Salted with Sharks

Candidate Says Water Management, Passenger Rail, Internet Access Will Help NoMI Folks Stay and Succeed

In E Beach, Environment, Fishing, Gov't Watch, Infrastructure and Planning, Law & Order, On and off the Apron, Politics, Transportation, Water on April 1, 2016 at 11:28 am

Meet the Candidate: Lon Johnson

Democrat

1st Congressional District

Image from WIkipedia

Image from WIkipedia

Lon Johnson spoke at the Bayview Grille in Frankfort to a group of potential supporters on March 29 from 6 to 7 pm. Here are selections from his remarks, arranged by topic. Meet the Candidate is nonpartisan and offers any candidate a place for long-form policy presentations. Invite this reporter to your next meet and greet! —Emily Votruba, emilyvotruba@yahoo.com

TRADE POLICY

The American worker stacked up against anyone in the world can win. Our economy is becoming more and more interconnected worldwide, and we have to be able to compete. But I don’t think [the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)] trade agreement hit the right marks on currency manipulation, sovereign banking, labor protections—we have to be on somewhat equal footing with the rest of the world, and when that doesn’t happen, we have what we saw with NAFTA, where our manufacturing went away. I don’t believe in protectionism, but I do believe in fair trade. The fact that, first off, [TPP] was negotiated in secret, I think was wrong.

TAX REFORM

We need real tax reform. Right now we’ve got companies parking their money offshore to avoid paying taxes. We’ve got hedge-fund executives paying a lower tax rate than somebody who works to pay rent. In our country what moves us is capital and labor: capital finances things and labor makes things for a living. For the American economy to work you need a fine balance. One can’t be over the other. When that happens things get off kilter very fast. When you look at the economy today you see the stock market [going up], you see our GDP [going up], you see our worker productivity through the roof. But what’s happening with wages? Stagnant or falling. And that’s a result of tax policies put together by Congress. We have to rethink our tax policy.

FRACKING

We need to keep Northern Michigan and the UP both beautiful and prosperous. We have to strike that balance, and we can strike that balance. Before we do that we have to realize what our greatest assets are here. We’ve been blessed with incredible beauty, beautiful land, beautiful lakes, beautiful rivers. These are our assets. But we have to extract from them in a responsible way. We have to continue mining and logging, but in a responsible way. Fracking is a prime example. I’m opposed to fracking. We really do have gold underneath our feet: natural gas. We need that natural gas. It is a perfect fuel as we move into renewable energy, away from carbon-based; but we’ve got to extract this gas in a way that’s responsible. And pumping thousands of unknown chemicals into the ground, the water displacement, the earthquakes—to me it just doesn’t seem sound. And until they can show us how we can move this gas out of the ground 100 percent safely, then I just don’t think it’s worth the risk.

LINE 5 PIPELINE

It’s a 63-year-old pipeline that’s running through the Straits of Mackinac. It starts in Canada, runs through the UP, cuts across the Mackinac Straits and down through the heart of Michigan to Sarnia. I’m not opposed to pipelines. Pipelines are the safest way to move oil. But there are smart places to put pipelines and not-so-smart places. A 63-year-old pipeline that hasn’t been independently inspected, independently verified to be safe, in the Mackinac Straits with its associated currents is just not a smart place to have a pipeline. So we call for this pipeline to be shut down until it’s independently inspected and proven to be 100 percent safe.

If we were to move to build a new pipeline I would oppose putting a pipeline in the Great Lakes. Enbridge has enough capacity to move oil without Line 5. I was on the phone with an engineer on the way over here who said we could keeping moving propane along Line 5. This pipeline carries three things now: natural gas liquids, synthetic oil, and light crude. We can shut the oil down and still continue to move the propane, which will nullify the argument that Enbridge and the Republicans will use against us, that we’re going to drive up the cost of home heating fuel. A propane leak would do nowhere near the environmental damage that an oil leak would.

At four o’clock today at my office Mary Hess called. She’s a commissioner in Alpena. And we have a resolution right now that we’ve been pushing all around the state opposing Line 5. And it went before the commission today in Alpena and it tied 4 to 4. One person can make a difference. What we’re trying to do is get 50 towns/municipalities/counties in northern Michigan to pass a resolution opposing Line 5 so we’ll have better moral authority to put before the governor. And if you don’t think local people matter at that point, there’s your answer right there.

The fact is, this governor [Snyder], and the people of Michigan, need a clean-water win. Let’s give him one. If we make him a hero on Line 5, fine, let’s do it.

