Michigan Green Cliff Yankovich Appointed to Lowell City Council
(LOWELL, MICHIGAN) Home to approximately four thousand residents, the City of Lowell is known for famous former residents including William Seward Burroughs I, who invented the adding machine and was the grandfather of ‘60s counter-culture beat writer William S. Burroughs, as well as vocalist Anthony Kiedis of the funk-rock outfit Red Hot Chili Peppers. Located in Kent County, Lowell has a classic Americana vibe, its downtown lined with storefronts and including a vintage showboat anchored just off the main street, as an eye-catching, downtown centerpiece.
The latest in the line of interesting personalities on the Lowell scene is local shopkeeper Cliff Yankovich. A member of the Kent County Green Party, Yankovich has been an energetic advocate for all things Green in the Lowell area for the last few years. He owns and operates a mom-and-pop jewelry store called Chimera Design with his wife Julie. Their shop is nestled near the showboat in downtown Lowell. Yankovich has owned the shop for some time, but just recently taken up residence in Lowell. “The first thing that attracted us to Lowell is that there was no jewelry store here. We are a full-service jewelry store, about half of our business is repairs, so it was a common-sense decision. Since we’ve been here, I’ve just fallen in love with this town.”
Yankovich became interested in the Green Party in 2016, when he decided to run for and was nominated for State Representative in the 86th District by the Green Party of Michigan. He became interested in the party because of its commitment to keep the influence of dark, corporate money out of politics. “The first thing that attracted me to the Green Party” says Yankovich, “it’s a thing I emphasize over and over, in fact, I was just speaking to a guy from the local paper, and I said the refusal to accept corporate money at any level just resonated with me from my nose to my toes.” Yankovich wants to keep the influence of big money out of politics. He was drawn to the Green Party because of the party’s stance on Political Action Committees. Unfortunately, his district is home to a family that is one the biggest political bankrollers in the state. “I actually made a decision in 2016 to run for the Michigan House of Representatives” Yankovich said. “The fun little footnote on that is that I live in the 86th District, wich is the home district of Betsy DeVos. Everyone is familiar with her by now.” DeVos was picked by Trump to serve as Secretary of Education, while her husband Dick DeVos and family pumped over 11 million dollars into Michigan elections from 2017 to 2018.
Facing well-financed political opposition isn’t easy, Yankovich admits. “I don’t want to say it was futile, because I was able to talk about a lot of issues that are really important in Michigan, but as we know, I didn't have a snowball’s chance in that race.” “One of the fun things I want to point out is that in 2016, right after the election, one of the first things that came out of your mouth was ‘Hey Cliff, don’t get discouraged, don’t give up. You can get appointed to the school board or get on the city council or something like that. I took his advice to heart.”
Yankovich has found a welcoming home in the city of Lowell “You have to be a resident of the city to serve on the city council, so we took care of that last year. You have to live in the town for a year before you can serve on the council. We have five people on the city council. I was planning on running because several of the seats are up this fall, in 2019. A couple months ago, one of the sitting councilmen got a promotion that he couldn’t say no to and he would not be able to fulfill his obligation. So they were looking for people who were interested in filling in for a year, and I ran across the street and applied.
“They opened the door to express the Green agenda when they appointed me.” the Councilperson talks about his political history during the interview for the appointment and told the council members that he had run for office with the Green Party in 2016. He also remarked during the interview that he admired the party’s stance on political campaign financing. “That’s one of the things I love about this community. If you look at the voting history of Lowell, folks tend to vote Republican. But they are very open-minded. Politics gets very heated in Lowell, just like it does everywhere else. I’ve gone to lots of meetings, you will see people who are diametrically opposed to each other on a certain issue, I can think of a couple examples right off the top of my head. But they talk to each other. They get up, passionately explain their position, then they sit right down next to the person with an opposite view and there’s no calling names, nobody gets upset.” Yankovich states, “I’ve heard about city councils in the state of Michigan where council members have Personal Protection Orders out against each other, where they sit on opposite sides of the room, they have arguments. It’s ridiculous. Nothing gets done like that. So even though I’m a Green Party candidate, I’m very accepted. People listen to what I have to say in town, even if they don’t agree with what I’m talking about.”
