months of teaching English in China.  Spalding majored in Journalism and Economics at the University of Missouri according to her Mackinac Center profile.  Prior to working at the Mackinac Center, she worked in Missouri for another anti-government think tank called the Show-Me Institute.  Spalding’s primary experience in education, Chinese aside, is writing about education as a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.  Spalding’s LinkedIn profile informs us that she was indoctrinated by the Charles Koch Institute in a program known as Liberty@Work.  The program “taught associates how to incorporate private-sector practices into the management of a non-profit organization.”

Spalding has had an opportunity to show us how to best “incorporate private-sector practices” in schools as the Treasurer of the Board of Directors of Taylor Preparatory High School (TPHS).  TPHS opened last fall with a freshmen and sophomore class.  TPHS is a for-profit charter authorized by Grand Valley State University (GVSU).  While both GVSU and the TPHS Board of Directors are supposed to offer oversight, the daily operation is left to a company called PrepNet.  PrepNet also leases the school building to TPHS for $20,000 a month!  PrepNet is an affiliate of National Heritage Academies (NHA) and both were founded by J.C. Huizenga.  Huizenga serves as a Grand Valley State University Foundation Director.  He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.  To summarize, Huizenga helps direct the Mackinac Center which puts out pro-charter propaganda, and then he makes money for himself and for GVSU when they open a new charter together.  Oh, and his work at the Mackinac Center makes him Spalding’s boss.  That sounds a lot like “private-sector practices” to me.

Since Spalding is the Mackinac’s Center’s educational watchdog, you would expect that TPHS would be in full compliance with all applicable laws, contracts, and policies.  According to the TPHS board minutes, only once has the board had the minimum five members necessary to be in compliance with their contract with Grand Valley State University.  Technically, the President of the Board should not have even called those meetings to order.  The President was a 23 year old named Cody Bailey who also has no education experience.  Bailey didn’t call the May or June Meetings to order because he wasn’t even in attendance.  Bailey’s term expired on June 30th, but it appears he checked out early.  The June minutes noted “Ms. Spalding shared her appreciation for Cody Bailey as a founding Board Member of Taylor Prep. The Board joined her in thanking Mr. Bailey for his term of service, and wished him well in the future.”  Bailey’s future actually started back in January when he began working for the Great Lakes Education Project, another conservative think tank that focuses on education policy and politics. Spalding Image

Let’s get back to Spalding though.  Spalding’s Facebook profile and Mackinac Center bio says she lives in Midland.  If that is the case, she lives about 139 miles from TPHS.  If she lives in Ann Arbor as her LinkedIn profile suggests, her commute to Taylor is still around 28 miles.  Why is this significant?  Taylor Preparatory’s board policy states that “The Board may consist of members of the community, parents, and educators.”  Clearly, Aubrey doesn’t meet any of those qualifications.  It would be interesting to  know how much of Spalding’s travel is being reimbursed by the school district.  I thought about pulling a Mackinac Center move and using a Freedom of Information Act request to find out that information.  However, I believe way too much of TPHS’ resources are being wasted already.

The kind of shenanigans going on at TPHS are similar to those recently uncovered at other charter schools by the Detroit Free Press.  The Free Press ran an entire series about accountability issues after a year long investigation.  Not surprisingly, Spalding wrote a piece for the Mackinac Center criticizing the Free Press series.  That controversy led the Michigan Department of Education to look further into the state’s charter schools.  Just this week Grand Valley was put on notice as being at risk for suspension by the Michigan Board of Education for a number of oversight issues as well as low academic performance (Taylor Preparatory’s only academic report shows that 8.3% of their students were proficient in Social Studies).  It’s not as if Grand Valley doesn’t know what is happening over at Taylor Preparatory High School.  They typically have a representative at their board meetings.  The representatives have been nice enough to bring the school GVSU stickers and a banner.  For all of their “oversight” efforts, GVSU takes about 3% of the school’s per pupil foundation allowance.  GVSU takes their cut before PrepNet gets their cut, an amount they haven’t disclosed as far as I can tell.  I guess whatever is left is used to educate TPHS students.

