HOUGHTON - No matter what happens in this year's election, the Houghton County Board of Commissioners will have a different look to it next year.
Board Chair Ed Jenich and Commissioner Dennis Barrette announced this year they would not run for re-election: each race has five newcomers looking to take the seat. In District 5, Republican Tim Palosaari will face a Democratic challenger in the general election.
The only certainty comes in Districts 3 and 4, where Commissioners Anton Pintar and Scott Ala are running unopposed.
Five people are running for the seat being vacated by Jenich, which represents Calumet Township. Rick Kasprzak is seeking the Democratic nomination, while four others are vying for the Republican spot: Patrick Boberg, Eugene Londo, Tom Tikkanen and Matt Vertin.
Kasprzak first lived in the Copper Country in 1993, settling in Calumet permanently in 2004. Since 2005, he has worked as dairy and frozen manager at Pat's Foods in Calumet.
He decided to run for office because "it was time to make a stand." He said he feels regional representatives such as State Rep. Matt Huuki and U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek are more focused on representing corporate interests than their constituents.
"I thought being a county commissioner would give me more of a voice when it comes to speaking to them and convincing them or whoever it is this time around that remembering the people who put them in office is more important than their donors," he said.
Kasprzak said he is for more local control of government and against county-wide zoning, which the current board has also opposed. He supports the update of the county's master plan. He is also against any new taxes, including any millage for a new jail.
"I think at some point we will need a jail .. . but right now, with the way the economy is for Houghton County, this is a tough time to be telling people, even if it's $10 or $20 (per year), we're taxing them," he said.
Boberg, of Calumet, owns Keweenaw Fire Sales & Service, and also serves as an EMT for Mercy EMS and is on the Calumet Township Volunteer Fire Department.
"We need to start looking at ways of getting new business up here as well as promoting vacation places for people, maybe working more with the National Park Service to get more funds up here to fix up buildings and make it a better place to be for everybody," he said.
Boberg said his goals are to cut unnecessary spending, although he declined to name specific areas, and to bring more jobs into the area. He cited recent talk of mining.
"I would be knocking on their door right off the bat to work with them and do everything Houghton County could do to get those guys up here to get employment," he said.
Londo, of Calumet, has worked at a series of posts in the mining industry, including a job at White Pine. He is owner of Calumet Machining.
"It starts at the local level," he said. "I consider myself a fiscal, moral, tea party conservative."
Londo said he is not running for the race with an agenda in mind.
"I have no axes to grind," he said. "I just think i'd like to get involved at the local level to see what we can do."
Tikkanen, of Calumet Township, has worked with Main Street Calumet since 2003, has a background in real estate, and also previously served on the Calumet Township board. He said that background makes him appreciative of municipalities' need for fiscal responsibility.
"I think placing an unfair burden on local taxpayers is not the answer to future improvements at the county level," he said. "I know that the jail was a hot topic, and the people spoke as to how they felt about it. I think that many people felt that it wasn't a bad idea, but at that time it was a bit more costly than what we could reasonably be expected to support."
While tourism should be an addition to a stable base, Tikkanen said, he is excited about the benefits of "quality of life" improvements such as the effort to link communities with recreational trails.
"We live in the midst of natural splendor - Lake Superior and the countryside of the Keweenaw is uncomparable," he said. "We have a growing population of people who are recognizing the value of that."
Vertin spent 13 years in local radio, including five as the owner of two radio stations, and also works at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital as director of public relations. He has also spent the past 10 years on the board of the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw.
"I've had it on my mind for the past couple of years that when Ed Jenich decides to step down from his seat that I would be interested in serving the people of Houghton County," he said.
Vertin said he will work closely with the board to represent the county's residents.
"I'm committed to being a part of this process just as I am in everything I do and the people of the county can be confident that I will be a person that works hard for them to get things accomplished," he said. "I'm a people person and can work with anyone. I enjoy working with others and being able to put any differences that may exist aside to achieve the common good."
Five people, all Republicans, are looking to replace Barrette: Lou Ambuehl, Larry Corrigan, Sr., Robert Erickson, Albert Koskela and Glen Tolksdorf.
Ambuehl is manager of Carquest in downtown Hancock. He has been a trustee in Torch Lake Township for six years, and is a board member of the Torch Lake Area Sewage Authority.
