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Daughter of Michigan Rep. who committed suicide writes emotional tribute

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Posted at 11:10 AM, May 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-10 12:42:04-04

The daughter of Michigan State Rep. John Kivela, who apparently committed suicide Tuesday, wrote an emotional post on Facebook about her father’s battle with alcoholism and his work as a public servant and dedicated father.

Shelby Kivela wrote, “I wouldn't wish the disease of alcoholism against my worst enemy, and I can't begin to imagine how much pain someone is in with it for them to continue to jeopardize the things they love most because their addiction begs to be fueled.”  Shelby Kivela said she was traveling to Marquette, from Boston Logan Airport for the funeral. 

John Kivela, who represents Marquette, was found dead in his Lansing home, just hours after he was released from custody for his second drunk driving.

“My dads drunk driving arrest wasn't because he couldn't afford a taxi or Uber, it was because he was trying so hard to be a husband, father & state representative and juggle his disease somewhere he could hide from the people--unfortunately in a very unsafe place, his commute,” wrote Shelby Kivela.

John Kivela pleaded guilty to drunken driving in December 2015 after being arrested the previous month in Clinton County.

“Alcoholism strained my relationship with my father in the final months of his life, and that hurts too. Instead I will post about the worst day of my life, the day my father took his life because of his disease,” said Shelby Kivela.

Related Story: State Rep. John Kivela apparently commits suicide after drunk driving arrest

A Democrat, John Kivela represented the 109th District, which includes Alger, Luce and Schoolcraft counties and part of Marquette County. He was term-limited, currently serving his third and final term, and had announced he was running for state senate.

Shelby Kivela wrote that one person called her father the "Champion for the UP" and it brought her joy to see those words. John Kivela served as Marquette's mayor from 2008 to 2012. He also worked as general manager of a used car dealership.

“I had an AMAZING childhood full of games and adventure, my parents gifted me my education and supported me into the life I have now--the most amazing, adventurous life I could ever imagine, a life not possible if I had not been raised by John Kivela,” Shelby Kivela wrote.

House members became silent Tuesday afternoon at the state Capitol after Speaker Tom Leonard announced John Kivela's death.

Lawmakers later hugged and consoled each other inside the chamber. Some remained seated as the room emptied.

The House canceled Wednesday's session and no attendance will be taken Thursday.

"He was going through stuff, and we knew it," said Rep. Andy Schor, a Democrat from Lansing. "I thought he was doing OK. It shows that you never know the person next to you, know what's going on in their life. It could be great. It could be awful."

Gov. Rick Snyder said he and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley spent much of Friday with John Kivela while attending various events in Marquette.

"He was a great person and this is very sad news," Snyder said. "John was a tremendous partner in the Legislature who always put the needs of his constituents in Marquette and the Upper Peninsula first."

John Kivela served as minority vice chair of the House Natural Resources  Committee. He also was on the House Energy Policy Committee.
Schor said he and John Kivela would invite other lawmakers to Kivela's home in Lansing.

"Just so we could know each other, both sides of the aisle — just sit there and talk," Schor said. "We work so hard in our districts and we work so hard here in Lansing that you don't always have the time to get to know the other people, and John wanted that to happen.

"You know everyone is going to kick themselves for not trying to get a hold of him this morning and show him that we love him," Schor added.