What is clear in all of this is that the attack on public schools by the Mackinac Center and the Great Lakes Education Project (read my post about them here) is not about advocating for quality government or quality schools.  It is about creating another revenue stream for guys like J.C. Huizenga.  Who knows, maybe Spalding’s heart is in the right place and she doesn’t realize that she is just a pawn for a bunch of old rich white guys who live in the greater Grand Rapids area.  Or, maybe she has aspirations of getting rich off students too.

Posted in Great Lakes Education Project, Mackinac Center, Schools | 2 Comments

August: When Kids Try to Make the Team and Teachers are Encouraged to Quit the Team

While school doesn’t start until after Labor Day, many students return to school in August to try out for a fall sports team.  Teachers also return to school in August to join their teaching team for professional development.  Yes, a teaching staff is also a team.  Teachers have a common mission which is to provide a great education for students.  At the same time, teachers need to earn a fair living so that they can provide for their own families.

We all know athletic teams operate under a set of rules.  The teaching team also operates under a set of rules known as a contract.  That contract comes by way of collective bargaining between the teachers association’s (union) bargaining team and the school district’s bargaining team.  The contract dictates the hours teachers work, the maximum number of students they will teach (their workload), their pay, and a whole bunch of other things.  An approved contract is then monitored for compliance by the school district and the teacher’s associations executive board.  The bargaining team and the executive board positions are mostly elected by the teachers much like sports teams captains are sometimes elected by their teammates.  The whole system is both democratic and fair to all parties.

Since Governor Snyder signed the so called right-to-work law, teachers now have another decision to make in August.  Besides deciding if they want to be on the teaching team for the year, they get to decide if they want to pay their fair share.  Those costs include the cost of bargaining the contract they will work under as well as any costs associated with the enforcement of that contract should one of the parties not play by the rules.  Unlike the players on a sports team, Federal rules mandate that teachers that don’t pay to be in the association still get the benefits!  It is a lot like a player being able to play in the games without ever coming to practice, maybe someday that will be known as right-to-play.  Maybe I’m bias though.  My coaches taught me that practice wasn’t optional and that that we all had to “pay our dues.”

Picture courtesy of a reader named Curt.
Picture courtesy of a reader named Curt.

 Sticking with the theme, the August opt out period has now become a political football.  The Michigan Education Association didn’t exactly promote how to quit the team last August after right-to-work became law.  Teachers who wanted to quit often had to seek out how to quit, much like educators teach students not to be passive and to seek out the answers they need in life.  Of course, many did nothing and then were surprised when they were still being billed for the services they were receiving.  This year, the conservative “think tank” the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP) has taken it on themselves to promote the August opt out window.  The MCPP would like teachers to be able to quit the team at anytime, but those aren’t the rules.  So, the MCPP has spent a lot of time promoting the August opt out window and has even sent mailings directly to teachers!

Return to funder.

Return to funder.

Michiganders should know that the Mackinac Center for Public Policy counts among its donors Michigan billionaire Dick DeVos.  DeVos has lead a long fight against public schools including the failed attempt at a voucher initiative in the year 2000.  Some of us had fun with the MCPP mailing. I sent mine directly back to Dick DeVos.  Others threw theirs in the trash or flushed them down the toilet.  Sadly, some will use the information to quit the team.

Anyone who has ever played on a team knows that not everyone is a team player.  Eventually, some of those players will quit the team because they expect to get something, usually playing time, without “paying their dues.”  Those type of players are never really concerned about the greater good.  The same is true for a handful of teachers in every school.  Even after the quitters quit, the rest of us teachers will continue to educate our children, support our families, and pay our fair share.  In my mind, that is how you win at this game.

Note: The title of this post was changed from “get to” to “are encouraged to.”

