Yoopers Reserved Over Stupak's 'Yes' Vote

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) listens to testimony at a hearing i i

hide captionThe FBI and other law enforcement agencies are investigating death threats made against Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and other Democratic lawmakers after they voted in favor of health care overhaul legislation last weekend.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) listens to testimony at a hearing

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are investigating death threats made against Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and other Democratic lawmakers after they voted in favor of health care overhaul legislation last weekend.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a large part of U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak's home district, is a rather unique place.

The U.P., as it's called, is a vast, cold and sparsely populated area, long dominated by the rugged mining, timber and shipping industries.

Much of it is bordered by Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and northern Wisconsin; the area is only attached to Lower Michigan by a bridge.

And the people of the U.P. — Yoopers, as they affectionately call themselves — are kind of a different breed, with a rather unique favorite food.

"It's called a pasty," says Brian Harsch, owner of Jean Kay's Pasties in Marquette, Mich. "It's a combination of meat, potatoes, onions — and we put rutabagas in ours."

Harsch says the meat and vegetables are cut up into cubes, mixed together raw and baked in a folded-over pie crust. It came to the region from England with those who worked long hours in the U.P.'s iron ore and copper mines, a meal they could keep warm in their pockets for hours, or bake themselves in the mine. It has long been a staple meal for Yoopers.

Another staple in the U.P. — for 18 years now — is Stupak, the region's socially conservative Democratic congressman.

"Bart's a Yooper," says longtime Stupak friend Nancy Douglas of Menominee, Mich., the congressman's hometown.

"He understands the people he represents and their points of view, and I don't think they're vastly different from his," Douglas says. She adds that she doesn't think Stupak's vote for the health care bill will hurt his re-election chances. Despite the conservative views of many in the district, she thinks the vote actually reflects the views of most voters here.

In fact, some constituents say they were upset that Stupak nearly killed the health care bill while trying to insert language to restrict federal funding for abortions.

"We were very angry with him up until the end," says Judy Allen, a retiree from Marquette, Mich., after a recent dinner at Schloegel's Bay View Restaurant in Menominee.

"He was very emotional when he made his speech about the amendment that would have thrown it all back into committee, and I was very proud of him [for his vote]; I was very happy."

Her husband, David Allen, who says he had about had it with Stupak, says, "I support [the] bill and now support Bart."

Others in the district say the right to quality health care is as much a right-to-life issue as being against abortion.

"I approve of the health care bill, so I thought it was a good vote," says Juanita Delaurelle of Daggett, who also appreciates that Stupak held out for the president's executive order restricting federal funding for abortions. "I'm against abortion, so I do think it was the right stand, but I do think we need health care in this country, better health care than what we have."

"He held the line pretty steady and pretty tough, and said, 'We're not budging on this without that being signed in,' " high school teacher Tom Baraboo of Menominee says. "I give him a lot of credit for that; he put up with a lot of slack."

But others in the district wish Stupak had stuck to his guns, and they accuse him of selling out.

"I do not agree with what Stupak did," says Jayne Strohl, owner of a tidy salon in the small town of Stephenson.

"I was very proud of him for sticking to his guns, because I don't think you should be able to get an abortion through a government-run program," Strohl says. "I just don't understand what changes your mind at the last minute."

Strohl is one of many here who doubt the bill will do all that has been promised. She and many others in the district say that for the first time in a long time, they'll consider voting for someone other than Stupak.

Dan Benishek is running as a Republican for Rep. Bart Stupak's seat i i

hide captionDan Benishek, a surgeon from the small Upper Peninsula town of Crystal Falls, who is running as a Republican for Rep. Bart Stupak's seat. Benishek, who has never run for office before, says he's overwhelmed by the support he's getting from around the country since the health care vote.

David Schaper/NPR
Dan Benishek is running as a Republican for Rep. Bart Stupak's seat

Dan Benishek, a surgeon from the small Upper Peninsula town of Crystal Falls, who is running as a Republican for Rep. Bart Stupak's seat. Benishek, who has never run for office before, says he's overwhelmed by the support he's getting from around the country since the health care vote.

David Schaper/NPR

Republican Dan Benishek hopes to be that someone.

"I think he's betrayed the district. I can't believe that he's done it," says Benishek, a surgeon and a first-time candidate from the small U.P. town of Crystal Falls.

"I don't believe he represents the U.P. very well," Benishek says. "He votes very far left on most of the issues. The two issues that hold him to the constituents are the Second Amendment and his pro-life stance. And now he's bailed on the pro-life stance."

Benishek says he has been overwhelmed with interest in his campaign from around the country, raising more than $50,000 in the first 48 hours after Stupak's vote for the health care bill, unsolicited.

Stupak is being challenged from the left, too.

Connie Saltonstall, a former county commissioner from the Lower Michigan part of the district, is running against Stupak in August's Democratic primary. She says she contributed to Stupak's campaign just last year, but now says she is outraged that he almost derailed the health care bill over abortion. She says she has raised about $80,000 in the past few weeks because of Stupak's anti-abortion position, and has picked up endorsements from NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW.

Meanwhile, Michigan Right to Life and other anti-abortion groups say they are pulling their endorsements of Stupak.

But where some see Stupak as suddenly vulnerable, others don't.

"I don't believe in my heart of hearts this vote was all that risky for him, I really don't," says Bud Sargent, managing editor of one of the largest daily newspapers in the U.P., The Mining Journal in Marquette.

He has covered politics in the U.P. and Bart Stupak for almost 30 years and doubts that there will be many voters who will change how they vote in the primary and in the November election because of Stupak's vote for the health care bill.

"I think that he's got so much good will built up over so many years, and I think that he represents people up here well."

Sargent says he doubts the health care vote will cost Stupak his seat, but he and others add that the longtime congressman will be facing what is shaping up to be his toughest re-election campaign yet.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: