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Michigan reps seek answers on GM closures

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Michigan reps seek answers on GM closures

Gordon Trowbridge and David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Michigan’s congressional delegation, stung this week by news of new General Motors Corp. plant closings, asked Friday for a meeting with CEO Fritz Henderson amid word that the automaker would delay closing a Massachusetts parts facility in the district of an influential lawmaker.

Late Friday, GM said Troy Clarke, its North American president, will brief Michigan’s delegation on Wednesday regarding the selection criteria for the plant where a new subcompact GM car will be assembled.

"The Orion Assembly plant is one of three candidates, along with plants in Wisconsin and Tennessee," said Eric Feldman, chief of staff to Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township. "Congressman Peters feels that securing this plant is critical for the entire state of Michigan."

GM’s decision to keep its Norton, Mass., facility open at least through 2010 came shortly after a meeting between Henderson and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. The decision preserves for at least a year 80 jobs in Frank’s district.

A GM spokeswoman said the company delayed closing the facility and another in Florida after reassessing its East Coast operations.

Hours after that announcement, Michigan Reps. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, took the unusual step of making public a letter sent to Henderson asking for a meeting.

"This is a delegation that has been great friends to the auto industry … and been considerable help to them through this period of difficulty," Dingell said. The veteran lawmaker said they’ve been flooded with requests from constituents worried about the plant closings.

Dingell would not discuss what topics he plans to raise. The delegation is likely to press for GM to choose Michigan for production of the new small car. Members have met with GM officials often over the last few months, but never publicized a request for a meeting.

Members of Congress have increasingly sought to sway government’s involvement in automakers, in particular to protect dealers in their states, a trend that angers some Michigan lawmakers.

"What really gets me are the ones who opposed the bridge loans in December and are now circulating letters worried about dealer closings," said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township.

Separately, the attorney general of Louisiana on Friday said GM’s dealer actions likely violate state laws. A conference call of attorneys general is planned for next week to discuss the issue.

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