Posted in Mackinac Center, Right-to-Work, Schools | Leave a comment

Snyder’s Campaign Finance Statements Show Millionaires Love Him and Billionaires Adore Him

Rich SnyderThe pre-primary campaign finance statements are now online and they paint a stark contrast between Governor Rick Snyder and his opponent Mark Schauer.  Governor Snyder had 69 individuals donate the maximum contribution of $6,800 this period.  Those 69 people netted his campaign almost half a million dollars alone.  Snyder had about 6,500 total donors whose average donation was about $510.  Surprisingly, none of Michigan’s billionaires, whose income grew 22% in the last year under his economic plan, are among those donors.  However, two out-of-state billionaires did donate to Snyder.  Conservative crusader David Koch, the 6th richest person in the world, donated the maximum amount  Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the 14th richest person in the world, also donated the maximum amount.  Meanwhile, Mark Schauer had only three individuals donate the maximum amount.  Schauer also had a lot more donors this period, over 17,000, and his average donation was about $110.  These numbers clearly show who will work for the populace and who will work for the prosperous.

Posted in 2014 Election, Richard Snyder | Leave a comment

The Republican Stronghold in Wexford County: A Synopsis and a Hypothesis.

I set out to understand why Republicans have had such great political success in my home county of Wexford.  Currently, every one of my elected officials from County Commissioner all the way up to my U.S. Representative are Republicans, and if you have read this blog before you know that I am not.  In order to understand how Republicans have gained such a stronghold on Wexford County, I had to look at the history of the Republican Party, of Wexford County, and of the Republican Party in Wexford County.  What follows is what I came to understand over two years of searching for answers.

Kinsley S. Bingham

Kinsley Bingham- Michigan’s First Republican Governor (Political Graveyard)

The Republican Party was arguably born in Michigan.  Most Michiganders came from the free state of New York (also true of most early residents of Wexford County) or from free states in New England.  Many were also members of one of the predominant Christian denominations that existed in Michigan at the time and most of those denominations opposed slavery.  Therefore, most Michiganders were against slavery to some degree in the mid 1800’s.  During that time frame there were two major political parties.  The Democrats were the dominant political party in Michigan, and they controlled most of the elected offices.  Yet, the party was not united on the issue of slavery.  While they were certainly against slavery, some believed that each territory should decide for themselves, a position known as popular sovereignty.  Others strongly opposed slavery and were known as “Free Democrats.”  The other major party of the time was the Whig party.  The Whigs attempted to minimize slavery as an issue and were more concerned with the preservation of the Union.  Third parties, like the Liberty party and later the Free Soil party, sprung up around the anti-slavery cause and had smaller followings.  It was anti-slavery members from all of these parties that answered an invitation to meet in Jackson, Michigan on July6, 1854.  There was no place large enough to hold the 1,500 people who showed up, so they met outside in an oak grove and the event came to be known as the “meeting under the oaks.”  One of the leaders, a Whig by the name of Zachariah Chandler, was quoted as saying “I have laid aside party to rebuke treachery.”  The Republican party was meant to last “until the contest is ended.”  However, the party never disbanded, though some did eventually return to their party of origin after the Civil War.  The Republican Party had great success right away and won many of the open state wide elected seats in Michigan in the fall of 1854 including electing Kinsley Bingham as Governor (Bingham made the transition from Democrat to Free Soiler to Republican).  In the fall of 1860, President Lincoln, a former Whig, comfortably won Michigan and became our first Republican President.

Map of Michigan highlighting Wexford County.svg

Map of Michigan highlighting Wexford County (Wikipedia)

According to the book The View from Couthouse Hill by Judge William Peterson, Benjamin Hall became the first white settler in what was to be Wexford County in 1862 a few years after Lincoln’s election.  Other settlers trickled in over the next severalyears, themost notable of which was a former Union soldier named John Wheeler.  Wheeler, a Republican, built the first mill, started a newspaper, and was elected as the first county treasurer.  Wheeler lost his mill to fire in 1871, the same year as the Great Chicago Fire, and he suggested later that maybe it was set by a “deranged Democrat.”  Wheeler would later write a book called the History of Wexford County which Judge Peterson used while researching his own book.  In 1866 Manistee County, who administered the area that is now Wexford County, sectioned off the area as a separate township.  According to Peterson’s research, the political activity of that time was dominated by the Republican party and no significant Democratic vote existed. In 1869, Wexford County was incorporated as its own county via Act 386 of the state legislature.  In the first county elections in 1869 all the successful candidates were Republican save one by the name of Isaac Carpenter.  Carpenter won the probate judge office because his opponent split his own vote when citizens voted for Solomon C. Worth and S.C. Worth.  However, Carpenter did manage to get elected again the next year, once again the only Democrat to do so.