ENBRIDGE…FLINT

There are our Great Lakes. When you don’t show us the results of your testing, if you’re not prepared to operate 100 percent transparently, in my mind you’ve forfeited your right to move in our Great Lakes. It comes down to who do you trust. In this case we’re being told this pipeline is safe by the same people who told us the Flint water was safe. Literally the very same people. And the same people who own Enbridge, this pipeline, were responsible for the largest inland oil pipeline disaster in the history of the United States, right here in Michigan, into the Kalamazoo River. So bottom line is, who do you trust? Corporate and government officials who have very limited, short-term objectives, or the people? I’m going to side with the people all day long and twice on Sunday.

What the Line 5 debate is really about, is what do we believe is the future for Michigan? I believe it’s our credibility with freshwater. Our ability to lead in that marketplace. If we have another Flint, if we have another Kalamazoo, that credibility is gone.

LOCAL RESILIENCE: STAY AND SUCCEED

The last thing I want to do in Congress, and this is the most important, is we have to create a place here in Northern Michigan where our families can stay and succeed. We’re losing too many of our kids and grandkids to downstate for job opportunities, for education opportunities. It doesn’t have to be that way. Everyone should always have the option to travel and leave the state, discover the world, and come back, but it shouldn’t be mandatory that you leave here so you can succeed.

We in Northern Michigan have a long proud history of leading the world. In the 1700s, we led the world in international trade—the fur trade. Why did the French come and settle this area? Fur. Then we led the world in mining. Copper and iron ore: We helped win the Civil War. Then what did we lead the world in? Lumber. Our lumber built the American West. You can track our lumber DNA all the way out to San Francisco. What’s next? We still have the same assets. We still have great people. We still have land, the most beautiful in the world, we still have the Great Lakes. But we need to use them smartly.

PASSENGER RAIL

I want to do three long-term things that I think will start to create that place where people can stay and succeed. One: we need to restore passenger rail service to Northern Michigan. All the consultants downstate say don’t say that, don’t talk about it. We used these lines for decades to export lumber. For decades we used them to export value away from us. Now we need those same lines to bring value to us. As long as they go home on Sunday…[laughter]. Now, think about this: the hard work has already been done. Let’s get these tracks turned on. I’m not talking about billion-dollar bullet trains, but regular old 55-mile-an-hour passenger rail service moving from Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor and Detroit, bringing people to us. It can be done.

HIGH-SPEED INTERNET

The second thing we need is high-speed internet and mobile cell phone service in all our communities. You look around, you have one bar on your phone. My wife and I literally fight over the WiFi. We’re massively moving toward an economy where people can live and work wherever they want. Nearly a third of the workforce is already there. When people can live and work wherever they choose, where are they going to go? Where it’s beautiful. And that’s where Northern Michigan can compete and win. But we’re just not ready. Why not? Because our members of Congress aren’t fighting as hard as our forefathers did when they fought the electric companies. The Rural Electrification Act changed America. What members of Congress did is they went to utility companies and said we’re going to give you a right to exist on our public airwaves and our public land, but in return you have to wire up rural America—because there was no money in that for them. So Congress struck that deal and that’s how we got wired up.

We need members of Congress who will fight just as hard. The template is already there. Internet service, cell phone service is every bit as important as electricity. We need to wire up the north. We need a member of Congress who’s going to work with other rural legislators to get this done—march into the FCC’s office, march into Verizon, AT&T, and compel them to invest in this and get this done.

MICHIGAN SHOULD LEAD THE WORLD IN WATER MANAGEMENT

The last thing I want to do, and this is the most long term: We need to position Northern Michigan as the world’s thought leader on the use and protection of freshwater. We have a competitive advantage over every other state and over every other country: 21 percent of the world’s freshwater is right here. I’m not talking about selling our water. I’m not talking about that. But in our lifetime, water will become the most valuable natural resource in the history of the world. Who better to protect that and show the world how to use it than us?

And you might ask well, how does that help us make money? Let me tell you how. At Stanford University, in the ’60s and the ’70s, some smart people got together and said you know what, computer science, computer engineering, that’s going to be the future. So they increased their curriculum in computer science at Stanford, which produced graduates who stayed in Palo Alto, which created what? Silicon Valley. Which created Google. Amazon. Microsoft. They created a whole new economy. And in our lifetime, water will become the number one natural resource. Right now millions of dollars are being spent on the use and protection of freshwater. Factories are trying to figure out how they can use less water, farmers are trying to figure out how to grow more product using less water. The military is trying to figure out how to move more troops and use less water. Cities are trying to figure out how to better manage their water and wastewater. This is a billion-dollar market, and we are losing to Israel and Saudi Arabia and Arizona and Alabama. We need to create a freshwater institute and show the world how to better use and protect water. And from that, thousands of jobs can be created.

