Putting people first

Neal Rubin

From high up the Michigan map, Paul Beachnau has an interesting perspective on the grand bargain. He likes it.

From high up the Marriott Hotel at the RenCen a few weeks ago, he had an interesting perspective on Detroit. He liked that, too.

Beachnau, 51, serves as executive director of both the Gaylord Area Chamber of Commerce and the Gaylord Tourism Bureau. He’s also an Otsego County Commissioner.

In the standard Northern Michigan vs. Lower Michigan turf war, or outstate vs. Detroit, or rural vs. urban, he’s supposed to resent the $195 million contribution from the state of Michigan to help whisk the city out of bankruptcy and put Band-Aids on pension cuts.

But the state stepping in, he says, “is not about Detroit. It’s about people.”

He says he can name five Detroit police officers who have retired to Gaylord. He recognizes that other retirees who fixed snowplows or laid cement now pay their property taxes in his region or take vacations there.

“Why should retirees get a lousy deal,” he asks, “because the elected officials entrusted with the public’s care didn’t do their jobs?”

Why should reflexive resentment of Detroit slice the income — and the spending — of people who now call Hudsonville, Hillsdale or Homer home?

‘Politics aside’

Not all the objections to the grand bargain, of course, have come from north of Northville.

Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, voted against an entire package of bankruptcy bills, complaining of “intra-state colonialism.” Sen. Pat Colbeck, R-Canton, said tapping the state’s rainy day fund set a dangerous precedent.

But at a fundraiser for Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Beachnau heard Gov. Rick Snyder endorse the $195 million bailout with the phrase “politics aside,” and that stuck with him.

On this issue, Beachnau says, that’s where politics should be.

Part of his job is to sell his region at out-of-state trade shows: the Gaylord Golf Mecca, the fall colors, the snowmobiling, the Alpenfest every July.

No matter how many pictures he has of ski slopes, he often winds up discussing the historic downward trajectory of the one spot everybody has heard of.

“People might not know much about northern Michigan,” he says, “but they hear about Detroit. I’d much rather have them say, ‘Wow, what’s going on in Detroit sounds exciting.’”

That’s certainly how it seemed to him and his kids.

First time in Detroit

Abby and Timmy, 14 and 13, travel with their dad sometimes, but it struck him that they’d never spent time in their state’s largest city. So along with their friend Hunter Platte, 13, they did downtown Detroit.

A helpful hotel clerk gave them the highest room possible, and the group from Gaylord, population 3,622, wound up on the 60th floor, gazing all the way to Lake St. Clair.

They caught a game at Comerica Park, and it was among the best all season — a 5-4 victory over Oakland on Rajai Davis’ nin

th-inning grand slam.

“The stadium was electric,” Beachnau says. “It was phenomenal.”

They rode the People Mover to the ballpark. When Hunter mentioned that he’d never ridden in a cab, they hailed one on the way back.

Alerted that it was a momentous occasion, the driver played tour guide on the quick trip back to the hotel.

“Give her an extra-big tip,” Timmy said, and Beachnau did. But the hotel engineer who came upstairs to help solve an Xbox problem at 11:30 p.m. wouldn’t take one.

“No, sir,” he said. “I need to learn this stuff.”

The kids are still talking about the trip, he says — about the friendliness and optimism of everyone they came across — and asking when they can come back. He doesn’t have a settled date, but he’s sure they will.

He can’t guarantee another game-winning home run, but it occurs to him that there’s a parallel between a grand slam vacation and the grand bargain:

They’re both about the people.


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