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Tom Casperson remembered for impact

Longtime U.P. legislator dies at 61

Daily Press file photo From left, outgoing State Sen. Tom Casperson speaks during a legislative update meeting held in 2018 at Escanaba City Hall as Delta County Clerk Nancy Przewrocki and Delta County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vickie Micheau look on.

ESCANABA — Tom Casperson, the Escanaba Republican who served in the state legislature for for 14 years, has died following a battle with lung cancer. He was 61.

Casperson served in the Michigan House of Representatives for six years, from 2002 to 2008, before being elected to the Michigan Senate in 2010. In 2018, he was forced to leave the legislature due to term limits.

Since Casperson’s death, legislators and others have reacted publicly, lauding the legislator for his work.

“Tom was a brother, a friend, a mentor, a confidant and a partner in both work and fun. He helped me get into professional politics and guided me every step of the way. To say that he meant the world to me would be an understatement,” said Senator Ed McBroom in a statement issued Monday. “He fought the good fight — in the logging business, in the halls of the state Capitol, against cancer — and did so humbly, with dignity and grace, yet with the spirit of a world champion. He attacked everything with passion. Big or small, he made the people’s issues his issues. To have Tom Casperson on your side was to have a teammate unwilling to quit, and that is part of what made him such a beloved and effective legislator in the U.P.”

Representative Beau LaFave posted on Facebook about Casperson’s impact late Sunday.

“Tom Casperson was a statesman who accomplished more for the UP than any other lawmaker since term-limits. A small sample of what he will be remembered for is making log-trucks safer, establishing a wolf-hunt, and protecting wood stoves from an overreaching federal government. He got funding for Pine Mountain Ski Jump, NMU, and the UP State Fairgrounds in his final year alone. I always looked up to Tom as a mentor. It was the honor of a lifetime to work alongside him for 2 short but very productive years,” he wrote.

Even outside of the state legislature, groups responded to Casperson’s death. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network issued a statement Monday.

“During Sen. Casperson’s tenure, he was a part of the effort to expand Michigan’s Medicaid program, he supported increasing funding for tobacco prevention, was a ferocious supporter of oral chemo fairness legislation and other important issues facing cancer patients,” said Andrew Schepers, government relations director in Michigan for ACS CAN, who also expressed condolences for the Casperson family.

Prior to being elected to the legislature, Casperson worked for 27 years in his family’s log trucking business, Casperson & Son Trucking, including 12 years as its owner and operator. It was his experience in logging and trucking that prompted his run for office.

In 1998, a woman was killed in Segola Township when a truck carrying cross-hauled veneer oak logs lost its load, crushing the 36-year-old woman’s minivan she was driving. Her two-year-old daughter was also injured and died a few days later. While Casperson and his family were not involved in the incident, he was in the area and was deeply affected by the tragedy.

“It was just devastating that my industry was involved in that,” Casperson told Great Lakes Logging Magazine, a publication of the Daily Press, years later.

Within days of the incident, the Log Truck Safety Task Force was formed. While the task force had other goals — including safety training programs and an annual display at the Upper Peninsula State Fair — “cribbing” was a major issue for the group. Crib trailers use metal bars to hold loads in place to avoid slipping, but length restrictions on trucks at the time made the trailers illegal in Michigan.

After much work, Casperson was awarded one of two permits from the state to create crib-style logging trucks that were consistent with Michigan’s rules. However, the Michigan Department of Transportation revoked the permits a few years later.

“Even though they worked, they took the permits away from us. That was what led me to run for public office,” said Casperson.

Once in office, Casperson continued the fight for safer log-trucking.

“The first bill I passed was crib trailer legislation to allow us to start moving forward. This was something we wanted the laws to allow for the building of them, and the industry would naturally start heading that way,” he said.

While logging and trucking started his political career, Casperson made a major impact on many other areas that affect life in the U.P.

While in the House, Casperson served as an assistant majority whip and as chair of the House Conservation, Forestry and Outdoor Recreation Committee and vice-chair of the Transportation Committee. In the Sentate, he served as chair of the Transportation Committee and the Natural Resources Committee. He also served on the Senate’s Families, Seniors, and Human Services Committee and Finance Committees.

He authored 20 public acts during his time serving as a state representative. In addition the the “Crib Truck Bill” of 2003, these included bills requiring the Department of Natural Resources to certify Michigan’s forests as sustainable forests, permitting metallic mining in Michigan, establishing “castle doctrine,” and preventing the state from seizing control of the Mackinac Bridge.

As a senator, Casperson introduced a wide variety of bills, 25 of which were signed into law in his first term alone.

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