Whose ‘Local’ Politics are Best for Northern Michigan?

By Doug Luciani

“All politics is local” is a phrase associated with former U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, a political legend in Massachusetts. It’s said to be advice from his father – a city councilman in Cambridge – given to a young O’Neill before he unsuccessfully ran for city council in the 1930s while still in college. They were certainly words of wisdom, as over the next 50 years O’Neill never lost another election.

As our region nears the primary election on August 5 followed by the general election on November 4, what will be the “local” issues that drive important political decisions in northern Michigan? Who will strike a chord with local voters – candidates offering rigid ideologies looking to recycle contentious issues like Medicaid expansion or state taxation? Or will voters look past simplistic rhetoric and seek candidates focused on solutions for Michigan’s deteriorating infrastructure, fixing the inequity in public school funding and improving the business climate?

One item that can move Michigan forward is the approval by state voters of Proposal 1 at the primary election. Adoption of Proposal 1 makes permanent state lawmakers actions two years ago to phase out Michigan’s antiquated Personal Property Tax (PPT) for small business, and eventually for all Michigan businesses. Revenues would be replaced by an essential service assessment on Michigan’s large manufacturers. This will replace an outdated and poorly administered local tax with a more stable and reliable revenue stream for important local services, and is supported by business and municipal organizations alike. It deserves the public’s support as well.

Other looming decisions aren’t so clear-cut – but are also important. The state’s busiest primary race is right here in our backyard – the state House 104th District Republican primary in Grand Traverse County. The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce doesn’t endorse candidates for office. But the local business community – and the region as a whole – has plenty riding on these state races and it’s important to know what these candidates are about. Are they solutions-oriented with specifics on continuing Michigan’s recovery – or spouting meaningless “pledges” and pitting our part of the state against another? The Chamber tried to get some of those answers through candidate questionnaires posted on its website at tcchamber.org, and will do more before the November election.

The same goes for the 36th state Senate seat race to replace retiring Sen. Howard Walker of Traverse City. He walked the “all politics is local” walk in his fervent support of bolstering per-pupil funding for many northern Michigan school districts that receive less than wealthier school districts. It didn’t make him popular with Lansing colleagues – but made a significant difference for thousands of students and their families here in northern Michigan. Again, who will follow Walker as an advocate in the State Capitol for the local politics of northern Michigan?

There are other high stakes in these so-called “off-year” elections. Numerous local offices will be filled at the primary and general elections. There are plenty of choices. Some candidates want to see their communities engaged and involved in spurring economic development, job and housing opportunities, better transportation and more. Others want their governmental bodies involved in as little as possible at the lowest cost while boosting their surpluses and fund balances. Where do you want your community to be? It’s important to help decide.

Finally, it’s a key election year for many of the region’s local school districts. In the Traverse City (TCAPS) district, voters in November will select five trustees for a school board looking to hire a new leader for the district. The new board will also be faced in the longer-term with creating a capital project plan after two previous bond proposals were turned down by district voters. The voters will also decide on extending TCAPS’ 18-mill non-homestead millage rate – normally a routine decision that won’t raise anyone’s taxes. But even that’s no certainty given the anti-tax sentiment that currently hovers over the district.

All of that underscores the notion that “all politics is local.” These decisions – from Proposal 1 to federal, state and local office races to area school elections – will go a long way in charting the future course for northern Michigan and beyond. Let’s figure out where we want to go – and vote for people who can get us there.

Doug Luciani is President/CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him by email at luciani@tcchamber.org