In 1872, the first presidential election took place since Wexford County became an official entity.  A group of 40 men created a political club called the Grant and Wilson Club to support the Republican President and Vice Presidential nominee.  According to Wheeler’s book, Ulysses S. Grant received 277 of the 351 votes cast in Wexford County.  Grant easily won re-election.  In 1876, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes actually lost the popular vote but managed to win the electoral college by 1 vote.  Hayes easily won Wexford County (and Michigan) gathering 618 of 938 votes cast.

George Mitchell

George Mitchell (Wexford Historical Society)

No one was more influential in the development of Wexford County, and specifically the town to be known as Cadillac, than a man named George Mitchell.   Mitchell was invested in the G.R.&I Railroad that was making its way north towards what would be Wexford County.  He envisioned lumbering the pristine pine trees and using the two lakes as a way to transport logs to the mills.  Mitchell used his connections to make sure the G.R.&I railroad changed its path to travel through the most desirable location, the location that would be known as the village of Clam Lake and later as the City of Cadillac.  He then bought up some 2,000 acres of land in the area. George’s older brother William Mitchell was at the “meeting under the oaks.” William, who late became a U.S. Representative, was said to be a close friend of Abraham Lincoln.  One would have to imagine that George was influenced a great deal by his brother William.  George himself held office as a Republican serving as Mayor in 1877, the first year that Cadillac was incorporated as a city and a year before his death in a carriage accident.  Though Mitchell only served in office that one year, he was always thought to be working behind the scenes.  Some people believe he was behind the political maneuvering that eventually lead to Cadillac obtaining the county seat from Manton shortly after they helped Manton obtain it from Sherman.

Fred Green

Governor Fred Green (Wexford Historical Society)

Mitchell recruited many talented men to his new village.  One of those people was a mill operator from Manistee named Holden Green.  Green, who had seven children, still found time to be active in local politics including serving as a judge.  One of his sons, Fred Green, grew up to be the 31st Governor of Michigan and held office as a Republican from 1927-1931.

The most influential person in Cadillac after Mitchell’s death though was a Republican businessman named Jacob Cummer, and to a lesser extent a number of his family members.  Like Mitchell, Jacob serve one term as a mayor (1878).  Also like Mitchell, Cummer had his hand in a number of business interests and many of them revolved around the lumbering industry.  The Cummers had such influence that one paper said in 1889 “Cadillac means Cummer.”  The wages, hours, and conditions in the community were based off what the Cummers where paying.  It went beyond that though.  According to Peterson’s book, Cummer employees “had to vote” and they knew that “bad votes caused unemployment.”  One person who became unemployed was Professor H.M. Enos.  Enos was fired as superintendent of the school in large part because he also owned a newspaper that was critical of the Cummers.  The school board President, by the way, was Jacob Cummer.

There were a few men who spoke out against the Cummer empire.  One of them was a Democrat named Joseph (James) Haynes who Peterson said was “perhaps the most popular man ever to live in Cadillac.”  Haynes was a “constant irritant” to Jacob Cummer until his untimely death in 1878.  At the time of his death, Haynes held office as both the Mayor of Cadillac and the treasurer of Wexford County.  Haynes had an ally in successful businessman Jonathan Cobbs.  Cobbs “thought of his employees as his friends” and “came to dread the solemn single-minded, and relentless drive for profits that later developed in the Cadillac lumber community.”  Cobbs actually shared his profits with his employees and allowed them to buy shares in his mill.  Surprisingly, Cobbs was a business partner with William W. Mitchell, the Republican nephew of George Mitchell.  One of Cadillac’s most lasting names is Democrat Ephraim Shay. Shay made a name for himself as an inventor of the famous Shay Locomotive, the first of which he build in 1881.  Shay also served one term as the county treasurer (1879) though it took the “fused” efforts of both Democrats and Greenbacks to get him elected.