Yankovich is strong on environmental issues. At the same time, the influence of big money in his district informs his opinion on the tremendous political influence corporations possess. The influence of big money in Yankovich’s district inform his opinion on SuperPACs and he’s gathered up petition signatures to stop Nestle Corporation from pumping water out of the Great Lakes with a sweetheart arrangement. “The State of Michigan, they did a deal with Nestle, which I don’t think I have to mention to anyone, is a Swiss mega-corporation. They did a deal with Michigan that allows them to pull millions of gallons for basically nothing. They pay two hundred and some dollars per year.” The influence of big money in Yankovich’s district inform his opinion on the influence of big money when it comes to environmental politics. Enbridge Oil, which is a Canadian company, If you are following the news, you’ll see that our outgoing Governor, he was doing everything he could do bend over backwards and do the will of a Canadian company. That’s even though voters from ‘both sides of the aisle’ said that we don’t want this pipeline. That’s the Enbridge Oil pipeline Number 5. It runs under the Straits of Mackinac, which is just insane. They had opinion polls. The Department of Environmental Quality wanted feedback from the citizens in regards to Nestle and the overwhelming majority said ‘No, we don’t want to give this company our water for nothing. The deal went ahead anyway. It was the same with the pipelines.”
When asked just what it is that makes environmental issues so important to him, Yankovich beams, “I love to tell the story about the way I was raised, because unfortunately in 2018, the environment is now a political issue. And really it shouldn't be. The person that raised me was my mom, my parents were divorced. My mom was as conservative as it gets, she was a born-again Christian. But she taught me to recycle. She had me read ‘Silent Spring,’ the environmental book, in 1967 or 1968. And that’s why when I ran for office, I focused on the water issue. Because it doesn't matter what political party you are in, we all have to have clean water. We have to drink water. To me, it’s common sense. If I can recycle a can and melt it back down to make another can, that just makes sense on every level.”
When it comes to reducing his own carbon footprint, Cliff walks to work. However, you might see him buzzing around town on his electric motorbike as well, a charging station situated in the parking lot just down from his shop. “I bought a Zero, which is a full-on electric motorcycle made in California. I’ve been a motorcycle rider since 1977. I’ve been following these for twelve years now. It excited me from the beginning and last year, I bought one. The cool thing about the Zero is that we’ve had two high speed electric charging stations and we’ve had them for five years, maybe six. I can fill up there and the city pays for it – it doesn’t cost me anything.” He sees the charging stations as an attraction that will bring more folks into the city. “People can come and eat and shop in our town – if they’re driving a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt, they can plug in for free and top off.” Yankovich said. “It takes me about eight hours to fully charge my bike if I plug in at home, into 110. But if I use the fast charger, it takes about 2,5 hours.”
Now that he has started working with the council, Yankovich is having an immersion in all things local. “Once a month, all five of us councilpeople make ourselves available and we have coffee with council and folks can stop by and meet with us, give us their ideas or let us know if they have any concerns. Slap us on the back and tell us we’re doing a good job or just raise an issue. We have to be very respectful of the open meetings act, which means we cant make any policy decisions at the Coffee with Council. But, we can pretty much talk about anything we want.” His first month the council was a learning experience. Yankovich says, “I’m learning all kinds of things about city infrastructure. Our infrastructure is in trouble, especially when it comes to small towns and municipalities. Finding the money to keep the roads, sewers and everything going. I’ve been learning a lot.”
When asked how to best get voters more interested in taking environmental issues seriously, Yankovich is frank. “That’s a tough question. All I can say is that the way I have been able to connect with people – I love to tell the story of how my mother got me interested in these issues when I was eight years old. I like to tell people that protecting our environment is not a partisan issue. This might sound strange at first, but one of the advantages of being around for sixty years, I can tell them that when I was eleven years old, you went to a park on the Grand River in Ada, you couldn’t be next to the water because it smelled. They would say that if you fished, do not take the fish home and eat them. You’re welcome to fish, but throw it back in the water. That was back in 1972. It’s common sense. You drink water, so you don’t put pollutants into it.”
With an urgent sense for doing the right thing when it comes to solving problems, Yankovich admits that the powers that be keep folks distracted from what’s really important. “If they keep us fighting each other, they can go on ahead with business as usual. I honestly don’t believe that we are as divided as the media presents us to be.” Yankovich talks of another run for City Council and maybe once again for State Representative. Lately, he’s been building up a Facebook page titled “Lowell Goes Green,” emphasizing the need for ecological wisdom in his community. It’s really catching on, the local site already garnering more than one hundred likes, promoting environmental responsibility and ecological harmony.
With Lowell going Green, Yankovich appears to be here to stay. “We’ve been here for sixteen years. I’ve served on various boards and marketing committees and things for the town. We finally moved into the city limits so I could serve as a city councilperson, and now I am."
By Erin Fox
Fox is a delegate to the National Committee of the Green Party of the United States and serves on the Coordinated Campaign Committee of the Green Party of the United States, representing the Green Party of Michigan.