NMU student runs for Congress

Michael Williams

Atop raising a family and pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from NMU, Negaunee resident Dana Ferguson is hoping for a Democratic bid against first district incumbent representative Dan Benishek this November, intending to change American political discourse.

“I’m pushing for a change in how we view our elected representatives,” Ferguson said. “I think there’s this image of what a politician is and what the government should be like. For me, I don’t like it. I don’t think we can rely on politicians in office to change things. They like their job, they like their money, they like their power too much.”

Ferguson sees frustration among constituents across the political landscape.

“For this younger generation coming up, there’s a lot of pessimism about our politicians,” Ferguson said. “It’s up to the younger generation to change things. I want to get the next generation a head start. I want to show that there are people out there with principles; that trustworthy, simple people are going to do it right.”

To Ferguson, the pessimism is largely a product of moneyed interests influencing policy, which is why he is not asking for campaign contributions, nor is he accepting contributions from political action committees (PACs). He will, however, accept offered donations from within the first district. To the candidate, refusing PAC money is part and parcel to shifting the political landscape away from strict partisanship.

“Everything evolves, but we’ve been resistant to evolving,” Ferguson said. “I’m a Democrat because I’m a liberal, because I’m a progressive. But I’m not out there for the Democratic party, I’m out there for the people.”

Running campaigns without the help of big money can be tenuous, particularly in a bifurcated political environment, which is why Ferguson hopes to recruit any and every volunteer he can. For the candidate, purity is nonexistent in today’s political landscape.

“I’m trying to do this as pure as possible,” Ferguson said. “Both parties are at fault. You have the black and white, the blue and red fringe, but in the middle you have the gray area. “All you see is finger pointing, name calling. What we need to push for is recognizing our differences and [moving] forward. I’ve tried recruiting Republicans for my campaign, it’s not working, but I’m trying.”

Tom Baldini, former district director for Bart Stupak, has not endorsed either Ferguson or Jerry Cannon, the other Democratic running for nomination. “Dana seems like a very nice person,” Baldini said. “But [he] got into the race rather late. You really have to have an operation to take on a candidate like Benishek.”

Upper Peninsula Democratic voters tend to be pro-choice and environmentally conscious, but the economy reigns as a dominant concern, according to Baldini.“I think they’re more focused on issues like jobs,” Baldini said.

Ferguson’s policies range from drug policy reform to fiscal conservatism to environmental sustainability.

“I’ve been trying to make this clear, I’m not going to hide the fact that I’m very environmentally conscious,” Ferguson said. “I don’t believe that we have to compromise on our water quality for jobs. I think these companies kind of pimped the people here for jobs. We have a great tourist industry. If we sacrifice that, we may lose jobs.”

Baldini iterates a different position.“I think tourism is here to stay,” Baldini said. “We have too much to offer. I don’t see the mining cutting into that industry yet. But we have to be very cautious about the environment.”

Adam Papin, a member of the NMU College Democrats, will not endorse a specific candidate until after the primaries are over. However, he thinks that Benishek’s reelection campaign will revolve around spin. This perspective stems from his analysis of Benishek’s last campaign.

“Benishek never once mentioned in the election that he was an incumbent in one of the least popular Congresses in U.S. history,” Papin said. “And he was able to successfully peg [2012 Democratic opponent] McDowell as a career politician.”

While Papin will not endorse a candidate, he thinks Ferguson’s chances pale compared to Cannon’s.

“I think the perspective a lot of Democrats are gonna view the election as is ‘Who’s gonna beat Benishek?’” Papin said. “I think Cannon will get a lot of votes because he’s the best chance to beat Benishek.”

Despite an uphill battle, Ferguson wants to remain truthful throughout the campaign. He believes people power will foster the changes he envisions.

“We really have to look at this as not one person changing things,” Ferguson said. “It has to come from the people, the masses. I think this is a new renaissance.”