HOUGHTON - Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, visited Houghton Thursday as part of a brief Upper Peninsula tour, and he and State Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine, have one primary objective in mind as they wind down their two-year terms: Job creation.
Both for people around the state and themselves.
The two held a breakfast reception at the Rock House Hardwood Grille Thursday morning to listen to concerned citizens as part of Huuki's reelection campaign before sitting down with The Daily Mining Gazette for an exclusive interview that focused on jobs.
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Jase Bolger, far left, and State Rep. Matt Huuki, far right, talk to people during a breakfast reception at the Rock House Hardwood Grille in Houghton Thursday morning.
"I enjoy getting to know other areas of the state, understanding the problems they face, and Rep. Huuki has been so effective making sure we hear about what's happening in the U.P. while we're serving in the state capital. ... When Rep. Huuki came to Lansing there was one word he wanted to focus on: Jobs," Bolger immediately pointed out, adding that Huuki suggested the creation of a mining and forestry subcommittee on the House's natural resources committee.
Huuki now chairs said subcommittee and said he has been ensuring U.P. issues are brought to the forefront in Lansing.
"Downstate you look at natural resources and we look at unfortunately these areas as someplace to visit," said Bolger, a 39-year-old small business owner who represents Michigan's 63rd district in Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties. "(Huuki) immediately made sure we knew that this is a place where people live and people need to work, and our natural resources are an opportunity if we handle it appropriately."
Year-round tourism promotion, like linking into the state's Pure Michigan campaign, has been key for Huuki, but so has breaking down barriers to quicker yet responsible job creation in mining.
He pointed specifically to the fast permitting process for Orvana Resources U.S. Corp., which recently received a Part 632 Mining Permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for its Copperwood Mine in Gogebic County - a process much quicker than the years it took for Rio Tinto's Eagle Mine permitting.
Huuki even acknowledged that opposition to moving mining forward and stringent mining rules have been helpful in improving environmental safety.
"It's good that there is opposition in that facet because we want to make sure we're doing it responsibly," he said. "Being next to Lake Superior, the largest freshwater resource we have, we have to be sensitive to those things, but the rules and regulations that we do have in place protect that. If these companies prove that they can meet those standards, there's no reason then for us to artificially hold permits back beyond that standard."
Bolger seconded support for responsible regulation on mining, but noted that many businesses are facing too much regulation that's interfering with job creation.
"Does it make sense and does it ensure responsibility? If it's not about one of those two things, and it's not effective, then we should look at asking ourselves, 'Is this just bureaucracy for bureaucracy's sake?' and remove it," said Bolger, who emphasized he and Huuki have focused on creating an environment conducive to job creation but that 100,000-plus private sector jobs created in the last 18 months has been due to small business owners.
"Whether it's tax reform, regulatory reform or spending reform, we've adopted those reforms, but it's our hard-working people who make it happen," he said.
Huuki said that job creation has been such a primary focus because success in that area automatically leads to success in other areas, too.
"The nature of having people back to work, having people feeling good about themselves, being productive, many times solves a lot of the issues that put people in places like substance abuse or the other needed services that are out there. That alone has a multiplying effect on society if we can focus on the job creation side of it," he said.
Bolger, who continuously pointed to Huuki's success, added that since Huuki took office the legislature has moved the budget from a $1.5 billion deficit to a $500 million surplus, which has led to a reinvestment in education among other things after a harsh 2011 of steep budget cuts.
"That's what we said all along, the goal would be hit the reset button, face reality, balance the budget and pull Michigan back out of the difficulties, and we're seeing that happen," Bolger said.
Bolger has created some difficulties for himself lately by making headlines for trying to recruit a phony Democratic candidate, 22-year old Matt Mojzak, to run against Republican Rep. Roy Schmidt so that Schmidt wouldn't face real opposition.
"There was a representative (Schmidt) who wanted to switch over the issues. He was concerned about the politics and what would happen, so we worked within the rules. But that wasn't a high enough standard," Bolger said. "We shouldn't be distracted by politics and I'm glad to stand before you and say Rep. Huuki never has been."
He offered a similar response when the issue of banning two female Democratic legislators from speaking on the House floor after they said "vagina" and "vasectomy" was brought up.
"Once again, Rep. Huuki has nothing to do with that. As far as the House, we have by all accounts allowed far more debate and far more open conversation in the house this term than there was in the past," Bolger said. "They violated the rules of the House, but we won't be distracted. We're going to continue to focus on why Rep. Huuki wanted to run for office, and that is jobs, and resolving the challenges for our people. We won't allow any politics, nor any shenanigans from the other side to distract us from that."