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Former U.P. lawmaker Sen. Tom Casperson dies at 61

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Former state Sen. Tom Casperson, a former Upper Peninsula logging trucker who served 14 years in the state Legislature, died Sunday.

He was 61.

The Escanaba Republican had been diagnosed in 2018 with stage 4 lung cancer. He spent 27 years working in his family’s log-hauling business before serving in the state House from 2003-08 and in the state Senate from 2011-18. 

"Tom was the quintessential, hard-working guy who got fed up with government and decided to get involved, first through his trade association and later through his work as a legislator," said fellow Upper Peninsula lawmaker, Sen. Ed McBroom.

Tom Casperson

Casperson had been working as an aide for McBroom since 2018, but had been on sick leave for roughly four weeks, McBroom said.  

Casperson's work in the Legislature often focused on forest management, logging, mining, wolf hunting and environmental issues. His environmental and natural resource bills often were controversial as he worked to rein in regulations he believed were impractical and too far-reaching. 

“I’ve been working on making our government more responsive to the people,” Casperson told The Detroit News in 2015 as he launched an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Congress.

The former senator wasn't afraid to vote against the party line either.

In 2012, he was one of a few Republicans in the Legislature to vote against right-to-work legislation that banned union fees as a condition of employment. The decision came after Casperson worked closely with mining and operating engineers unions to bring more jobs to the Upper Peninsula.

“It was too much for me,” he told The News in 2016. “I didn’t think it was fair to them.”

More than his work in the Legislature or in the logging business, Casperson's faith and family were the "overarching principles in his life," McBroom said. He was an "inspiration" to U.P. residents seeking to one day run for office.

"He did big things and little things to make the system work better for the people and not just special interest groups — from one side or the other," McBroom said. "Tom was about the special interests of the people.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to order the U.S. and State of Michigan flags lowered after the former senator's funeral arrangements are announced. Casperson, she said, ensured Yoopers "voices were heard" during the legislative process. 

"While our politics varied, Tom proved that it was still possible to find common ground and work together to do right by the people of Michigan," Whitmer said in a statement. "As Senate Democratic Leader, I was proud to work across the aisle with state Senator Casperson to expand health care coverage through the Healthy Michigan plan, which now ensures coverage for more than 800,000 Michiganders across our state."

The Senate GOP caucus called Casperson a "titan of the Upper Peninsula" in a Tweet Sunday and state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, celebrated the former senator's legislative work.

"He accomplished more in 14 years than most do in 40," LaFave wrote on Twitter. "He was the man the UP needed. Intelligent, humble, funny. When the history books are written about UP political giants, it will read 'Dominic Jacobetti, Joe Mack, and Tom Casperson.'"

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, sent his condolences to Casperson's family in a statement Sunday that focused on the former lawmaker's commitment to the U.P. 

"If you knew one thing about Tom, it was how much he loved the U.P. and everyone who lives there," Ananich said. "He brought that passion for his community to the Legislature every single day that he served."

Casperson was "a courageous patriot" and "tenacious advocate" for the Upper Peninsula, said U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland.

"His work will benefit U.P. communities for decades to come and I join Tom's family and friends in mourning his passing," Moolenaar said in a statement. 

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox, a former state lawmaker who served with Casperson in the Legislature, also mourned his passing Sunday. 

"Tom Casperson will be remembered for his dedicated service to the Upper Peninsula, and he will stand as an example for future generations of public servants looking to better their communities," Cox said in a statement. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com