A Shay Locomotive built for the Cummers.  (Wexford Historical Society)

Local historian Cliff “Top” Sorgren pointed out that many of Cadillac’s early Republicans donated generously to charity and should not be “compared with today’s greedy profit-seekers.”  George Mitchell donated the land for the Maple Hill Cemetery, the City Park, and the site for Cadillac’s first school building.  Jacob and Wellington W. Cummer donated land for the site of the first library, now the Wexford Historical Society building.  Fred Diggins, who was twice a delegate to the Republican National Convention and served many years as mayor, along with his wife Delos Diggins financed the building and equipment for Mercy Hospital.  Cummer, Diggins, and another fellow named Wilcox teamed up to donate the land that is now known as Diggins Hill and the adjacent water tower area.  William W. Mitchell also contributed to parklands and many other charitable causes.

Perhaps the first in depth national political mapping project also gives some insight into the politics of Wexford County, and the entire region, at the time.  Scribner’s 1883 map shows that 60-70% of Wexford County voted for the Republican Presidental Candiate James Garfield in the 1880 election.  The strength of the Republican brand at the time can also be seen in the interesting political career of a local man named David Rice.  Rice was a three time Republican prosecutor. In 1880 he decided to run as an independent instead of a Republican and lost. In 1884 he ran again as a Republican and won. For some reason Rice ran as a Democrat in 1886 and 1888 and lost.  He ran as a Republican in 1892 and in 1894 and won!


Note that for some reason blue represents counties won by Republicans and Red counties won by Democrats.

In each decade after the 1880 election, it seems that a Democrat managed to win the mayor’s office for a year.  Levi Law, who a local paper called the Republican News said “suffered from “Indiana Democracy,”  served one term in 1889.  Law was said to have “good humor and quick wit” even though “he suffered the stigma of being a Democrat in a Republican Community.”  Democrat George S. Stanley was elected as mayor in 1901.  He also only served one term and was defeated in five other attempts at the office!  Democrat Frank O. (F.O.) Gaffney won election as Mayor for one term in 1910.  It is unclear if another Democrat has served as mayor since.

The county elections from 1890 to 1902 tell an interesting story.  In 1890, Republicans won six of the seven seats.  In 1890 to 1902 they won all of the seats.  The Republicans’ margin of victory became noticeably wider over that period, and in the last two elections the Democrats didn’t even run a candidate for two of the seats.

Cliff “Top” Sorgren remembers the Republican domination continuing throughout the 1900’s.  Sorgren grew up in Cadillac during the 1930’s  and said he “sat in on many family after dinner discussions where the term ‘Roosevelt’ was considered an obscenity.” Roosevelt was elected in 1932, but Wexford County went for Hoover according to the Cadillac Evening News.  Henry W. Miltner, who graduated from UofM law school in 1908, was a Democratic Presidential Elector that year.  The Miltner family seems to have chalked up most of the Democrats’ victories in the 1900’s.  In 1937, Henry’s son Charles got elected as prosecutor.  Apparently, 1937 was a banner year for Democrats because they won five offices that year.  Later, Charles ran for circuit court judge with the backing of the state’s Bar Association and many local lawyers.  However, the Cadillac Evening News’ publisher T.O. Huckle was instrumental in making sure a Republican candidate got elected instead according to Charles’ son John Miltner.  Charles’ brother Frank was elected as prosecutor, the only Democrat elected to office in Wexford County in 1946, according to the Cadillac Evening News.  Frank later served as a district court judge until 1984.  John Miltner ran against Pete Hoekstra for the 2nd congressional district in 1992.  He was only able to muster 35% of the vote though.  That seems to be where the Miltner family’s political influence in the area ends.  The vast majority of the hundreds of other elections over the century were taken by the Republicans.  In fact, no Democrat has ever been elected to represent Wexford County in the State House of Representatives except in one township (see list at bottom of page) as far as I can tell.

Advertisement in the Cadillac Evening News 1971 Centennial Edition.

