A lot has been done, but more work to do

By Rep. Joel Johnson

Guest Columnist

It seems like just yesterday I sat down to write an introduction of myself as your new state representative for the 97th District, and now six years have flown by and I’m writing my thanks and farewell to the people of Clare, Gladwin, Arenac, Osceola and Bay counties.

Serving our communities has been an honor and a privilege and I truly believe together we worked to achieve some tremendous accomplishments for our area and the state of Michigan.

One of the best experiences was being part of Michigan’s economic comeback from the Lost Decade as the state Legislature implemented policies so companies could compete, jobs could be created and people could get back to work. While there’s always more work to be done, our state’s unemployment rate is a fraction of where it was and people are feeling better about Michigan’s future every day. Like many parents and grandparents throughout our state, my wife and I were happy to welcome back one of our children who had moved out of state for work years ago due to a lack of opportunity in Michigan.

From a personal perspective, I hope that my constituents are pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish.

On the legislative side of the job, 18 of the bills I sponsored were signed into law – policies ranging from promoting local options for our children’s education, protecting Second Amendment rights, managing natural resources, improving tourism and downsizing government.

One of the first items I checked off my priority list was ensuring those in elected state office were not given special perks denied to the people they represent; we eliminated the free health care for life previously offered to lawmakers who may only have worked five years.

Another law I was so pleased to see success with was a change that opens the door for children to pursue skilled trades and vocational education paths in high school. The state’s Merit Curriculum graduation mandate was modified to allow for important flexibility that better matches class choices with individual students’ interests and aptitudes. I am very happy to have since learned that enrollment in career-based options is increasing within our high schools.

Other legislation became very meaningful to me due to the people who brought the issue forward. With the help and persistence of Tom Pirnstill, of Lake, who lost his wife to cancer and struggled to find a way to either safely dispose of or allow the drugs to be reused, we were able to enact a framework in Michigan.

As many high points successful legislation brought, there were also low points. It was with a heavy heart that I introduced a bill to name a portion of M-61 in Gladwin County a memorial highway for Trooper Jeffrey Werda of Gladwin, who was killed in 2011 in an automobile accident while responding to assist Saginaw County deputies.

These past six years have gone by fast in a roller-coaster of ups and downs, long debates and endless meetings, culminating in late nights working to midnight and beyond. Even during the busiest and most contentious of those times, I continued to learn more and build friendships I would have otherwise never made, including those with whom I agreed to disagree.

Back at home, my legislative work gave me the opportunity to attend countless remarkable local events throughout our region to learn and see the spectacular people, skills and passions our towns host. Those are the times that have made my service to you even more special. It has been extremely gratifying and indeed a pleasure to resolve the concerns people called in to me regrading state government and its departments. Putting names and faces together while visiting a county fair, senior center, community festival, town hall meeting, or any of the many other venues at which we may have crossed paths was rewarding for me all on its own.

While I’ll surely be seeing many of you around after I leave office, for now I look forward to spending time with my family members who have sacrificed so much to allow me the time to serve our state, including my wife Dawn and our 11 grandchildren, seven of whom joined our family while I did my best to make Michigan a better place for them and all of us.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve the 97th District these past six years, and I pray for God’s richest blessings upon you all.