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  • Writer's pictureBetsy Coffia

I was a 19-year-old newspaper reporter

Friend, I got my first professional job in 1997, as a reporter for a northern Michigan weekly newspaper. The staff consisted of my editor Jim, our advertising sales rep Janet, office manager Mary, and me. I covered all beats - courts, police blotter, school board, local government, community events, human interest features, etc. But one of the favorite stories I ever wrote involved the iconic rows of red pine trees that cover so much of northern Michigan, and a chance to meet the men who planted them.

Photo of a young Betsy sitting at a desk, wewaring a plaid shirt and smiling.
Photo of a young Betsy sitting at a desk, wewaring a plaid shirt and smiling.

Since I first saw them at age 5, staring out the window of our white station wagon during my family’s move from Valparaiso, Indiana to our new home in Rapid City, Michigan, I always wondered about those rows of trees. Fast forward to age 19. My editor assigned me to interview former members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), an initiative of former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. CCC was one of many New Deal government programs that pulled our nation out of the Great Depression. I’d never heard of the CCC. I drove that summer afternoon to a cabin in the woods to visit Charlie*, a former CCC member in his 80s. He was happy to visit, bringing out scrapbooks full of black and white photos, newspaper clippings and maps. His stories painted the picture of an out of work young man’s transition up from desperate poverty into a life of discipline, dignity and adventure. As a CCC worker he had 3 square meals, housing, and a paycheck, much of which he mailed home to support his struggling parents and siblings. Charlie told me about learning forestry and planting those rows of pines from seedlings. He explained how this project combatted the erosion that plagued Michigan after the timber industry clear cut of much of our state. Later, Charlie was assigned to a firefighting detail in Colorado. I listened in awe as he recalled being sent into a forest fire with a front loader tractor, racing time and walls of flames to build dirt berms as fire stops. I was captivated by his stories and a part of American history I’d never known. Listening to Charlie, I realized something very important - government could be a critical force for good, a key tool for lifting its people out of poverty, desperation and despair as the New Deal and the CCC did in the Great Depression. Visionary government policy and investment along with community engagement, could and DID bring us bridges, national parks, libraries, public schools, fire departments, rural electrification, Social Security, and more. I was enjoying that legacy. Over time, the lesson I learned that day with Charlie, led me to reject the cynical Reaganism I’d grown up with. It sparked a lifelong conviction - whether in your township hall, the legislature in Lansing or the halls of Congress, elected leaders have a solemn duty to work every day to bring opportunity, equity and HOPE for a better future. Friends, what Charlie taught me motivates me each day I serve as a 2-term Grand Traverse County Commissioner. And it is why I am running for the 103rd State House seat. Times are hard, the future is uncertain, and we need and deserve elected leaders committed to actually improving our people’s lives - whether it’s ensuring housing with dignity for all, fixing the damn roads, keeping our air and water clean from polluters, investing in our public schools or making sure we ALL have full access to physical and mental health care. Yet for too long, our state has been dominated by a handful of cynical politicians more interested in obstructing, finger pointing and throwing sand in the gears than in working together across the aisle to make government WORK for its people! As Sam Rayburn memorably put it, “A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.” I say we need more Charlies, more of us who are ready to roll up our sleeves and make our government work for us. I’m running for the 103 because I know we deserve more from our leaders. I’m ready to do the work to make life with dignity and opportunity, a reality for ALL of us. Because that’s what we deserve. Please help us spread the word, tell your friends, family and co-workers, chip in if you can and sign up to volunteer! Let's go WIN! ~ Betsy *real name not used

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