NORTHVILLE TOWNSHIP, Mich. – The Michigan Credit Union League is sending some 100,000 flyers to the state’s credit unions backing the gubernatorial bid of U.S. Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.). Bonior, who has served 13 terms in Congress, resigned the powerful post of House Democratic whip to launch his bid for the governor’s job. The MCUL has long seen Bonior as a friend of credit unions. Now Bonior has won the league’s formal endorsement in his current bid to win the state’s top executive post. In fact, Bonior is making credit union membership a key campaign issue. Bonior has proposed a network of credit unions in urban neighborhoods. The idea is to provide loans for home repairs and to start businesses in areas such as Detroit and Flint that have been abandoned by many financial institutions. Bonior has also won endorsement from the still-powerful United Automobile Workers. In many cases the UAW and credit union backing go together, because the league estimates the state has 50 or 60 credit unions whose prime sponsors are auto-related. Patrick LaPine, the league’s director of governmental affairs, ranks Bonior among the top ten credit union supporters in Congress. “When he decided to run for governor, he asked to sit down with us and talk about an idea he wanted to make one of the cornerstones of his campaign. The idea revolved around credit unions and neighborhood empowerment,” LaPine explains. “Bonior was concerned there are a lot of urban areas where there are basically no financial services. You see only payday lenders and check cashers. He asked what legislative and regulatory changes would be needed to fill this gap,” he says. The league explained one major step would be to allow credit unions to serve non-members. Perhaps those non-members would not be eligible for all products and services, but might be able to cash checks at a credit union. This, the league felt, would at least provide an alternative to predatory lenders. It would also give credit unions an opportunity to explain the advantages of actual membership. Credit unions could team up with community groups such as churches to open new branches. The MCUL brought together credit union executives from urban areas and asked what hurdles they saw facing credit unions that want to expand in those areas. The answers included higher property taxes and other costs, employee safety, and recruiting qualified employees from the community. “Right now we have a group of credit unions out there I think are interested,” LaPine says. “There are other credit unions who might be interested. They just want someone to give them a roadmap of how to do it, a model. They don’t want to worry about breaking any laws. They don’t want the examiner coming in and asking, `What the heck are you guys doing?’” LaPine agrees it would be very similar to the urban development credit union concept for federally-chartered credit unions. “From a state charter perspective, I think it’s never really been looked at,” he adds. “It’s a very interesting proposal. We’re hoping the more it’s talked about, the more people will see it as an opportunity to bring credit unions into urban communities and fill that gap.” Indeed, LaPine notes, the idea appears in almost every newspaper interview with Bonior. It’s featured in Bonior’s campaign literature. “It isn’t just one of a hundred proposals. It’s a core theme of his campaign,” LaPine says. As Michigan’s August 6 primary election nears, LaPine thinks Bonior has “a heck of a shot. His numbers have really gone up. I think it’s going to be a very close primary, and we’re doing what we can to get his initiative known to our membership.” Bob Allison, Bonior’s press secretary, agrees with LaPine that Bonior has actively supported credit unions in Congress. He notes while Bonior was pondering ways credit unions might help urban neighborhoods, he heard about a group of African-American churches in Atlanta that banded together to launch a credit union and build up millions of dollars in assets. “They were basically able to take control of their own neighborhood and determine the kinds of businesses and development that occurred,” Allison says. “He (Bonior) was very much inspired by that. The concept of a neighborhood credit union forms a key component of David’s urban agenda. He believes credit unions foster empowerment and self-reliance, and neighborhood, church-based credit unions will provide a greater focus on things people in those neighborhoods actually need.” Allison adds if elected governor, Bonior wants to update the state credit union act and appoint a state credit union commissioner who “is as passionate as he is about credit unions.” He also wants to explore ways to funnel seed money to fledgling credit unions in urban neighborhoods. Perhaps, Allison continues, those start-up credit unions could affiliate with larger, established credit unions. Business and financial experts from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University could also help. Ideas are fine. But is the concept catching on with voters? “It really has resonated with people,” Allison says. “We’ve been holding town halls and cookouts in cities like Detroit, Flint and Saginaw. People are very interested. You can see them nodding their heads.” [email protected]

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