By Tom Carr
Derek Bailey, the former chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians is running against Copemish businessman Allen O’Shea in the 101st State House of Representatives district. The district is a four-county strip with more than 100 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Not surprisingly, the two candidates vying for the Democratic primary vote are stressing issues like tourism promotion and green energy.
The winner of Tuesday’s contest will run against incumbent Republican Ray Franz in November. Bailey is more likely to mention Ray Franz in his campaigning than he is to talk about his Democratic opponent.
“I vowed, as well as Mr. O’Shea has, that whoever comes through in the primary, if it’s myself or if it’s Alan, get behind the other candidate and win the seat back in November,” Bailey said. “So we’re running a very positive, issue-based campaign.”
Bailey criticizes Franz for not supporting state funding to promote tourism, which he feels is a good way to improve the local economy.
“If you look into our area, especially with tourism, we have to have representatives who are going to support Pure Michigan funding,” he said. “And that’s a difference I have with Representative Franz.”
Bailey, a father of five, says education is also important for the economy. Also, he opposes the state’s Emergency Financial Manager law because it takes away local control from economically distressed areas. He put his opposition into action recently as tribal chairman when Suttons Bay schools faced the possibility of a takeover.
“The tribal council came forward and $183,000 went to the Suttons Bay school system to keep at bay, to me, that looming threat,” Bailey said. “What is that threat defined to me as? An opportunity for someone to come in and erode 20-30 years worth of work between the Suttons Bay school system and the Grand Traverse Band.”
Bailey stresses his business experience as the former head of the Grand Traverse Band. The tribe employs some 2,000 people in the area, with its casino, gas station, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and other businesses.
But he doesn’t have a monopoly on business experience. His opponent Allen O’Shea has run a business in the same location in Copemish since 1976.
At first, he made auto parts and wood heating systems, which eventually led to his current builders’ supply firm. Soon, he plans to begin building solar energy systems and expects to hire 15 to 20 new employees. But he’s also worked to bring a bank and other businesses into the area, he says.
“We reopened a grocery store in Kaleva and they have 16 employees,” O’Shea said. “We’re working on bringing a renewable energy solar manufacturer here.”
A windmill and solar panels in front of O'Shea's business tell you he’s serious about alternative energies. He believes developing those industries here is a good way to bring in new jobs.
Still, his advocacy hasn’t always been popular.
In fact, many voters may remember him for a controversial stand he took advocating a large wind power farm in Manistee and Benzie counties. That Duke Energy proposal was shelved, and he doesn’t expect it to harm his bid for the state house seat.
O’Shea thinks people will remember him also for helping defeat another unpopular energy project when he was a county commissioner.
“I was on the other side, I helped defeat a coal plant that they wanted to build in Manistee County,” he said. “Those issues are still there too.”
Still, that’s not what inspired O’Shea to run for election.
What did it, he says, is going to Lansing and watching the legislature in action. What he saw was a lack of civility and an unwillingness to reach across the aisle. He lays the blame mostly on the Republicans, but said that both sides can improve in that realm.
“You have to learn how to respect each other’s positions and some of the stuff that goes on in Lansing is uncalled for,” O’Shea said.
“I never taught my children to behave that way. People need to understand that even though you have differences of opinion, we are all basically good people. This is not a war. We have a job to do.”
So far, Derek Bailey, the former tribal chairman, has raised more money by about $10,000. Yet they’re both in the 30 to 40 thousand dollar range, which is relatively high for non-incumbents in this region.