Sunday, August 13, 2006

STEPHEN DRESCH, 1943-2006: Eccentric lawmaker lived to right wrongs

CJR Editor's Note: Those who knew Stephen Dresch remember him as a person of uncompromising integrity, extreme diligence and extraordinary intellect. He also had a good, hearty laugh.

STEPHEN DRESCH, 1943-2006: Eccentric lawmaker lived to right wrongs

August 8, 2006

In all his unpredictable endeavors in and out of office, ex-state Rep. Stephen Dresch "was always seeking justice for those who had been victimized by government," a friend said. (WILLIAM A. RICE/Daily Mining Gazette)

At the time of his death Sunday, former Upper Peninsula legislator Stephen Dresch had been out of office for 14 years.

That gave him time to:

Investigate 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.

Alert federal agents in 2005 to the presence of a weapons cache in Kansas, apparently hidden by convicted Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols.

Track leads on several continents related to the anthrax terrorism scare of 2001, resulting in, among other things, a starring role in an anthrax murder-mystery documentary called "Death in the Woods."

Cast suspicion on the April 1996 plane crash death of a member of former President Bill Clinton's cabinet, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. Those suspicions were never fully confirmed but led Dresch to other inquiries involving adultery and theft at the highest levels of the U.S. government.There were lots more eclectic and unpredictable endeavors that friend and former campaign aide Jack McHugh said had a common denominator:

"He was always seeking justice for those who had been victimized by government. Stephen always sought justice. He didn't always get it, but he was always after it."

Dresch, 62, who ran for office as a libertarian-leaning Republican, died Sunday morning at his home in Hancock following a lengthy illness.

He served in the state House in 1991-92, winning a seat thought to be solidly Democratic with a mixture of Ivy League erudition (he was a PhD economist from Yale), UP-style iconoclasm and boundless energy.

In 1992, Dresch left the House to run for the congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee. He lost that race and two attempts to regain his state House seat.

After that, Dresch pursued interests and activities under the general heading of forensic research. He also worked as an expert witness.

His wife of 43 years, Linda Dresch, recalled Monday that living with him was a bit like living with a force of nature.

Stephen Dresch worked in academic positions in the United States and Europe before coming to Michigan in 1985 as dean of the School of Business and Engineering Administration at Michigan Tech University.

Before his election to the Legislature, he helped set in motion investigations of university economic-development activity, which led to public outcry, criminal convictions and the departure of various high-level MTU officials.

Opponents often didn't know what to make of Dresch, with his trademark full beard and distinctive speaking style that often involved 500-word sentences connected by many subordinate clauses. On the state House floor, his brand of anti-orthodoxy drove former Rep. Dominic Jacobetti, D-Negaunee -- the dominant figure in UP politics for decades -- into fits of rage that would leave him sputtering.

Dresch is survived by his wife and four children, Soren, Stephanie, Phaedra and Karl, and four grandchildren. Visitation will be from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Wednesday at the Peterson Funeral Home in Calumet.


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