Michigan’s Superior Notion
Will the Upper Peninsula be the next state?

   Reprinted from Grand Marais Pilot & Pictured Rocks Review - 1977                          

Even at first glance, you can’t help but notice her beauty, this Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Her perfume of clean, open air is the sort you remember long after you’ve finished your visit with her. Beneath her beauty is a tranquil strength, which has withstood even the bitterest of winters.

  She’s rugged and she’s independent, and she’s been thinking of divorce from the Lower Peninsula for a long, long time.

   The Michigan’s were married in somewhat of a shotgun affair on June 15, 1836. Their nuptials were a direct result of the infamous Michigan-Ohio dispute, of the same year, in which one mule was shot, one Michigan sheriff was stabbed in the finger with a jackknife during a tavern scuffle, and Ohio acquired Toledo.

  Some nay sayers didn’t see much of a future for either peninsula. “From my observation the Territory appears to be not worth defending,” the U.S. commander at Fort Detroit said after an Indian massacre during the War of 1812. A resolution in the Michigan legislature once referred to the Upper Peninsula as “a sterile region on the shores of Lake Superior, destined by soil and climate to remain forever a wilderness.” Nonetheless, the newlyweds set off in search of compatibility.

    Marital bliss was brief. Sporadic talk of separate statehood for the Upper Peninsula has been traced back to 1850. Addressing the Calumet Businessmen’s Association January 5, 1916, Roger M. Andrews, of Menominee, called for the Upper Peninsula to become the 49th state. While the notion was making the rounds, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union. In 1959 an Ironwood man, Ted Albert, captured a spate of publicity by writing a bill of complaint for divorce, naming the Upper Peninsula the plaintiff and the Lower Peninsula the defendant.

  Albert wrote that the Lower Peninsula “committed acts of nonsupport, cruel and inhuman treatment.” The plaintiff was subject to “great shame and mental suffering, and on occasions too numerous to mention, (the defendant) accused plaintiff without cause or justification of failing to properly provide for the home of the parties hereto.” The Lower Peninsula, Albert said, “has claimed the plaintiff is too distant, too cold, too unwieldy, too hard to handle, and for that reason, deprives plaintiff of any warm and close association.”

   “Plaintiff and defendant have had financial troubles, and, although plaintiff has warned and cautioned defendant not to spend money foolishly and not to increase unreasonably the cost of maintaining a home of the parties, defendant has refused to listen and shows lack of attention or consideration,” Albert wrote .

The Upper Peninsula, Albert said, wants to change her name to Superior.

  Albert has a list of grievances, which he uses to support his contention that the Upper Peninsula is a beautiful but besmirched partner in the marriage. He refers to rest areas along I-75 in the Lower Peninsula, which have heated restrooms “With piped in music for the happy truck drivers.”

  “You get up here and you get outhouses,” he said.

  And there are other little insults which Albert says give the Upper Peninsula basis for her inferiority complex – like the logo for the Dateline Michigan Column in the Detroit News which showed a map of Michigan, minus the Upper Peninsula, until April when Albert complained.

  According to Albert, the inscription on the state seal, with its singular Latin “peninsulum” is talking about only one peninsula – the lower.

   “Despite many years of economic intercourse with the bountiful plaintiff, resulting and rebounding to the benefit of the defendant, the Lower Peninsula has not put the Official Seal of Approval on plaintiff. In fact, the family seal, which the defendant proudly displays, does not refer to or include plaintiff,” the bill of complaint states.

  Albert, a 59-year-old criminal lawyer, has to be one of the Upper Peninsula’s more interesting offspring. He’s stocky, grey at the temples and balding on top. His gentle, brown eyes wince and he cowers slightly when he’s chastised for not eating enough at the supper table. He’s a soft-spoken man, until he starts talking about the slights suffered by the Upper Peninsula and why she should be a state in herself. His voice gets louder and louder as he talks. His eyes become so intense you almost expect them to smolder.

  In 1974 The U.P. 51st State of Superior was incorporated with Albert as president. He later named himself “De facto governor of the de facto State of Superior.” He set up office in the Albert Building, one of many owned by his family in Ironwood. The purpose of the nonprofit, nonpartisan corporation was to study the feasibility of the Upper Peninsula as the 51st state.

    Albert’s fervor even ignited some passions in Wisconsin. In 1975 the Vilas County Board in Wisconsin, voted unanimously to appoint a committee to promote a new state made up of 16 Northern Wisconsin Counties and the Upper Peninsula. Those northern Wisconsin counties were “Completely at the political and economic mercy of the southern part of the state,” the county board’s resolution said.

  Two years later the Wisconsin effort had lost its team. Frances Duffault, Chairman of the Vilas County Board, said in July that Vilas County didn’t get much support for the plan because the other 15 counties were getting more support from the State of Wisconsin.

   Albert says the probing period for his organization is over and it’s time to start acting. He plans to file suit in federal court charging that the U.S. Congress had no right to give the Upper Peninsula to the Lower Peninsula because the Upper Peninsula belonged to the Indians at the time of the marriage. Albert says he’s delaying the suit until he can get approval from the U.S. Attorney General and the Indians.

   And when will that be? “They’re making the headdress now,” he said with a laugh.

