Street Talk: Mini-MI to D.C.: They came, they saw, they had meetings


The contingent meeting with Eric Cantor, fourth from right in front row, included Bryan Harrison, Wes Eklund, Andy Johnston, Chris Glass, Terry Mulvihill, Jenn Groendyke, Jim Green, K.V. Lacks, Daniela Garcia, Jane Clark, Joy Gaasch, John and Audrey Weiss, Joe Gavan and U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga. Courtesy photo

Chamber leaders and members from Grand Rapids, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties used the waning days of April for a jam-packed, two-day visit to Washington, D.C., led by Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce President Rick Baker and Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs Andy Johnston.

The West Michigan crew had more than a little face time with the ambassadors from Canada, Mexico, Korea, Japan, Brazil and the Netherlands. Hours of discussion regarding “The Bridge,” Asian markets, medical device companies in Mexico and manufacturing in Brazil are likely to spur a series of hot topics and introductions back home for the foreseeable future.

The Right Place Inc. Vice President of Business Development Rick Chapla was said to have been actively engaged with economic interests and matches (and highly praised as the finder of the Irish pub offering refreshment for parched throats).

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids, had other plans for the time but did stop by to say ’bye. History buff and U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland, however, used his extensive knowledge to spend more than three hours showing the mini-MI delegation to parts and places of the Capitol usually reserved for national leaders, including the balcony from which President Barack Obama spoke. It was reported that Huizenga even had the entire group lie on their backs to contemplate the intricate historic details of the Capitol dome.

Most of the agenda and meetings had been established by Potomac Strategic Partners founder Steve Carey, who also arranged a meeting of well more than an hour with U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Chamber representatives said that discussion focused on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin also made the scene, but what was unexpected was Levin’s launch about “the conservative members West Michigan is electing to send to Washington.” Some in the group commented that while Levin was obviously disgusted by one-way politicos, his talk with the group was “impressive,” and “clearly communicated” the necessity of compromise as issues from every district are represented in the Capitol. He was paraphrased as emphasizing that “politics is about getting elected; good governance is about compromise.”

Levin, who announced his retirement earlier this year, is certainly involved in who his successor may be; Amash has not denied interest in the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

Oh, and Sen. Stabenow “is a nice lady.”

Other meetings included representatives and leaders within the Department of Defense (well liked by Muskegon representatives) and the departments of Labor, Transportation, Agriculture, Education and Energy. Lacks Industries was well represented by the Lacks family and K.V. Lacks’ immersion in manufacturing issues.

Johnston not only engaged discussion of The Bridge, but also Marge Byington’s Tunnel from Detroit. That was nice of him.

Market rates

The ribbon-cutting for the new Downtown Market last Monday drew many of the city’s bigger names, all of whom were excited to be a part of what city and business officials hope will be an economic driver in much the same way as Van Andel Arena.

Some, it seems, were just a bit more excited than others, however.

“I am so glad to have something to talk about other than water,” quipped Mayor George Heartwell during his public remarks.

When Business Journal reporter Charlsie Dewey took Grand Action’s David Frey aside for a private interview, former U.S. Ambassador to Italy Peter Secchia couldn’t resist adding his two cents to the chat.

“David, get a haircut,” Secchia said, barging onto the scene. “If you are going to do interviews, get a haircut.”

Frey saved his retort for his public comments, listing DeVos Place, Van Andel Arena and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine as pillars in the community — before correcting himself on the latter.

“I mean, Secchia Center … Secchia Center … Secchia Center,” which drew plenty of laughs.

Frey also took the opportunity to clarify a point many seemed to have difficulty with. “It’s the Downtown Market. That is the name: Downtown Market.”

OK, at least we are clear on that.

Bridge to nowhere

This one comes from the “does that really happen?” file.

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, announced last week he will be introducing a bill to stop the use of Bridge Cards in gentlemen’s clubs and liquor stores.

Last session, Lansing watchers might remember, Jones gained a little notoriety (but not too much publicity) when he sponsored legislation banning Bridge Cards from being used in casinos. Now, it seems, those who are supposed to be using the state aid for food and other essential items have re-prioritized their “necessities” just a bit.

“Recently, I was advised and shocked to learn that Bridge Cards could be used in gentlemen’s clubs and liquor stores,” Jones said. “It is an obscene use of tax dollars meant to feed hungry children and provide the necessities of life. Booze and strip clubs need to be off limits to welfare money.”

A new federal law requires each state to prevent access to electronic benefit transfer transactions at ATMs located in casinos, gaming establishments, liquor stores, or any establishment that provides adult-orientated entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment.

Jones said his legislation will bring the state into compliance to prevent a federal fine. He added that the Michigan Department of Human Services is in support of coming into compliance.

No official statement, yet, from the dancers.

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