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Rep. Benishek will seek fourth term in Congress

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Rep. Dan Benishek, a surgeon from the western Upper Pennisula who pledged in 2010 to serve three terms in Congress, said Wednesday he will seek re-election in 2016.

The Crystal Falls Republican, 62, said in a statement he will seek a fourth term because he remains concerned that veterans, especially in the Upper Peninsula, aren’t receiving the benefits to which they are entitled.

“Serving Northern Michigan has been — and continues to be — a privilege, and it is my sincere hope that the voters of the 1st district will allow me to continue representing them and their families,” Benishek said in a statement issued by his campaign.

“I recognize this conflicts with past statements I made when first running for office. After serving our veterans for 20 years as a doctor in our local VA hospitals, and now as the only Michigan member on the House Veterans Committee, I know that there is more work that must be done to ensure veterans are getting the benefits they have earned.”

In Michigan, VA facilities in the Upper Peninsula have the highest rates of appointments scheduled beyond 30 days as of March 1 — 7.85 percent in Iron Mountain and 12.2 percent in Marquette, according to Veterans Administration data.

Benishek is on the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Veterans Affairs committees — and has taken a big role in military issues. He has worked with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on efforts to fight sexual assault in the military. He is the father of a daughter who is a veteran.

The Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson, criticized Benishek for being “out of touch with the needs of Northern Michigan, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s breaking his three-term pledge by running for a fourth term in Congress. Congressman Benishek has repeatedly embraced the wrong priorities for Northern Michigan families, instead of working to build a state where we can stay and succeed.”

Benishek last year was re-elected 52-45 percent over Democrat Jerry Cannon of Traverse City, a retired general who was recruited to oppose the incumbent. It was a much easier victory than in 2012, when Benishek defeated Democratic challenger Gary McDowell by fewer than 2,300 votes.

Benishek originally ran for office after being outraged by the $800 billion stimulus bill approved in 2009. He went from a political unknown to appearing on Fox News’ Sean Hannity television show, bashing the federal health care legislation supported by his predecessor, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee.

Benishek, with the backing of tea party enthusiasts, upset state Sen. Jason Allen by 15 votes out of 57,000 votes cast in the 2010 GOP primary.

Born in Iron River, Benishek was 5 when his father died in a mining accident; his mother raised him and his younger brother. Benishek’s mother worked at his grandmother's hotel and bar, and the boys grew up making beds, mopping floors and hauling beer after school making $10 a week.

After he graduated from West Iron County High School, he had $2,000 to head off to the University of Michigan. Driving to campus his freshman year was his first time to the Lower Peninsula, resulting in culture shock when he arrived in Ann Arbor. After UM, Benishek attended Wayne State University for medical school and then went home.

Only Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, has said she won’t run again in 2016 in the Michigan congressional delegation. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said this month he will seek re-election.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com