I will never forget that moment. And eventually, I did plant that tree, keeping in mind the man that gave it to me.
Years later, four days before the election in '04, a group of protesters stood outside DeVos Place, where George Bush was scheduled to speak. Now a Congressman, Vern Ehlers addressed the audience inside, and then walked out alone to speak to the chanting, sign-carrying crowd of people. "They let you wander out here by yourself?", I asked, smiling as I shook his hand. He turned, looked at the sharp shooters on the building, and said something to the effect of, "I'd better be careful!", as if he were more afraid of them than the crowd. He chatted with a bunch of people, answering questions from those on "the left" sporting their Kerry signs, eventually getting in his car and leaving before the President appeared. I had to smile at that.
Today, that man who gave me a tree and made time to talk with those who held opposing views, announced his retirement from Congress. Although I will never see eye-to-eye with Vern Ehlers of course, I do believe he did his best to represent this area, and I thank him for his service.
Vern Ehlers announced he would not seek a 10th term in the US Congress this November, closing his long political career but opening a potentially wild race for the seat to represent Michigan's 3rd District.
Ehlers confirmed his plans to 24 Hour News 8.
"I don't want to stay in office so long that people will say you should have left five years ago," Ehlers said.
On Saturday, Ehlers celebrated his 76th birthday. "I don't have a savior complex. I don't believe I'm the only one who can do this job. I believe in the opportunity for others to serve and leave their imprint." He added, "I want to be sure I never stay beyond the point of being useful."
Service. A novel concept in today's Republican Party. Ehlers was one of the last moderate Republicans out there, with career accomplishments that helped to serve citizens through government action, as he emphasized education, especially in science and math. From his website, you can see he was not one of these new breed, drown government, Norquist Republicans - he wanted to make government work.
Ehlers joined Congress following a distinguished tenure of service in teaching, scientific research and public service. He has served on numerous boards and commissions and was elected to the Kent County (Mich.) Board of Commissioners, and the Michigan House and Senate. The first research physicist to serve in Congress, Ehlers has been recognized for his strong work ethic and proven leadership skills in his duties on Capitol Hill.
As a member of the 111th Congress, Ehlers serves on three standing House committees. He serves on the Science and Technology Committee (previously known as the House Science Committee). During his tenure on the committee, he oversaw in 1998 the writing of the nation’s first major statement on science policy since 1945. He also co-chairs the STEM Ed Caucus, which is dedicated to improving the nation's K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. On the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Ehlers has led efforts to secure a fair funding formula and more dollars for Michigan's roads, highways, and transit systems. In the 107th Congress, Ehlers led the development of the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which authorized spending $270 million over five years to clean up sediments in the Great Lakes. Ehlers also is a member of the Education and Labor (previously the Education and the Workforce) Committee, where he blends his efforts with the Science Committee on improving math and science education. Ehlers has served on the Science Committee and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since his arrival in Washington and joined the Education and Labor Committee in 1999.
Ehlers was previously on the House Administration Committee from 1995 to 2008, serving as Ranking Republican and Chairman. During his tenure on the committee, he was instrumental in the effort to connect the House of Representatives with the Internet and the creation of the Library of Congress’ Thomas website, which allows anyone to look up legislation being considered by Congress, laws that have been passed and other information about Congress.
WOOD listed some of his accomplishments during his time in the Michigan Legislature:
He counts among his political accomplishments: resolving garbage disposal issues while a Kent County Commissioner; implementing mandatory medical tests for all babies at birth while in the Michigan House; instituting statewide 9-1-1 emergency service as a Michigan Senator; and laying the groundwork for improving K-12 instruction in science, technology, education and mathematics as Congressman.
I never voted for Vern Ehlers, but I certainly did respect him. He comes from a time when compromise was possible, expected even, and this retirement comes with a sadness that it appears that time has now passed.
This leaves the 3rd district wide open. Grand Rapids is now a "blue" city, and Democrats have made strong inroads over here in the past few years. Will they find someone to take on the teabagger punk that would only be another member in the "Party of No" if he were elected? Grand Rapids needs a Representative that will serve the people, not an ideology.
Just what is Michael Sak up to nowadays?