  The Upper Peninsula’s offspring certainly aren’t without their rivalries. When State Rep. Dominic Jacobetti, a Democrat from Negaunee, joined the cause and named himself governor, Albert saw him as a politician looking for ink.

  “I hope the state bird craps on his head,” Albert said.

   The feeling is mutual. “He (Albert) doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s not progressive. He’s regressive. He has no following and everything he touches turns sour,” Jacobetti said. “He would destroy the effort.”

    But Jacobetti said he doesn’t have to overcome Albert to see the Upper Peninsula named the 51st State. “I don’t even know he exists,” Jacobetti said. “I’ve been in the legislature 23 years. I’ve got the highest seniority and I’m chairman of the Appropriations Committee.”

   Jacobetti’s clout has nudged the effort along fruitful channels. He asked State Attorney General Frank J. Kelley whether there were any constitutional deficiencies in the process by which the Upper Peninsula became part of the State of Michigan. In January 1976 Kelley ruled that the decision of congress to include the Upper Peninsula within the boundaries of the State of Michigan is not subject to challenge. He further said that the Upper Peninsula may become a separate state if the state legislature and the residents of the Upper Peninsula agree to the separation; if the representatives of the area adopt a constitution and petition the U.S. Congress for admission; and if the majority of congress admits the new state.

  Like a January morning in Houghton, the legislative machinery favoring a 51st state seems stubbornly frozen. During the 1975-76 legislature a special committee was formed, with Jacobetti as a member, to study the feasibility of separate statehood for the Upper Peninsula. The committee never returned a report because it never held any hearings.

  Albert and Jacobetti, with their shoulders and their table thumping, contrast with another son of the Upper Peninsula, John Jamrich, a studied man and President of Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

   “I happen to believe that the Upper Peninsula is in some ways a sleeping giant in terms of potential economic natural development,” Jamrich said. “Lake Superior has fantastic harbor potential. The mineral future and the lumber future are part of that.”

  “I think (statehood for the Upper Peninsula) is legally possible. But my guess, based on a casual look at figures, is that it is probably not practical,” he said.

According to Jamrich, the operating budget for the five state-supported post secondary schools in the Upper Peninsula was $37 million last year.

“Where does one derive funds to support them?” he asked. “I might be pleasantly surprised and find some taxes might do it. I think it’s a marginal situation.”

“One has to look at the fact that there are areas of neglect (on the part of the state toward the Upper Peninsula).

  We need better roads, better public transportation. Look at Pictured Rocks National Park in Grand Marais and Munising. They took it off the tax rolls but the federal government put very little money into the park. But who knows, the government might not give us any money for the part even if we were a state,” he said.

  To hear the president of a university, which could lose a great deal through statehood, take the idea half seriously was a surprise, particularly to Jim Tretheway, a semi-retired editor who has put in 42 years with the Marquette Mining Journal.

   About two years ago Tretheway, who now edits a once-a-week business page for the Mining Journal, studied the dollars involved in separate statehood for the Upper Peninsula. He found that her 300,000 residents pay something less than $100 million in taxes yearly. When he looked at the operating budgets for the schools and hospitals, plus capital expenditures and road and welfare costs, he found that separate statehood for the Upper Peninsula was “economically unfeasible.”

   “It’s a good political gimmick,” Tretheway said. “It’s a great way to get publicity for the Upper Peninsula. But it’s a pie-in-the-sky dream.”

  But her attorney, Albert, argues that a tax on all her ore and revenues from legalized gambling added to the funds she gets from current taxes could support a unicameral legislature to run a barebones government.

  Legalized gambling might have a tough time meeting with the approval of the Upper Peninsula’s residents, particularly since Albert talks alternately about “an innocuous lottery” and the Upper Peninsula as “the Monte Carlo of the Midwest.”

  Her children on her western half love to dream about separate statehood, but when it came to a vote two years ago in two of the western countries 15% of the residents turned out to nix the idea 2-1. Those in the eastern half mostly scoff at the notion.

  “What’s the use of getting all stirred up, especially when you’ve already got high blood pressure?” asked Hulda Riordan. She paused to think about statehood as she dug into her second piece of homemade pie at the Golden Grill, a combination restaurant, grocery store, gift shop and bus stop in Seney. She and her husband, John, who started with the railroad in the Upper Peninsula as a telegraph operator 61 years ago, stop in the restaurant pretty near every day. Like most of the folks they visit with at the restaurant have their own complaints against and about the Lower Peninsula. They don’t like the “snake trails” they have for main highways and the “dreadful tax we pay and don’t even get anything for it.”

  “They (the Lower Peninsula) think we’re a bunch of dummies,” Hulda said.

  But separate statehood? No way. “We couldn’t be centralized enough. We’re too spread out and it would take even more tax,” John said.

  At least one manager of cabins on the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula thinks separate statehood would hurt the area because outdoor enthusiasts from the Lower Peninsula wouldn’t buy an additional license to hunt and fish.

  So will she go through with the divorce?? Probably not!!!

   In some respects she’s just too proud. As a store owner in Hulbert’s Corners said, “The Upper Peninsula should stay as it is. The Lower Peninsula should be the 51st state.”

    Glad we’re all one state and love where we live – we all go downstate and they come up north!