Michigan 1st District
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, commonly known as the UP, is a land apart. Surrounded on three sides by frigid Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan, the UP is no farther north than Montreal or Seattle, but there are places here that have some of the coldest climates in settled parts of North America. The area surrounding Keweenaw County, which juts into Lake Superior, often ranks high in the nation’s heaviest snowfall. “In October, usually, the first snow falls steady on the northland,” writes Dixie Lee Franklin in A Most Superior Land, “whispering teasing promises of more to come”—for six or even eight months more. Far away from any major city, with ground too frozen and stony and a growing season too short for most crops, the Upper Peninsula was explored by French voyagers and missionaries more than 300 years ago but was never thickly settled until prospectors found rich veins of ore here. The mineral veins of the Keweenaw Peninsula produced 13.3 billion pounds of copper. The Marquette, Menominee, and Gogebic iron ranges have produced more than one billion tons of iron ore. Starting in the 1840s, immigrants flocked here to work the mines: Irish, Italians, Swedes, Norwegians, miners’ sons from Wales and Cornwall, and most prominently Finns, who must have found this cold land with its lakes and hills much like home. Many were Roman Catholic, and they remain predominantly anti-abortion. Before 1900, the UP was a northern industrial belt, with a few bosses, some absentee overlords, and a workforce disposed to radical ideas and union movements. Timber was another major industry a century ago.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
A major strike in 1913-14 and falling ore prices after World War I—events that would be long forgotten elsewhere—are recalled in the UP as accelerating the copper decline. The UP’s population peaked at 332,000 in 1920. The accessible copper veins were mostly depleted by then, mining iron ore became less labor-intensive, and lumber and farming provided only a few thousand jobs. Other industries have grown since then: Marinette Marine, which builds Coast Guard cutters and military ships just across the state border in Wisconsin, is important to Menominee County. Enstrom Helicopter, founded in Menominee in the 1950s by a lumberman who wanted a helicopter suited for the rugged UP, sells models that are popular overseas and with law enforcement. But in the last half-century, there was great migration to Detroit for auto jobs, and to the West for mining. The UP’s population has hovered around 300,000, rising to 315,000 in 2004. But “Yoopers”—who some say have their own dialect, “Yoopanese”—remain devoted to their land. “The U.P. is really a place of slow, steady economic decline. We actually find it kind of charming,” says local writer Don Hunt.
The 1st Congressional District of Michigan includes the Upper Peninsula and 16 northern counties on the Lower Peninsula: geographically, almost half of all Michigan. Nearly half the people in the district live in the UP, in small towns spread across heavily forested distances. Often-snowbound Marquette, with 21,000 people, is the largest city in the district, followed by the “Soo,” the more vibrant Sault Ste. Marie, with 14,000. The other half lives south of the breathtaking Mackinac Bridge, which connects the two peninsulas. This is a vast area, in sheer size the second-largest district east of the Mississippi, after Maine’s 2nd District, and it has the most shoreline of any district. It is a 490-mile drive from Ironwood at the western end of the UP to the edge of Bay City on the southern tip of Saginaw Bay. The Lower Peninsula counties have two different personalities. On Lake Huron—the sunrise side—are smaller industrial towns and middle-class resorts. On Lake Michigan are affluent resort areas around Petoskey and Charlevoix, long summer places for people from Chicago (this is Ernest Hemingway’s “up in Michigan”). Politically, the UP has long been Democratic, some parts more than others, but it can be contrarian. This is one part of Michigan that has not liked many national Democrats’ environmental and gun control stands. The Lake Michigan shore of the Lower Peninsula is growing fast and heavily Republican; the sunrise side is growing more slowly and is politically marginal. The 1st District voted solidly for Bush in 2000 and 2004, narrowly for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick Posthumus in 2002, and 50% for Barack Obama in 2008. But in 2006, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm carried the 1st, winning every county in the UP and 61% farther south in Bay County.