Rep. Dale Kildee (D)
Michigan 5th District
The flat plains south of Saginaw Bay, the inlet of Lake Huron that separates Michigan’s Thumb (people really call it that) from the mitten of the Lower Peninsula, was once one of the nation’s premier industrial areas. Some 130 years ago it was the nation’s premier lumber country, with huge stands of virgin trees feeding 36 sawmills in Bay City and with logs piled high along both banks of the Saginaw River. When the trees were gone, farmers took over, and the land was sown with beans and sugar beets. A century ago, heavy industry followed. Flint, a small town on a minor branch of the Saginaw River, was the home base of W.C. Durant, the investor who merged several young auto firms to form General Motors. GM put its Chevrolet and Buick factories in Flint and its power-steering facility in Saginaw, chosen because it was already a center of precision machinery manufacturing. From 1910 through the 1960s, Flint grew lustily as it built Chevys and Buicks, attracting workers from the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee and the Black Belt of Alabama. Country music, blues and soul, and Southern accents became common in an area originally settled by New England Yankees. There was turmoil, too. Flint was the scene in January 1937 of the great sit-down strike that forced GM to recognize the United Auto Workers as the bargaining agent for all its workers. The UAW-GM contracts produced the world’s highest wages for industrial workers and lavish fringe benefits, including a generous health care plan.
2008 Presidential Vote
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Economic disaster struck with the energy crisis of the 1970s. Imports, especially from Japan, that were higher quality and lower priced than American cars, took an increasing share of the market. In 1979, GM employed more than 70,000 workers in its Flint plants, a huge share of the labor force in a metropolitan area of 430,000 people. Eventually, thousands left Flint as GM closed 13 of its 15 factories. By the late 2000s, the GM payroll had fallen below 12,000, and total local employment had dropped about 60%. Things got worse in 2008, when GM announced it was slashing its assembly-line production by 30%, including at its Flint facilities. In June 2009, the company filed for bankruptcy and shut yet another factory with 650 workers. The city’s attempts to spruce up its downtown failed, and many storefronts have been boarded up. About one of five homes is unoccupied. One-third of Flint households are in poverty, and many skilled workers have fled what Forbes magazine calls one of “America’s fastest-dying cites.” Flint’s economic woes forced the state to take control of the city government. Michael Moore, the liberal filmmaker, has used his hometown of Flint as the locale for much of his work about deteriorating life in America. Gritty Saginaw also suffered, with huge cutbacks by Delphi, its largest employer. But there are some modest positive developments. In the Saginaw area, small manufacturing operations requiring highly skilled workers have grown up in old factory buildings once considered worthless. This is part of southern Michigan’s industrial belt with the expertise to sustain just-in-time manufacturing.
The 5th Congressional District of Michigan includes Flint and surrounding Genesee County, Saginaw and eastern Saginaw County, Bay City and eastern Bay County, and rural Tuscola County, which is part of the Thumb. Flint, evenly divided between the parties when the sit-down strikes divided the community in the 1930s, is now heavily Democratic, Saginaw and Bay City somewhat less so. Tuscola continues to vote Republican.
Rep. Dale Kildee (D)
Elected: 1976, 17th term.
Born: Sept. 16, 1929, Flint .
Education: Sacred Heart Seminary, B.A. 1952, U. of MI, M.A. 1961, Rotary Fellow, U. of Peshawar, Pakistan.
Family: Married (Gayle); 3 children.
Elected office: MI House of Reps., 1964–74; MI Senate, 1974–75.
Professional Career: H.S. teacher, 1954–64.
The congressman from the 5th District is Dale Kildee, a Democrat first elected in 1976. Kildee grew up in Flint, the son of an autoworker. He studied for the priesthood, then taught at a Catholic high school in Detroit and at Flint Central High School. Door-to-door campaigning got him elected to a state legislative seat in 1964, at age 35, and enabled him to beat a 26-year veteran of the state Senate in 1974. Two years later, he ran successfully for the U.S. House seat. Kildee has an intensity of conviction derived from the liberal tradition lively in the American Catholic Church, a tradition with little regard for market economics, a strong sense of obligation to the needy, and a cultural conservatism. He is almost always pro-union and requires his employees to drive to work in cars built by the UAW. He opposes abortion rights and is something of a stickler on ethics. On the Education and Labor Committee, he is a strong ally of teachers’ unions, a backer of increased federal aid for education and an opponent of school choice.
|Dale Kildee (D)||221,841||(70%)||($559,948)|
|Matt Sawicki (R)||85,017||(27%)|
|Dale Kildee (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (73%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (92%), 2000 (61%), 1998 (56%), 1996 (59%), 1994 (51%), 1992 (54%), 1990 (68%), 1988 (76%), 1986 (80%), 1984 (93%), 1982 (75%), 1980 (93%), 1978 (77%), 1976 (70%)
Kildee was the first House member to argue that imported minivans should be subject not to the 2.5% tariff for cars but to the 25% tariff for trucks, which has been on the books since the early 1960s. The truck tariff has become a sticking point in U.S. negotiations with several countries, which led to Kildee’s fierce opposition to a bilateral trade deal with Thailand. He also was a strong opponent of free-trade agreements with Mexico and Central America. On the Resources Committee, he is strong advocate for American Indians, influenced by his grandparents’ friendships with Indians living on a reservation near their home in northern Michigan. His efforts to clean up the Great Lakes have produced commendations by environmentalists. Kildee has served more than two decades on the House board that oversees the page program. After Republican Rep. Mark Foley’s improper contacts with former pages came to light, Kildee, who took over as chairman in 2007, implemented reforms.
As chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education at Education and Labor, he has conducted extensive oversight of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind education policy, while demanding adequate funding for its mandates on schools. He is a critic of government-paid vouchers for parents of private-school students. In 2007, he helped to enact an extension of the Head Start program, and successfully opposed a proposal that would have allowed faith-based organizations to hire teachers based on religion.
Kildee has been easily re-elected, except for a couple of tight races in the 1990s. In 2002, redistricting put him in the same heavily Democratic district as Bay City Democrat Jim Barcia, one of the more conservative Democrats in the House and, like Kildee, an opponent of abortion rights. Barcia opted to run for the state Senate rather than battle Kildee for the seat. As Kildee approached age 80, state Sen. John Gleason floated the idea of a primary challenge in 2008, but backed off just before the filing deadline.