KALAMAZOO – “Let’s stop talking about electing people who support organized labor. Let’s start talking about electing me, because I am organized labor.”
So says Dave Buskirk, a 45-year member of IBEW Local 131, who is putting his labor background front and center as he seeks to get elected to the Michigan House of Representatives, 60th District.
A Kalamazoo County Commissioner for the last 20 years, Buskirk, a Democrat, decided last April to make a run for the state representative spot when it became an open seat as a result of the redistricting process. He said he expects competition in the August primary this year – which will likely be more important than the general election because of the strong Democratic majority in the district.
He said with a foot of snow on the ground in Kalamazoo, campaigning door to door this winter hasn’t been a viable option, but he has been working the phones and lining up support until the real work starts in the spring.
“My wife Toni is 110 percent behind my decision to run, and there were a lot of others who also urged me to give it a try,” Buskirk said. “I know that this is going to a building trades audience, and my message is that our members have the political tool, their vote, to put one of their own into the state House. I am a building tradesman. I will support organized labor.”
Buskirk, 62, first got into politics 22 years ago, when he was appointed to the Kalamazoo County Airport Authority Board after speaking out against a proposal to lift night-time flight restrictions. He has also served on the county’s Veteran’s Commission and Mental Health Board.
Buskirk has served on the Board of Directors and as Vice Chairman MRC-Kalamazoo, a nonprofit group which helps put developmentally disabled people to work, and on the Board of Directors of the Kalamazoo County Drug Court Foundation. He has also served on the Executive Board of the Kalamazoo County Democratic Party.
As an IBEW electrician, Buskirk worked “just about everywhere in Kalamazoo” on a service truck, and on projects like erecting the high-rise Hinman Building and Kalamazoo Central High School. He served on the union’s Apprenticeship Committee, as local union vice president, and as Local 131’s president from 1987-1999. He is retiring from the IBEW at the end of February.
He called passage of the state’s right-to-work law just over a year ago “a tragedy, and I’m going to work very hard to reverse it. It has created nothing but animosity.”
Other priorities seen by Buskirk include restoring cuts made to senior citizens’ pensions in Gov. Snyder’s first year of office. “Foremost,” he said, “I will focus my time on assuring that our policies and appropriations work for the retention and creation of jobs. I will also work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to make sure there is adequate funding for our local K-12 public education and our institutions of higher learning.”
Buskirk’s 60th District includes the City of Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Twp.
Last year, the Michigan AFL-CIO adopted a strategy to urge more union member participation in the political process. Buskirk got into politics to fight airplane noise, but he has since seen plenty of other ways he can make a difference. “We are the middle class, we have the vote to make our state a fairer place for working people,” he said. “But I would urge people to take that a step further, by considering running for their local school board or city council; start on a local level and see what a difference you can make. It’s important to have people from organized labor supporting each other.”