I know, you’re angry about Rep. Bart Stupak and the amendment he managed to foist at the last minute onto the health care reform process. The amendment is a throwback to the 1970′s when women were still fighting for control of their right to privacy over their reproductive health.
But you’re stuck with him. Yes, I said STUCK.
Scream all you want about supporting a primary candidate. Rant that you want the women of Michigan’s first congressional district to do something about this guy.
It’ll be a waste of energy and resources.
I’m going to leave you with a wealth of research links below for you to prove it to yourselves, but the very first thing you need to look at is the map of his district. It covers nearly a third of the geographic area of the state of Michigan, and it’s the most rugged and disparate area of the state as well, from rolling fields farmed by Mennonites to sparsely populated mountains hunted by some and hiked by others. He’s got nearly as much coastline in his congressional district as entire states like Florida, only without the luxury of many wealthy residents and balmy weather (except during the first week of August each year).
Yeah, and the weather. About that.
You’ve got to want this district, all 24,875 square miles of it, and want it badly. This portion of the state is brutally unforgiving to people who need to traverse its breadth. The northern most portion sees hundreds of inches of snow each year, the northern coastline has sunk many a vessel including freighters like the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the meeting point between the state’s peninsulas isn’t exactly a picnic. Well, perhaps in summer when tourists flock to eat fudge and ride the ferry to picturesque Mackinac Island. But winter weather literally threw a car and its driver off the deck of the Mackinac Bridge during high winds, tossing it down a couple hundred feet to crushing cold death on the icepack and slushy water below.
And the people are not easy. Hell no.
They are fiercely loyal, deeply loving people, but they are intensely private and do not open up except in the most shallow and polite fashion. At least not until you have been tested. You will have to earn your way into their lives through many seasons spent at their side. You will have to prove you can be trusted when the chips are down, when the car is broken down on a back road deep in the woods in the dark of winter. When you come to their rescue and you follow through, then they will let you in. And you’ll stay there only when you are still there through the births and deaths and the many casseroles served up at the local church for each of these events, and you’ve bought enough rounds of beers during deer and football season (but not so many that you look like an easy touch).
I was born a Yooper, have spent many summers of my life there, have a Yooper mother and Yooper family. And yet even I am not a Yooper. I haven’t been through at least a year and its two seasons — winter and not-winter — nor have I brought casseroles regularly through sleet and mosquitoes to church events. Even though it’s in my blood, I admit I am not and will probably never be a Yooper. They will always see me as a "troll" from under the Bridge, as they refer to Michiganders from downstate well south of the Mackinac Straits.
That’s why you are stuck with Stupak. He’s a Yooper. The man is a former state trooper; he’s traveled these dark and icy back roads, shown up when he was needed, and he knows that what he does as a representative is a freaking piece of cake compared to what the people in his district do to get by. (Recall the Coen Brothers’ movie Fargo here for a second.) He’s also still a Yooper through and through; you’ll see him in the airport like Chicago, and he’s every bit as accessible there as he is in the great white north. He, like all other Yoopers I know, has no pretensions.
And in assessing Stupak and what do about him, we must have no pretensions either.
First, there’s a reason Stupak is inside the C-Street "tent"; it’s not only because of a shared religious ideology, but because they are a minority group (albeit a deliberately manufactured and selective minority group with social and political capital). Minority groups "circle up the wagons" to provide each other support and shelter against a majority which doesn’t understand them or encourage their assimilation.
And it’s just as difficult to become a Yooper as it is for Yoopers to assimilate with a larger culture. They are stubbornly independent, in no small part because they must be. That’s why it seems entirely possible to me that Stupak is independent within the sheltering circle of the C-Street community.
Secondly, to primary Stupak means you will have to find a candidate who is everything Stupak is to his district. Somebody who is a Yooper, born or made, with the ability to represent the more Republican districts of lower northern Michigan, and the more Democratic constituents of the western upper peninsula. It means being strongly pro-union, pro-agriculture, pro-forestry, pro-gun — and unfortunately, pro-life. It also means being willing to commit to traveling the length and breadth of this district all the time and making personal appearances on a frequent basis. Yoopers do not trust what they cannot see; they want dependability, reliability, and only showing up when expected and needed will prove that out.
Thirdly, it takes more than money to win this district. Yes, your candidate will have to have adequate money to traverse this wickedly demanding district, but money won’t work where you don’t have adequate broadcast to reach the most reliable voters. There are stretches of the district where one can’t count on more than one television station, more than one radio station, and certainly not cell phone service. Yes, people still live in these stretches — but they live there to get and stay away from what they see as crap. Think Ted Kaczynski, without the urge to bomb any one. You are going to have to find a way to reach those people and ask for their votes.
(Funny, this: the two places you’ll be sure to find the highest number of voters are at church and at the local bar. You and your candidate ready to go there every week for two years? I wouldn’t be able to handle either the sermons or the country music, sorry.)
Fourthly, because of the centrality of the church to the communities across the district, your ideal primary candidate is someone who leans right-ward in order to persuade the district’s voters. They may lean left on everything else, but right on religion.
And right there is the real key to the problem. We, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, should have seen the Stupak Amendment coming.
The man has a solid blue streak when it comes to everything but abortion. It’s as plain as the shock of hair on his head, impossible to miss. So why not head him and the other religious ideologues off at the pass when formulating the health care bill? Why not answer that directly and upfront? Why was there not some effort to partition off the bill in a way which would make for a win-win for the ideologues’ districts?
And why did we not see that the C-Streeters would and could use Stupak against us? They’ve known they had this Trojan Horse to deploy, a staunchly Catholic Democrat whose voting record apart from abortion wouldn’t trigger our wariness until too late. Shame on us.
The answer is simple: don’t let this happen again. Be pro-active and know the representatives whose votes you must have to win. This means understanding the district they come from and exactly what kind of people back home you must persuade. It means not taking for granted the primary election process, ensuring there’s a pipeline of people who love their district and want the job badly and are trained and ready to go.
Because you are going to find there are more than one Stupak and you’re stuck because you not only turned your back on them. You didn’t plan ahead for this long, dark winter.
Overviews of the state house districts which comprise Michigan’s MI-01 Congressional District (profiles up to 2008):
Overview of the state senate districts which comprise Michigan’s MI-01 Congressional District (profiles up to 2008):
MI-01 Congressional District profile
Stupak’s profile in OpenCongress.org
Stupak’s profile at Project VoteSmart