On this day in 1994: Iconic U.P. Rep. Dominic Jacobetti dies
On Nov. 28, 1994, longtime Democratic state Rep. Dominic Jacobetti died at Bell Memorial Hospital in Ishpeming.
He was 74.
Jacobetti was born in the Upper Peninsula in 1920. It was the same year that Ralph Story, television and radio personality best known as the host of “The $64,000 Challenge,” was born in Kalamazoo and Charline White, the first African-American woman to be elected to the Michigan Legislature in 1950. was born in Atlanta, Ga. A loaf of bread ranged in cost from 10 to 12 cents that year.
Jacobetti, a Negaunee Democrat and son of an Italian immigrant miner, was first elected in 1954. He holds the distinction of being the longest-serving member of the Michigan Legislature — a streak unlikely to be broken, as Michigan now has term limits. Jacobetti served as chair of the powerhouse House Appropriations Committee for nearly 20 years.
Just after his death, then-Gov. John Engler ordered flags on state buildings to be flown at half-staff for five days.
“The city is very indebted to him,” Lansing Mayor Dave Hollister, a former Democratic state House colleague of Jacobetti, told the Lansing State Journal at the time.
“He was just below the speaker of the House, and at times more powerful,” added state Rep. Frank Fitzgerald (R-Grand Ledge).
Jacobetti was often referred to as “King Jake,” and the “Godfather of the U.P.” because of his fierce commitment to funding projects in his district. His power centered on the longevity of his service and his party’s control of the lower chamber.
“It’s a joke in the Capitol that the Mackinac Bridge might collapse under the weight of the money headed north every year,” wrote Lansing State Journal reporter Chris Andrews in 1993.
It was a different time.
Michigan lawmakers are limited in the number of terms that they can serve in the House and Senate after a 1992 ballot measure, which was at least partially inspired by Jacobetti’s tenure.
Last year, voters approved a statewide proposal that doubled the number of terms lawmakers in the Michigan House can serve from three, two-year terms to six, two-year terms. Similarly, members of the Michigan Senate could serve two four-year terms, but now can serve an additional four-year term.
Jacobetti was stripped of his chairmanship in 1993 in the midst of a scandal in the House Fiscal Agency (HFA) that the House Appropriations Committee oversaw. Members of his party, including House co-Speaker Curtis Hertel Sr. (D-Detroit) backed the move. State police and state auditors investigated the possible misuse of taxpayers funds from a HFA petty cash account.
Jacobetti pushed back on accusations of wrongdoing.
“They ain’t going to hang me for something that I didn’t do,” Jacobetti said, according to Lansing State Journal reporting in 1993. “I did nothing wrong.”
A Michigan veterans facility, a learning center and a portion of a state highway have been named in honor of Jacobetti. His history is documented at Northern Michigan University.