---- — Those who cherish Outdoor Michigan — including the impact of the Great Lakes on the state's economy and recreation — found much to applaud in Gov. Rick Snyder's budget message last week.
While much of the media coverage highlighted what Snyder proposed on education, Medicaid, and roads, there's a buzz in the conservation world on such steps as these:
n A base hunting license fee of $10 for Michigan residents and $150 for nonresidents. It would cover small game and migratory birds and water fowl, but licenses for deer and some other game would be needed beyond the base fee.
n Fishing licenses would be simplified as the Department of Natural Resources shifts from a system base on species to one based on one price for all. Cost of a one-day license would go from $7 to $15 while the seasonal cost for all species would go from $28 to $25 from for residents, and increase from $42 to $75 for non-residents.
n What this adds up to is a 38 percent increase in revenue for hunting and fishing licenses from $48.2 million to $66.6 million. It would enable the DNR to increase the number of conservation officers from 173 to 214. (Snyder's budget also wisely provides for more state troopers.)
n In reaction, Executive Director Erin McDonough of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs said: "We are in favor of simplifying regulations and in having an easy-to-understand licensing system so long as it means the end result is a better system and better on-the-ground investments for sportsmen and women.
"We are currently evaluating the proposal and taking a hard look at current DNR spending. For the last year, at the request of our members, we've worked with the Department to improve transparency and to get the information we need to be able to understand how our licenses fees are spent and where they should be focused in the future. We appreciate the Snyder administration's commitment to measurable results and openness to helping us answer the question: 'Where are our license fees spent?' We look forward to working with the Governor, the DNR and our members in this process."
n A highly commendable Snyder proposal is to spend $25.5 million for dredging harbors around the Great Lakes to cope with record-low water levels that threaten to make many of Michigan's boating accesses unusable this summer. The MUCC's McDonough said:
"Ensuring access to our lakes is not only important to our members and those who love to fish and boat, it's also vital to the state's economy. Without access to the Great Lakes, Michigan's $3 billion sport fishing industry would take a big hit."
Over the decades, the Michigan Democratic Party has had some notable chairmen who had an impact beyond Michigan, including 1950-61 Neil Staebler, who went on to Congress, and 1983-89 Rick Wiener, who made a credible but unsuccessful bid to chair the national party.
But no one had the tenure (in either state party) and smash-mouth spunk of current chairman Mark Brewer, who has presided since 1995 (including a time essentially as co-chair) and with six terms as national chair of Democratic state chairmen.
In 2010, newly-elected Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm wanted close friend Butch Hollowell to replace Brewer. But the United Auto Workers, dominant in the party's convention dynamics, intervened to keep Brewer the mix — although out of the choice office space in party headquarters.
After Hollowell had personal legal problems, Brewer resumed undisputed top role and has been the biggest thorn in the side of Gov. Rick Snyder and the rest of the GOP. When Republicans have their periodic confabs on Mackinac Island, Brewer circulates on the sidelines to provide counter points.
I once had a personal in-your-face Brewer experience. At a national Democratic Convention in Chicago, at a time when most reporters at The Detroit News (where I then worked) were on strike, I attended a Michigan delegation reception sponsored by Chrysler and the UAW. Brewer asked what I was doing there. When I said I was invited by Chrysler, he said I better "watch your knees." I took it not as threat as much as a memorable reflection of Brewer's commitment to stand for what is important to labor.
A big question in Michigan politics this month is how much of labor will stand for Brewer as he stands for reelection.
The UAW, as well as the entire Michigan Democratic Congressional delegation, favors replacing Brewer with Lon Johnson of Kalkaska County, who in November lost a legislative race to Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City.
But Brewer will have many allies at the Feb. 23 Democratic State Convention in Detroit, including the Michigan Education and the Michigan Laborers. As of this writing, he has support of 60 local Democrat chairs. He has substantial backing Up North, including party chairs of the 1st, 2nd and 3th congressional districts.
Among the 60 are the chairs in the Upper Peninsula counties of Delta, Dickinson, Houghton, Iron, Luce, Mackinac, Marquette, Menominee, Ontonagon and Schoolcraft. In the northern lower: the counties of Cheboygan Emmet, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Manistee.
In announcing local supporters, Brewer's release quoted Cheboygan County Chair Leonard Page: "Whenever I've had a problem or question, Mark Brewer has always been there with the answer."
George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.