MARQUETTE - As spring finally arrives in the Upper Peninsula, two Democratic candidates for the 38th district state senate seat are readying their campaigns for the months ahead.
The 38th district includes Alger, Baraga, Delta, Dickinson, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw, Luce, Marquette, Menominee, Ontonagon and Schoolcraft counties.
Marquette resident Adam Robarge, 38, moved to the U.P. 15 years ago from Alpena, intending on eventually moving out west. The natural beauty of the area and the community-oriented people who live here are what he said caused him to stay.
While in Marquette, Robarge earned a bachelor's degree from Northern Michigan University in Earth Science. He is currently the community liaison for the Ore Dock Brewing Company in Marquette.
Gladstone resident Chris LaMarche, 22, is currently a senior at Michigan State University. He will graduate in May with a bachelor's degree, majoring in microbiology and genetics with a minor in science policy. LaMarche interned last summer for the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, of which Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, is the chairwoman. He describes himself as an avid hunter and fisherman.
Robarge officially announced his candidacy Saturday with an event at the Ore Dock, speaking briefly on several issues during a short presentation before talking one-on-one with the people gathered in the brewery's community space.
Robarge said any great endeavor throughout the course of history has always required two things: Courage and a map.
"I believe that courage is easily found amongst all of us here today," Robarge said Saturday. "Certainly I believe it can be found in myself, so what's left then is really the creation of a map."
Robarge said everyone has a personal map with different points of significance but said he hopes to tour the district, listening to people's ideas in order to create one, cohesive map for the future of the U.P.
For Robarge, that map would include the wise management of natural resources, a living wage for Michigan workers, restoring "tax fairness" to retirees and single-parent homes, a larger investment in per pupil funding for public schools, promoting a skilled labor force along with a well-educated one and the fostering of entrepreneurship within the state.
Robarge first became interested in the political process with the enactment of the state's wolf hunt. He said he wrote letters to the state legislature and even traveled to Lansing to speak out against it.
He said once there he was disappointed in how state government was running.
"What I found down there was really not a representative democracy at all," Robarge said. "In the best case scenario we're being underrepresented. And in the worse case scenario we're being misrepresented."
Robarge said as he tours the district, he hopes to light a political fire in the hearts of people who feel their government does not work for them.
"I want to empower people to feel like they're part of our government," Robarge said.
Robarge said his willingness to listen to and engage the entire constituency of the 38th district is what sets him apart from incumbent state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba.
LaMarche has not officially announced his candidacy for the state senate seat, planning to do so following his May graduation from MSU, but has filed paperwork with the state to be placed on the primary ballot.
Though he'd always been interested in politics, LaMarche said his interest peaked during the right-to-work controversy, attending right-to-work rallies outside the Capitol.
LaMarche said he felt he could make a positive difference and saw Casperson as a politician who was "in office not doing it right."
"He's gotten good at being a politician, but I think maybe he's forgotten about what it's like being a citizen," LaMarche said.
LaMarche said his stance on labor issues and the middle class are in stark contrast with those of Casperson.
"He sometimes says he's a supporter of labor but I think his voting record shows otherwise," LaMarche said. "I'm a big supporter of the middle class and I think Tom Casperson has shown with his votes on a few different things - education funding, his stance on the minimum wage - he's not quite as much of a defender of the middle class."
LaMarche said he believes in a minimum wage of $10.10, and if elected would work to increase public education funding, repeal right-to-work and emergency manager legislation, invest more in infrastructure and ensure the quality of the natural environment in the U.P. is maintained.
"I am a young guy. I am 22, and what I think that means is that I haven't been corrupted by the system," LaMarche said. "I still believe that the government can work for the people."
Following the Aug. 5 primary, either Robarge or LaMarche will face off against Casperson.
For more information on Robarge, visit his website, www.adamrobarge.com.
For more information on LaMarche, visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LaMarcheforSenate.
Robarge and LaMarche could also find themselves with more opponents, as the deadline to file for a spot on the primary ballot is April 22.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.