None of this is Buck Rogers/George Jetson stuff. But you need a member of Congress who will sit down and get this done. All these things require cooperation between corporations and local governments, state governments, the federal government and even international governments. Your member of Congress is where that starts.

We have to show people in very simple terms. People are busy. They’re not ignorant, they’re not stupid, but we have to educate people about our water. You create a post on Facebook and show that a barrel of oil and its price, $39 or whatever the latest is, and you show a barrel of freshwater: it’s higher. It’s $45. You have to put it in very simple terms that people can understand. Our water is now more valuable than oil. That’s what a member of Congress does. We have a lot of education to do. We all were taught in 8th grade geography class the value of our water, but sometimes as we go through life here seeing it constantly, we think “We have plenty of water.” We become complacent.

GUNS AND GUN VIOLENCE

The problem we have right now in Congress, and it’s more acute on the campaign trail, is that we can’t even have a conversation. If you mention even the word “guns” there are organizations who will take it as an intrinsic threat to their organization, not just to their issue but their organization. And they come down on these candidates with two and three million dollars in television ads, not necessarily about guns but about anything they can. The question is, how do I get elected and have that conversation both within my district and Washington? It starts with demonstrating to the voters of this district that I believe in the 2nd Amendment, first off. I’m a lifelong hunter. I was in Iraq as a civilian. I’m no stranger to what a weapon can do.

But whether you carry a weapon in war or for self-protection or for hunting, you also carry with you a set of values. And those values are primarily about responsibility, respect for that weapon. The problem is that around the country, others don’t carry those same values. Here in northern Michigan if I see a guy walking down the street with a shotgun on his arm I don’t think twice about it. In other areas of our country that’s a problem.

I’m not opposed to having the conversation. I’m not opposed to background checks. I think we also have to have an underlying discussion about why people are feeling the need to carry so many weapons. What is happening in our country? I’m not here to defend or attack anyone. But because our Congress does not address this issue in a holistic way these shootings are proliferating, and people figure well, if my government can’t protect me, my police force can’t protect me, I’m going to carry a weapon. Which creates a whole other series of problems. I’m willing to have the conversation to solve these problems.

When you cut mental health—and I’m not putting gun violence all on mental health—but when the federal government is cutting the states, the states are cutting the counties, the counties end up warehousing people in jails. Because they don’t know what else to do with them. They’re putting these folks who have serious problems into county facilities, and they’re coming out after three days, a week, after it’s been adjudicated they’re no longer a threat to themselves and others. These are people with serious paranoid delusions, and if they can get access to a weapon it’s like throwing gas on a fire. We have to have a holistic approach to the problems of these mass shootings.

I believe in bringing it local, local, local. We used to have gun boards in the state of Michigan. The county would determine whether somebody had the right to carry a concealed weapon or open carry. Just because a person hasn’t been arrested three times doesn’t mean they should be carrying a weapon. The sheriff knows whether someone’s a threat to the community or not. It’s like the old draft board. The draft board was made up of people from the community who understood who was a conscientious objector and who wasn’t. The solutions to our problems on the gun front will only come from districts like this one. When you elect people from districts with a high percentage of gun ownership. Because I can go to the gun community and say look, I hunt, I fish. No one is going to come to my home and take my gun. And I’m never going to vote for someone to do the same to you. But we have to have a conversation about how do we stop this. Right now, the minute I even mention having a conversation, organizations come in with millions of dollars spreading absolute lies.

What we need to discuss with voters here in the 1st district is what we’re going to do to provide real solutions for our communities. Jobs. Passenger rail. Internet service. Shutting down this pipeline. We need to show what we’re going to do for people specifically. If we just say “we’re going to fight for the middle class” without giving specifics, we will get beaten by these organizations coming in and saying I want to take away your guns. We have to show the voters what they get when they vote for us. And that is: a place to stay and succeed. My biggest complaint about past campaigns in this district is that we’ve listened to consultants who’ve said, just give them poll-driven, nebulous nothing. And that’s how we lose. We have to go out there and show voters precisely who we are and what we’re going to do.