"After being a trustee, I really enjoy being involved with the community," he said. "I like working with the citizens, and I like being part of the decision-making process. I have no agenda going in."
Ambuehl said the county jail situation needs to be resolved somehow, and also stressed the importance of the county's recently approved recreation plan.
"I think it's important with the emphasis on health that we give citizens the tools to accomplish those goals," he said.
Lawrence Corrigan of Torch Lake Township worked as a contractor and a logger. He decided to run to pursue his belief that local sewer systems have caused a die-off of trees in the area.
"It's like anything in this world - you've got to do it yourself," he said. "Become a commissioner, then people will listen to you."
If elected, he said, his first initiative would be to end lying in any meeting.
"If a lie happened, it would be an automatic 24 hours in jail, maximum 90 days in jail, depending on the severity of the lie," he said.
Robert Erickson worked for 25 years at the White Pine Mine before being employed in the L'Anse Area Schools and Michigan Technological University, where he spent 12 years. He sits on the Schoolcraft Township Housing Committee and Board of Review, and was previously a trustee for the Village of Laurium.
Erickson said he would be guided by what the people want, not what he wants.
"Budgets are getting a little bit tighter, so we have to provide the best services for the people and the county," he said.
Erickson said the current board has done a good job with projects such as the new transfer station in Atlantic Mine.
"It's been a responsible board of commissioners," he said. "Dennis Barrette is stepping down, so it's a change of guard coming up, and I would like an opportunity to represent the people and do what's best for them."
Koskela, a resident of Schoolcraft Township, was self-employed for 25 years as a mechanical contractor and retired from Hitch Engineering, where he was vice president of engineering and construction administration. He has been on several boards and is currently serving as president of the Copper Country Intermediate School District Board of Education and assistant chair of the Michigan Association of School Boards legislative committee in Lansing.
The county board run was a suggestion from his daughter, he said.
"I've been in public offices of different types and forms for many years," he said. "I thought maybe I could give some assistance there, without running the place, as a board member."
Koskela said his main focus would be budget restraint, but that he would work with the rest of the board.
"As a board member, you more or less set policy, you don't actually run the show - you have a controller to do that," he said. "Once I get my feet wet, I don't know what I would do, but I'm not trying to go in there like gangbusters. I've been on enough boards in my life to know how they function, that you're one of a group."
Tolksdorf, of Franklin Township, owns Tolksdorf Realty & Forestry with his wife, Gretchen. He has sat on a number of commerce and forestry-related boards, including currently the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce.
"I have deep roots in Houghton County, and I believe that as a Commissioner my background would make me especially qualified to contribute to the County's future success," he said.
Tolksdorf said the board needs to prioritize job creation. He said one step might be creating manufacturing facilities for the raw forest products that end up going south to be processed.
"As the son of a White Pine miner and grandson of a Quincy Mine miner as well as running a business myself, I know we need to balance the promotion of jobs in mining, timber, and industry as well as tourism and high-tech initiatives, with the protection of our land and water," he said.
Republican incumbent Tim Palosaari is running against Democratic challenger Judith Rupley. The district represents Chassell, Duncan, Elm River, Laird, Portage and Stanton townships.
Palosaari, of Chassell, co-owns DP Construction, a general contracting firm. He was elected to the board in 2010. He said he's learned a lot about the work necessary to be involved in government.
"I've had as many as 20 meetings in a month, lots of readings and lots of homework to update yourself on all the current issues," he said. "By the same token, I've enjoyed it. I like the learning part of it and the experience."
Palosaari said he would like to see the government play a minimal role.
"I'd like to see taxes not go up, keep taxes where they are, or reduce them if possible," he said. "I believe the less government does, the better they do it."
Rupley, of Chassell, serves on a number of community groups, including the Chassell Historical Organization and Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary. She is retired from the L'Anse Area Schools, where she taught for 32 years.
Rupley was encouraged by friends to run because the race would otherwise be uncontested. She said her problem-solving experience as a teacher would be useful on the county board.
"I have no self-interest that will benefit me or my friends," she said. "I will go into it open-mindedly and bow to no one."
Rupley said she will work to make decisions that benefit the most people in Houghton County. Having had a couple of small businesses in the past, she said, she also understands the need to foster entrepreneurship.
"I understand the complexities of people trying to make a living," she said. "We need jobs and industry coming in. We have to make the community desirable for all people. ... we have so much to offer for everyone."