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Michigan Legislative Update

Week of May 11, 2017

By Judy Augenstein

A very sad week in Lansing indeed.................

Several friends and colleagues reached out or spoke to Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette on Tuesday before he died of an apparent suicide that has broken the hearts of many in the Upper Peninsula and Capitol community.  Rep. Kivela was arrested Monday evening under suspicion of drunken driving, his second such arrest since November 2015.  Mr. Kivela said in 2015 he had been an alcoholic most of his adult life and went into treatment following his first arrest.

Senator David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights had a conversation with Rep. Kivela Tuesday morning s they were roommates in a home near the Capitol.  Senator Knezek wrote on his Facebook page that he was angry that his friend had relapsed and was arrested, but pushed anger aside when Kivela called for him from his bedroom Tuesday morning. Knezek wrote "You told me that you had let down the people who love you.  I told you the people who love you are going to love you no matter what and that you need serious help."  Senator Knezek wrote that Rep. Kivela told him he was going to resign and seek inpatient treatment.  "I gave him a hug, I said that I love you, you said that you loved me.  Those were our last words to each other, Knezek wrote.

Shelby Kivela, daughter of Kivela posted on Facebook that she would not wish the disease of alcoholism on her worst enemy.  "I can't imagine how much pain someone is in with it for them to continue to jeopardize the things they love most because their addiction begs to be fueled.  His safe place to drink was unfortunately, his commute to Lansing and home.  Alcoholism strained my relationship with my father in the final months of his life and that hurts too."  Many colleagues took to social media to express their sadness and offer tribute to their friend, many noted Rep. Kivela's smile, kindness and willingness to work with others.

An unabashed proud Yooper and self proclaimed novice from Wayne County stood at a podium together on the Senate floor on Wednesday to pay tribute to Rep. Kivela, but also hoped his death might inspire change in the highly partisan political realm.  Senator David Knezek stood side by side with Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba to remember John Kivela.  "I just wish John knew how much we all loved him.  I wish he knew how many people in Lansing and how many  people across Michigan, especially in the Upper Peninsula and Marquette, have carved out a little space in their heart for him.  I wish he knew the difference he made."  Knezek said, visibly shaken, in a statement on the Senate floor.  Senator Casperson also had a difficult time getting through his memories of Kivela especially when he talked about how much Kivela put into bringing people together.  Casperson stated "I always believe that all things come together for the glory of God and I think in this case, as tragic as it is, and hard to explain, I believe there is good things coming and I believe John's legacy is going to help us find those good things.  "Maybe this is the beginning of something in our world, the political world, of how we interact with each other.  There could potentially be a change.  It could start right here.  He could be the seed that was planted."  Kivela and Casperson had become very good friends during their tenure in the Legislature.

"Some of my favorite memories of John were when he would bring Democrats and Republicans together over to our house, members of the House, members of the Senate.  He believed so strongly in being that bridge, that gap between the divide we experience here in Lansing sometimes. " said Senator Knezek.  "He wanted everybody around the table.  He wanted everybody on the same team, because he wanted the best for his constituents".  Casperwon commented the he is praying that Kivela's death encourages other to follow his lead on working together.  "He really, really, really was good at it".  Casperson told reporters after the Wednesday session.

House session was canceled in the middle of Tuesday's House session as leaders got word of the untimely death of Rep. John Kivela.  Wednesday and Thursday House sessions, committee meetings, and fundraisers were canceled for the remainder of the week.  The Senate held a brief session on Wednesday as Casperson and Knezek
paid tribute to their friend Rep. John Kivela.

The visitation and funeral services for Rep. John Kivela will be held Saturday, May 13.  The visitation will begin at 10:00 AM with the service to follow at 2:00 PM.  both will take place in the Great Lakes Room in the University Center at Northern Michigan University, 1401 Presque Isle, Marquette, MI 49855.

We all continue to grieve for our friend Rep. John Kivela, his family and the UP.

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