TRUMP

I think Trump is going to be the nominee. And I think it’s going to tear [the Republican] party apart. And I don’t say that gleefully. We need a two-party system for politics to function. The whole party’s going to melt down. And that is a terrific advantage for us. But I don’t say that gleefully. This country is going to pay a price for years to come from Donald Trump being our nominee. I was in Iraq in ’05 as a civilian. I didn’t live in the Green Zone. I didn’t live in an army base, I didn’t live on a FOB or in any government facility. I lived downtown in a city of half a million people, and my neighbors were Muslims. I chose to live next to a mosque because I thought they would help protect me. And they did. When I’d walk out I’d see my neighbor out there playing with his kid, whatever, and I didn’t have to worry, because he knew what I was doing and we had a shared sense of mission. My colleagues right now doing the same job in Muslim countries all over the world, they now have to wonder what did Trump say last night that’s going to get them in trouble or get them killed. What Trump is saying right now is nothing but recruitment for Al Qaeda. This is dangerous stuff that he’s doing. This country will pay a heck of a price for his language for many years to come. I think decades.

OUR DEMOCRACY, HOW WE VOTE, AND YOUR PARTICIPATION

Our campaign finance system needs to be torn down. Citizens United needs to be overturned. That’s going to take a lot of citizens’ involvement. But we have to overcome this. Millions of dollars, probably billions have poured in to our government, to our campaigns—we’re marching toward an oligarchy. I just read that we have about 158 families that are controlling the entire Republican presidential primary process. There’s the Koch brothers and 157 other families. We’re driving toward an oligarchy and we need to do better.

The 1 percent: people who run Wall Street and fund a lot of our political activities. They are looking at the demographics of our country and they’re wondering how they can win. They have been slowly grabbing the reins of power. In the last four years, look what has happened. Repealing parts of the Voting Rights Act. Citizens United. Redrawing the lines. Voting rights violations. Voter ID laws. Emergency managers. Fewer polling places. This is all by design. It’s all designed to tell you: You don’t count. Don’t bother giving $5 to Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, because the Koch brothers are going to come in with a billion. Don’t bother running for office because we’re going to throw an emergency manager in there. Don’t bother voting. It’s all compounded to tell you to give up. Don’t participate.

One person can make a difference. The first race I worked on, in 1992, we beat an incumbent Republican member of Congress with $110,000. It was three of us, we were all in our twenties in the back of a house. The other candidate was 35 years old. Then in 1994 we won a race by 113 votes. In 2000 I was in Miami sitting at the recount tables. One person can make a difference. Let me show you how. Throw something up on social media and see how many likes you get. You’ve influenced the opinion of however many people. And that’s how this works. You have an idea, and no matter how crazy you think that idea is, there’s someone else out there who’s had that same idea. And you can then create change.

People don’t see a difference between one party and the next. It’s all corporate-bought politicians and they say forget it, it doesn’t matter. That’s why Bernie Sanders is gaining real traction. We have to show people that the system isn’t broken, and where it is, it’s your responsibility to fix it. [The big-money interests] rely on you saying “Screw it.” They want you to walk away. They win when that happens.

This is the best chance in decades to win this seat. We have an open seat. We have a three-way Republican primary, and they’re all pretty equally matched: We’ve got a three-star general out of Watersmeet, we have a current state senator from the UP, and a former state senator from Traverse City. Which means they’re going to beat the heck out of each other and be broke and banged up come August. And we’re going to have presidential year level turnout. Turnout is always a problem for Democrats, but it’s less so in a presidential year. I think we have one of the best issues of any race in the country, and that’s Line 5. It’s something all voters can care about and both Casperson and Allen are on record saying Line 5 is fine and can stay there. There’s a clear difference between the parties on this.

To win, all of us are going to have to do two and three times more than what we’ve ever done. We cannot afford to lose. If we lose this seat, Casperson or Allen will have it for 20 years. This is our moment right now. A democratic member of Congress helps with other seats. The downstream organizational value to a member of Congress is enormous. We’ve got 32 counties. We’re building an organization in every county. We have 1,500 endorsements. We’re going to ask you to make a contribution, put up a yard sign, make phone calls. We have 396 towns. That’s 4,000 elected officials just at the municipal level that we need to be in touch with.

One enormous advantage we have this year is that there’s no governor’s race and there’s no senate race. So people will vote for president and then next line underneath that is congressional. There’s always dropoff as you move down that ticket, but right now we’re the first after the presidential race.

I go to bed and I wake up with one number in my head: 1,881. That’s what Gary McDowell lost by. We can make up that number of votes. But we have to raise more money, go to more counties, get more endorsements, put up more yard signs. It’s going to take a heck of a lot of work. We hope to have yard signs by June. We have to raise $60,000 for signs. We have a website called LonSigns.com.

We’ve got a real shot. Let’s not waste this opportunity. Let’s go win. Ψ

 

 

  1. THANK YOU! Excellent write up with clear message…

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