Advertisement in the Cadillac Evening News 1971 Centennial Edition.

At the time of this writing, there is no organized Democratic party in Wexford County.  Additionally, almost 25% more Wexford County residents cast straight ticket votes for Republicans than they did for Democrats in 2012.  Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for President, racked up 16% more votes in Wexford County despite losing the state and the election to the incumbent President Barack Obama.  Currently, there is only one Democrat on the nine member board of county commissioners.

So why has there been a complete and utter dominance by Republicans in Wexford County?  Long time Cadillac High School history teacher Bill Allen took on that question for a master’s thesis.  He hypothesized that it was the “rugged individualism” of those early settlers like John Wheeler that lead them to identify with the model of a more limited government.  We also cannot discount that the Republican party was a homegrown Michigan effort and was, and still is, pretty popular almost everywhere in Michigan.  A third possibility is that Wexford County has always thrived on the manufacturing industry that requires low skill labor.  Since the low skill labor force in Wexford County has seldom been organized into unions, the owners of those businesses have wielded far greater power than the workers.  Although there may not be a name to match Mitchell or Cummer at present time, the Chamber of Commerce wields similar influence.  Much like Cummer did, the Chamber of Commerce is able to convince low skill labor that voting for Democrats might jeopardize their job status.

A final question might be are the Republican’s poised to continue their domination of Wexford County politics?  It appears likely.  Republican businessmen still win most of the elections in the county.  In fact, Republicans often have no Democratic challenger in local elections.  Yet, history teaches us that the right Democrat could be successful.  If someone as charismatic as Haynes, or as talented as Shay came along, they could tug enough moderate Republicans and independents to the left to obtain a victory.  Surely that will happen again someday right?  The question is when, and can it be sustained for any length of time?  Or perhaps citizens might find themselves unhappy with today’s major political parties and create a new party like they did in 1854.  Time will tell.

State Representatives Who Represented Wexford County

Antrim, Charlevoix, Crawford, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee, & Wexford
John S. Dixon (1863-1864)

Antrim, Benzie, Crawford, Grand Traverse, Lake, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Otsego, & Wexford (Charlevoix added for 1871 & 2)
William H. Mitchell (1869-72) -Republican from E. Traverse Bay
(not related to George Mitchell or his nephew William as far as I know)

Crawford and Manitou, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Missaukee, & Wexford
Thomas Ferguson (1873-1876) – Republican from Sherman

Grand Traverse & Wexford
James L. Gibbs       (1877)            – from Mayfield
Henry May              (1880)            -Republican from Cadillac
Seth C. Moffit          (1881-82)     -Republican from Northport

Kalkaska, Lake, Missaukee Counties& Wexford Counties
Benjamin C. Bonnell (1883)        -Republican  from Sherman Township
George Oviatt   (1885)                  – Republican from Chase

Lake & Wexford Counties
George Oviatt (1887)                          – Republican from Chase
Sylvanus Alexander – (1889-1892)  – Republican from Wexford
H. Frank Campbell- (1893-1896)     -from Sherman
John Caldwell – (1897-1900)             -Republican from Manton
Sylvanus Alexander – (1901-1902)   -Republican from Wexford County
Orville Dennis- (1901-03)                 – from Lake City
Earl Fairbanks – (1903-1906)           – Republican from Luther
John A. Barry – (1907-1908)            – Republican from Harrietta
Victor F. Huntley -(1909-1910)       – Republican from Manton
Frank A. Smith – (1915-1924)         – Republican from Luther and later Cadillac
H. Earl McNitt – (1925-1936)         – Republican from Haring Township
Charles H. Nixon – (1937-1942)     – Republican from Cadillac

 Manistee-Wexford District
John D. Kruse- (1943-1954)           – Republican from Manistee
Charles A. Boyer – (1955-62)          – Republican from Manistee
John (Jack) F. Toepp – (1963-1964) –  Republican from Cadillac

104th District
Arnell Engstrom- (1965-1968)     – Republican from Traverse City
Michael Dively – (1969-1974)       – Republican from Traverse City
Connie Binsfeld (1975-1982)       – Republican from Maple City

