MARQUETTE - Since announcing his candidacy for U.S. representative last August, Jerry Cannon undertook his most intensive Upper Peninsula campaign trip last week with a five-day tour to several cities, including Marquette.
"It's all about reacquainting myself with some old friends from the area, meeting new people, talking about some issues and concerns and making some new friends," Cannon said. "Very warmly received - it's been great."
The downstate Fife Lake Democrat has mounted a challenge in the sprawling 1st Congressional District to incumbent Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, who will face a Republican primary challenge in August from newcomer Alan Arcand of Iron River.
After U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, announced his retirement from office in 2010 following an 18-years stint, Benishek was swept into office that November on a wave of popularity generated by the burgeoning Tea Party.
In 2012, Benishek won re-election over Rudyard Democrat Gary McDowell by 1,881 votes. Arcand and Benishek will face off in the Aug. 5 primary election.
Cannon will meet the winner of their race in the Nov. 4 general election.
He said he's focused on what's good for the economy, the district and a fair shake for the middle class.
"I'm really grounded in local," Cannon said. "I'm grounded in local issues and concerns and how to get things done and how to network and collaborate."
He said he believes those attributes can be taken effectively to Congress.
"I'm not afraid of the word 'compromise,'" he said. "I'm not afraid of the word 'collaborate,' especially if it's in the best interest of this district."
Cannon served for two years in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam and later joined the River Rouge Police Department downstate. A criminal justice graduate from the University of Detroit, Cannon joined the Michigan National Guard and the Kalkaska County Sheriff's Department in 1977. A decade later, Cannon became Kalkaska County Sheriff and was re-elected four times.
He was later deployed overseas with the National Guard. He returned in 2003 and was promoted to brigadier general and in 2006, major general. Before retiring from the Guard in 2011, Cannon was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and 2010.
He said he had to think about whether to run for Congress. Friends and advisors told him it was the right thing for him to do and that he was ready.
"That's what I thought about. All the things that I've done maybe were just training and developing me to go to this level, a very complex level," he said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying things in Washington are easy - very complex. But I've been in strategic environments and very complex situations and made things happen with people that didn't even want to look me in the eye - people that didn't even want me in the room, people didn't want me in their town."
Cannon said his retirement didn't last long.
"I've still got the fire in my belly. I want to do things. I want to make things better," he said. "And so I think I can do that. I have the attitude for it and I have some aptitude for it and I think the measure of success will be what happens. What did you get done? What were you able to accomplish? I can point to a lot of things that I've accomplished over my professional life. I think now we can take things to the next level and see what we can do from there."
Cannon said he approaches problems by understanding the issue, laying out a plan in a systematic way and getting the right people in the room, at the table.
As an example, he said helping returning veterans find jobs is one way to help reduce the risk of suicides. Cannon said he worked to help amend curriculum requirements so military police officers could transition more easily to working in Michigan as civilian police officers, an idea that he said has since been adopted by a handful of other states.
"I think you can take that whole idea and apply it across the board, it doesn't have to just be a veteran's issue. It can be a Social Security issue. You can do all these things if you want to," he said. "You've got to want to do it. You've got to want to take care of people."
Cannon said he thinks Benishek - a general surgeon in the U.P. for 30 years - has the "wrong prescription for Michigan."
"I think I can make a difference. I think I can do better and I think it's going to boil down to an issue of leadership, leadership that you can count on, leadership you can trust," Cannon said.
He said first and foremost, "It's all about constituent service and taking care of the people of the district and the best interest of the district."
From mining, forestry, universities, infrastructure and the Great Lakes, Cannon said he would like to ensure there are plans for the future in place. Jobs and the economy are the biggest concerns for the district's people, who he says despite their geographic differences share more things alike than unalike.
He said answers to challenging problems likely lie close to home.
"It is not simple by any means. But no is not a plan, no is not an answer. We need to ... get after it. Let's talk about it. Let's try to be the spark plug to kind of make some things happen," Cannon said. "And I think the answer to that is in the local leaders. I think personally government is best that's closest to the people. That's where everything gets done right. But I think Washington and Lansing can be a bigger or better partner than they've been. Not run it, 'cause they don't get it. But they can be a good partner."
Cannon said all of his life has been about service, including his candidacy.
"That's what I've done. That's what I'm good at. I'm not a spring chicken by any means so I'm not the next Bart Stupak. I probably don't have 30 years in me to do this," Cannon said. "But I think with the right mindset you can go there and you can make the kind of inroads you need to kind of get the country pointed in the right direction and take care of the people in this district."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.