It's hard to not see Joe Lukasiewicz's face smiling at you from the side of his Alpena campaign headquarters on Chisholm Street.
The Democrat candidate for the state Senate's 36th District jokes the poster has drawn almost as much attention as the ice cream stand next door. He's hoping to put his deep ties to northern Michigan and his love of the lakes, land and people there to use as a lawmaker in Lansing. Along with many other issues, he's especially hoping to tackle the region's double-digit unemployment rate.
"I think we're in the position at this point for the state of Michigan, we're about to hand off the state to the next generation in worse condition than what we inherited," he said. "That's why I'm running."
The district's unemployment stretches back for decades and isn't just a lingering effect of the 2009 downturn, Lukasiewicz said. Nine out of the district's 10 counties have persistent unemployment rates in the low to mid teens. Even Midland County, with chemical giant Dow as a major employer, has higher unemployment than the state and national levels. Too many young residents have to leave the area or the state to find work, and that separates families.
To fix this, Lukasiewicz said he has lots of ideas, firstly to invest in broadband and cell phone coverage in the region. It's impossible to draw in and hard to keep business without high-speed data and communications.
"That not only benefits business, but it benefits education," he said. "Our children have got to have access to high-speed Internet in order to learn properly."
Lukasiewicz said the state needs a well-educated workforce to draw new business. He wants the state to offer free tuition for the first two years of college, preferably for classes at a community college. He's not yet sure about how the state could pay for it, but other states do.
Workers could also be trained by encouraging more companies to take on interns and apprentices, Lukasiewicz said. Alpena Community College's underwater robotics program is another great example of expanding educational opportunities to meet the needs of an industry.
The state's schools should be paid for from the state's general fund, Lukasiewicz said. They're a critical function of state government. He's also concerned about public funds going to for-profit charter and cyber schools. As a lawmaker, he'd propose a moratorium on new charter schools and work to defund cyber schools.
To fix the roads, Lukasiewicz wants to amend the state Constitution so 100 percent of taxes collected for gas sales to go to roads, including sales tax. It could raise the money the state's roads need, and in the long term he wants to cut the fuel tax to give families more disposable income and bolster business profits.
"To raise the fuel tax at this point in time, it's going to kill tourism, it's going to kill job opportunities, it's going to kill businesses," he said. "It hurts us educationally if we've got our students commuting any great distance."
Lukasiewicz said he believes gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals are Americans and deserve the same civil rights and protections as anyone else.
After graduating from South Gate High School, Lukasiewicz attended Wayne County Community College, then Eastern Michigan University and eventually University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. His first job out of college was for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service at the Hammond Bay Biological Station, studying fish stocks and lamprey control. He went on to NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
After owning a family business and training troops and military contractors for the Department of Defense, Lukasiewicz is living in Greenbush and doing some conservation work in his retirement, he said. He's married to his wife Chris and has two daughters and a stepdaughter.
Lukasiewicz cares deeply about the Great Lakes and wants to protect them from invasive species, he said. As a business owner, he knows how to strike a balance between protecting the environment and making a profit, and he'll be a strong advocate for the district's farmers. He also wants to see more sustainable farming and forestry practices in the state.
Overall, Lukasiewicz said he believes Lansing is out of touch and that the state is on the verge of disaster. He's proud of the fact that he's never held a political office before, and has no desire to go beyond the state Senate.
"This is my opportunity to effect change that will affect not just the lives of my children and grandchildren and the state of Michigan, but those of every other Michigander," he said.