Note: Slagle Township was not in the same district as the rest of Wexford County between 1973 and 1982. Slagle was part of the 98th district and was represented by the following individuals:

Dennis Cawthorne- (1973-78)    – Republican from Manistee
Jeff Dongvillo (1979-1980)         – Democrat from Scottville
Ed Giese (1981-82)                      – Republican from Manistee

18th District 1980-82
Sidney Ouwinga- (1983-1991)     -Republican from Marion
John Gernaat (1991- 1997)          -Republican from McBain

102nd House of Representatives
John Gernaat – (1997-1998)       -Republican from McBain
Rick Johnson – (1999-2004)      -Republican from LeRoy
Darwin Booher (2005-2010)      -Republican from Evart
Phil Potvin (2011-present)         -Republican from Cadillac

Special Thanks: This post could not have been written without the amazing work of Judge William Peterson.  A View from Courthouse Hill is a local treasure that too few people know about and less have read.  I also have to thank local resident Bob Garner who once worked in the Legislative Service Bureau and who gave me the name Dennis Cawthorne.  Cawthorne once represented a portion of Wexford County.  Cawthorne’s memory has no equal and he was instrumental in figuring out who represented the Wexford County area in the state legislature for a good part of the mid 1900’s on.  Surprisingly, that era was the hardest to find information on.  I’d also like to thank John Miltner for his assistance with his family history.  Finally, I’d like to thank Susan Schulten, Department Chair at the University of Denver, for helping me obtain and make sense of the 1883 Scribner’s map.   If you have a correction or an addition, please contact me (Chad Phillips) at

A History of Northern Michigan and its People. Perry F. Powers. 1912

Cadillac Evening News Centennial Edition. 1971

History of Wexford County Michgian.  John Wheeler.  1903

Michigan: From Primitive Wilderness to Industrial Commonwealth.

M.M. Quaife, PH.D. and Sidney Glazer, Ph. D.  Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1948 New York

The Political Graveyard Website: Politicians Who Lived in Wexford County

The View from Courthouse Hill. William R. Peterson. 1974

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Corporate Lobbyist/Former Governor Engler Makes Outragous Comment About Public School Teachers

Former Governor, and current corporate lobbyist, John Engler is once again in the Michigan news.  The Detroit Free Press asked Enlger, who signed Michigan’s first charter school law, his opinion about the unflattering revelations by a Detroit Free Press expose’ on charters.  Engler quickly changed the topic to public school teachers and said . .

“I had always assumed that teachers would come together and decide we can do a better job running schools than the administration. For a variety of reasons, that never happened.”

That is a fascinating statement.  Engler failed to point out any instance were legislation was passed by him or by succeeding governors that gives teachers more control in their schools.  In fact, the power has been shifted almost entirely into the hands of the administrators, the school board, and the state and federal government.  Teachers have little control regarding the curriculum they teach thanks to state and federal mandates. A number of anti-union laws signed by Governor Snyder took away teachers’ input in evaluation systems, recall and layoff policies, and a whole host of other issues that are important to the overall quality of schools in which they teach.  Teachers now live in fear of being selectively laid off or fired for anything, even something as benign as expressing a different opinion.

If Governor Engler wanted to give teachers more control, he should have considered a system that would allow, or even mandate, that schools be governed by a combination of teachers, administrators, and community members.  The current system makes little sense.  Community members are in charge of the school because they are elected to the school board, but they are rarely in the school buildings.  Therefore, they delegate almost all of the decision making to the administration.  School boards typically have no system of gathering input from teachers.  Teachers can speak out in the community comment portion of the school board meeting, but they do so at the risk of being evaluated poorly or being denied other opportunities by the administrators or by the school board itself.

Prior to Governor Snyder’s anti-union laws, at least teachers were in the dining room during dinner even if they did not have a seat at the table.  Now they are left eating in the servants quarters and Governor Engler has the nerve to suggest teachers made that choice. That type of nonsense might work when lobbying congressmen on behalf of corporate America, but back here in Michigan we know a lie when we hear it.

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