Stephen Dresch, R.I.P.

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Dr. Stephen Dresch (1943-2006), a Yale-educated economist who served one term (1991-92) in Michigan’s House of Representatives, died Aug. 6. Dresch won public office as a libertarian Republican in a Democratic Party enclave – the rugged, Alaska-like 110th District that stretches along Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“Stephen Dresch,” according to a memorial read in the House after his death, “exemplified the independent spirit and the stalwart soul of the Upper Peninsula.” Dresch was elected after questioning spending practices at Michigan Technological University, where he served as dean of the School of Business and Economics. He made an unsuccessful bid in 1992 for the Republican nomination in Michigan’s 1st Congressional District. That fall he toured the U.P. with Libertarian Party presidential candidate Andre Marrou. Dresch stood for office again in an April 1994 special election in the 110th. Political observers closely followed the race. A Dresch win would have given advocates of liberty more balance-of-power in Michigan’s House, equally divided at the time between 55 Democrats and Republicans. Alas, Dresch lost the special election by the razor-thin margin of two-tenths of 10/0, ending his political career.

Any libertarian who encountered this fearless man has a special memory. Mine is of Dec. 3, 1992. The occasion was Dresch’s “Farewell,” his part in a tradition afforded every retiring Michigan House member. I was a newly elected House member, and I sat transfixed as Dresch described his policy victories, including defeat of a legislative pay raise; and the personal price he paid for questioning government spending practices. “I have paid a high price,” Dresch told his colleagues, “for the honor and satisfaction of serving as a member of this body and for the ‘whistle-blowing’ which began my ‘long march’ in these halls. That price is measured not onl~nor most importantly, in dollars but in the disruption, to a significant extent permanent, of a career to which I was devoted and of a life in a community which I had come to love. Many of the bridges which I crossed in that long march, many more than I anticipated, were destroyed behind me.”

Fortunately for the movement, Dresch built more bridges, specializing in forensic intelligence. Detroit Free Press political columnist Dawson Bell noted that Dresch investigated a New York City corruption case that led to the March indictment of a former FBI agent accused of helping a mob informant commit murder. Stephen Dresch leaves behind a unique legacy. Advocates of liberty can learn from him that they can effect real change, but they will pay a personal price.

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