Tribal chairman Bailey plans run for Congress

By John Flesher
Traverse City, Michigan (AP) October 2011

Derek Bailey, chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, said he will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge freshman U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek in northern Michigan’s 1st Congressional District.

Bailey joins former state legislator Gary McDowell in the race to unseat Benishek, a tea party-backed Republican from Crystal Falls elected last year. Benishek replaced Bart Stupak, a Democrat who decided against seeking re-election after serving 18 years in the House.


Democrats consider the seat among their best prospects for reversing the GOP’s takeover of the House in 2008, even though the district may be somewhat more GOP-friendly since its lines were redrawn following the 2010 census. It still takes in all the Upper Peninsula and a large section of the northern Lower Peninsula.

Bailey, 38, described himself as a bridge builder who would cooperate with members of both parties at a time of fierce partisanship to reduce the federal debt and strengthen the economy.

“Working together respectfully ... is the basic expectation for our representatives,” he said. “I pledge, and stand by my past work efforts, that I will bring this perspective to Congress and simply get work done.”

Bailey was elected in 2008 as chairman of the Grand Traverse band after serving four years on the tribal council. The 4,100-citizen tribe operates two casinos and the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, and provides government services in six counties: Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Manistee.

A Traverse City native who grew up there and in neighboring Leelanau County, Bailey was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education. He said he would be an advocate for early childhood education and rural families.

Another priority would be protecting the Great Lakes environment, particularly by preventing invasions of species such as Asian carp, Bailey said.

“Within our culture we have a teaching that any decision you make today should be based on how it will impact seven generations to come,” Bailey said. “If you truly embrace that teaching and apply it when making law and policy, then of course you will protect our greatest natural resource.”

Responding to Bailey’s entry into the race, McDowell said he would keep his focus on Benishek. “No one in Congress is looking out for Northern Michigan and Dan Benishek is part of the problem,” McDowell said.

Benishek’s spokesman, Kyle Bonini, said the congressman “is focused on representing Northern Michigan and will let this be decided by the citizens.”

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