BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, NEWS EDITOR
Michigan’s First District U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek recently talked with the Boyne City Gazette to elaborate on his decision not to seek a fourth term.
Benishek made his intention public in mid-September, and his main reason for doing so may surprise you.
“I spent more time home as a doctor than I did at this job,” said Benishek from his Washington, D.C., office on Wednesday Oct. 28… “Even when I was back in Michigan, I was very seldom home.”
The congressman’s district, which includes Charlevoix County, covers the north half of the state—a tremendous area, especially for a job that requires nearly constant campaigning.
“I’ve met a lot of wonderful people but … the family needs some attention, and I decided that it would be better to spend more time with them,” Benishek said. “It’s not only me. It’s my wife, too. She’s on the road a lot with me, too.”
Benishek, who has children and grandchildren around the country, said he simply cannot continue in his position and make the time for his family that both he and his wife would like to.
Benishek said he’s not sure what else he will do with his free time once his term is up next year.
“I think I may try to find some work in Northern Michigan,” said Benishek, who is a board certified and licensed doctor. “I’m not sure that I’m going to do major surgery but I’m hoping to find some medical gig.”
He added, “I just haven’t made any firm decision as to what’s going to happen yet. It’s still over a year away so there will be plenty of time to think about that.”
Benishek said his time in office has been an amazing experience.
“I never thought I would do this job in my life,” he said. “I thought I’d be a doctor in Northern Michigan all the time. I ran for office because I was worried about what was going to happen to my kids and grand-kids, and spending money we don’t have.”
Benishek said that, while it has been frustrating dealing with the Obama administration, he is pleased about a number of accomplishments he has achieved as a congressman.
Some of his work has involved helping veterans get the services they need, a reorganization in how Sleeping Bear Dunes is managed, and a major farm bill.
So far, Benishek has had several pieces of legislation which have made it to President Obama’s desk.
“I think we’ve had four or five pieces of legislation that I’ve sponsored actually signed by the president into law,” he said. “And, really, that’s not a bad record. I’m pretty proud of that.”
One of those laws allows military groups like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars to utilize surplus governmental properties.
“I’ve done fairly well for a guy from Northern Michigan who’s been here five years,” he said. “I’ve got quite a bit of legislation passed.”
Benishek added, “There’s some guys been here longer than me and never passed a thing.”
The most difficult part of the job for Benishek—other than being away from his family—is the snail’s pace at which the government moves.
“It’s just so much slower than I’m used to working,” he said… “As a surgeon, we find a problem, we operate on someone, we solve the problem, and we send them home… This job is much slower. You’ve got to pass it in the House, you’ve got to get the Senate to agree, the White House has been difficult to work with, so it’s a much more frustrating process.”
Benishek discussed some of the popular misconceptions people tend to have about congress—chiefly that nobody there is working.
“The members here are so accomplished, they’re so amazingly gifted and it really has been a pleasure to be among them,” he said. “They work really hard and it’s difficult to explain to somebody on the outside. Once you’re in, you realize these people are working really hard to try to get what they believe is the right thing for the country done.”
Benishek added, “The other thing is meeting all the great people in Northern Michigan. I’ve met so many great people, traveling to all the villages and towns and cities across Northern Michigan.”
Benishek said the other lesson he learned from his time in office is that making change happen is much easier said than done.
“The idea that when you go there to—for example—I wanted to balance the budget. Well, that didn’t happen. We’ve cut down the deficit since I’ve been here but we were unable to get as much spending cuts and reforms as I wanted and sometimes people on the outside don’t see how hard we’re trying to get more done but it’s because we don’t have a super-majority or the senate won’t vote or the president’s opposed to it,” Benishek said. “We can’t get everything they want and sometimes compromise and getting incremental improvements is the best we can do. And, that is something people sometimes don’t understand if you’re not actually here.”
Benishek said he is putting a team together to create an action plan to help veterans more. He will continue hosting his veterans assistance fairs, which help veterans work with people who can help them get the benefits they have earned.
Benishek’s work has helped more than 700 veterans in Northern Michigan get the help they need.
“And, we’re continuing to hold the administration responsible for all the failures of the VA and make sure the American people know about that and that we get continued improvement there,” he said.
Benishek’s advice for those considering running for his seat: “Stay true to yourself. Work really hard.”
The congressman, who was interviewed the day of the third Republican presidential primary forum, said he wasn’t ready to pick a favorite just yet.
“I’m still making up my mind like everybody else,” Benishek said. “It’s going to be quite a race.”
Benishek closed the interview by reminding his constituents that he is in office to serve them regardless of their governmental issue. He can be reached by calling (202) 225-4735.
(CORRECTION: It was incorrectly stated in the Wednesday Oct. 28 edition of the Boyne City Gazette that Benishek would not seek a third term. He is currently serving in his third term.)