(Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki/Free Press Staff Writer)
Would it be called the State of Northern Michigan? How about the State of Superior?
Michigan's Upper Peninsula is going to need a new name if it secedes to become the 51st state.
And that's exactly what they're talking about up in Marquette County, where the issue was raised at the last Marquette County Board of Commissioners meeting and quickly spread via several U.P. media outlets.
"Don't you think it would be kind of nice to start from scratch?" asked Marquette County Commissioner Mike Quayle, who first raised the issue with the commission. "It would be kind of interesting to see what kind of government we could form up here. Maybe we could be a showcase for the rest of the United States."
This isn't the first time there has been talk of the U.P. shedding itself of the trolls. (Trolls are creatures who live under the bridge, in this case, the Mackinac Bridge.) U.P. secession has come up periodically ever since Michigan lost what's called the Toledo War in 1836, and ended up with the U.P. instead of Toledo. The Michigan Legislature defeated U.P. secession by a single vote in the 1970s.
And Quayle concedes that secession probably is too complicated to accomplish this time, as well. The path to secession is a migraine, not a mere headache -- the state Legislature must approve the U.P. seceding and then Congress must OK a 51st state. Which peninsula would get the Mackinac Bridge -- and its tolls? What would be the new state's capital?
But a guy can dream.
The half-in-jest secession conversations reflect a very real feeling among many locals that they are losing local control to Lansing, along with an uncomfortable feeling that Lansing is spending too much time in their wallets.
"I don't know how serious the conversation about secession is, but I know the frustration with our legislators and Lansing is at a boil," said Marquette County Commissioner Steve Pence, who described the current U.P. angst as semi-serious talk of secession and very serious feelings of disenfranchisement.
There also is the growing notion among many in the U.P. that Lansing is trampling the rights of local government, stirred in part by two issues:
• The state Legislature, as some locals see it, "rammed through" in 17 days a bill allowing anyone to mine land, undermining a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that said local government could determine which areas are off-limits to mining based on residential or other concerns.
• Lansing lawmakers are considering changing the way some ore mines are taxed. Currently, the mines pay property taxes, which go to the local government. The new tax would create a severance tax on the ore as it is mined, which many in the U.P. say would send the money to Lansing instead.
But Sara Wurfel, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, said the severance tax would ensure "a long-term, sustainable rural economic development strategy now and 20 years from now, rather than booms and busts of years past."
Snyder, she said, "feels very strongly about the importance of the Upper Peninsula," has made multiple visits to the community and has assisted with issues including power grid reliability and harnessing mining opportunities.
The bottom line, folks in the U.P. say, is that Lansing takes a whole lot more in tax dollars than the U.P. gets back. And in this peninsula with only about 3% of the state's population but more than 30% of the land, that's just not cutting it.
"I feel that they're attempting to use the U.P. as a resource colony," said Catherine Parker of Marquette, who said she sees an increased interest from lawmakers in cashing in on the U.P.'s mineral and timbering resources.
Parker said the secession idea requires more research, but she acknowledged the appeal.
"It's certainly something that people are starting to talk about again because of their frustrations with Lansing," she said.
Quayle read a book about past U.P. secession attempts, including the one led by the late Dominic Jacobetti, a U.P. state legislator who was instrumental in the failed 1970s attempt to create a separate state called Superior. Quayle then threw the idea out at a county commission meeting.
But although talk of secession might make good fodder for Marquette County commission meetings, some in the U.P. have their doubts about the idea.
Anthony Stackpoole, who owns the Cup of the Day coffee shop in Sault Ste. Marie, pondered a practical question.
"Where are we going to fit another star on the flag?" he asked.
Stackpoole said he grew up in metro Detroit and still travels downstate every couple of weeks for business and family.
Looking to Wisconsin
Scott Sult, owner of New York Deli, said he was born and raised in Marquette. He also travels frequently for business to metro Detroit, which is where his wife is from.
Although he said he does not believe a new state makes sense, he noted that residents in parts of the U.P. tend look to Wisconsin for such things as major shopping.
"A lot of people say that Green Bay is the capital of the U.P.," he said.
Many in the U.P. live closer to Wisconsin than lower Michigan, said Charles Bergdahl, another Marquette County commissioner. They can get to Milwaukee, Minneapolis and even Chicago faster than to Detroit. They cheer for the Green Bay Packers instead of the Detroit Lions. And the majority, Bergdahl said, are more likely to do business with Wisconsin than the Lower Peninsula.
"We're different," Bergdahl said of the U.P. and the Lower Peninsula. "I have a hard time even going downstate."
He said he is not sure he would support secession, but he agrees the U.P. isn't getting its fair share out of Lansing.