The Gongwer Blog

by Jordyn Hermani, Staff Writer

House GOP, Dems Feeling Confident After Filing Day

Posted: April 25, 2022 11:30 AM

Both the House Democratic and House Republican campaign committees are feeling confident officially going into campaign season now that the filing deadline has closed for candidates, with both parties saying that it would be them to take the majority under new maps come November.

Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township), campaign chair for the House Democrats, seemed told Gongwer News Service the candidates recruited by the caucus create a "very good opportunity," to take House majority.

"In 2018, the governor won 66 of the seats on that Hickory map, so we could lose eight seats and still be in the majority," she said. "Our recruited candidates are very, very strong, moderate candidates."

She lavished praise specifically on candidates in the 27th, 28th, 31st, 38th and 83rd House districts, but later amended that because of how good the party felt about a majority of these races, the issue would then become where Democrats should concentrate, with Ms. Witwer remarking: "That decision has not been made yet."

But one noticeable difference between many of these races is that Democratic candidates populate much of these races singularly or in pairs, while Republicans have between three to four options in the primary. Asked if it were intentional, or if the party had coalesced behind candidates early in these instances, Ms. Witwer said no – just that the party was more aligned in vision and priorities than Republicans were.

To ask that of House Republican Campaign Committee Co-Chair Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport), however, she said it just shows a wealth of options for Republican voters to choose who they believe best represents their local communities.

She acknowledged that endorsements proffered by former President Donald Trump did play a role in some races, meaning that there was a spectrum of Republicans running for office this year, ranging from emphatically Trump supporting to tea party folks to "just common sense people running."

Ms. Lightner was emphatic that House Republicans would do well in November and keep the majority, saying that the "wind is at our backs, and we're going to take full advantage of that" in a predominance of these races.

"I'm confident, regardless, that we are winning majority," she said. "But, it is helpful that we have good candidates in certain areas, and I appreciate all the work and effort that everyone has put in … in trying to get good people on board."

As for districts she saw where Republicans could make gains, Ms. Lightner also said the 27th, 28th and 83rd House districts, as well as districts around the Grand Rapids and Lansing areas like the 76th, 80th and 84th House districts.

Gongwer News Service has identified 30 districts as competitive, with 16 rated as tossups, seven as lean Democratic and seven as lean Republican.


GOP WITH CROWDED PRIMARY IN DOWNRIVER'S 27TH: Only one Democratic candidate has filed for this race, a fifth grade teacher by the name of Jaime Churches. Come November, she is set to go up against one of the four Republicans who filed by the deadline Tuesday: Kevin Counts, Dave Kachinosky, Peter Rommel or Lisa Werner.

Between the four Republicans, Mr. Counts easily boasts the most tenured history in public service. He is currently employed as a police officer in Grosse Ile Township, where he's worked since 2007. Over the last 31 years, he worked with the Farmington Hills Police Department, the Detroit Police Department and served as a military police officer with the U.S. Army.

Mr. Rommel held a series of odd jobs before becoming a personal banker with Citizens Bank in 2018. Ms. Werner is a mortgage loan officer with Simple Mortgage, and her website lists her as previously being a small business owner. No information was immediately available on Mr. Kachinosky.

The district combines eastern Downriver communities like Wyandotte, Grosse Ile, Trenton and Gibraltar. It's a Republican-trending area now mostly represented by term limited Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township).

DEMS GET VETERAN IN 28TH DISTRICT: Like in the 27th House District, only one Democratic candidate has filed to run in the 28th House District. Robert Kull is a U.S. Navy veteran from Monroe who, following his deployment and graduating college, served as the constituent services director for the vice mayor of Tuscon, Arizona.

It was around that time he also served as the Arizona State Democratic Veterans Caucus chair, later delving deeper into state politics in both Ohio and Kentucky as well.

Mr. Kull will go on to face one of three Republican candidates in the general election later this year: Monroe Community Mental Health Authority Chief Financial Officer Virgie M. Ammerman, nurse Jamie Thompson or Nicone R. Dragone, who did not have information immediately available.

Another Republican-trending area, this district has Brownstown, Flat Rock, Rockwood plus northeast Monroe County.

GARZA AVOIDS PRIMARY IN NEW 29TH DISTRICT: In this district, incumbent Rep. Alex Garza (D-Taylor) is the only Democratic candidate in the running, meaning Republicans will have work to do amongst themselves to figure out which of the four candidates that have filed will be their top contender.

Those individuals include James DeSana, Sam Ditzhazy, Jack Richert and Brian Warzocha.

Of those four, Mr. DeSana has spent 25 years as a sales manager in the U.S. fastener manufacturing industry and owns/operates a family farm alongside his wife; Mr. Ditzhazy was a recreation commissioner with the city of Taylor for two years and campaigned for former President Donald Trump across Michigan and Indiana as part of Students for Trump; and Mr. Richert has served on the Huron Schools Board of Education for nearly two decades and is a small business owner.

This new 29th District combines Republican portions of Monroe County plus GOP-tilting Huron Township in Wayne County with solidly Democratic Taylor.

MONROE'S REPUBLICAN OF THE YEAR FILES IN 31ST HOUSE: Democrats do have a primary in this seat with Republicans seeing just one candidate in Dale Biniecki. He could end up facing off either Van Buren Township Trustee Reggie Miller or Glenn R. Morrison.

Mr. Biniecki was an owner/operator of a trucking business prior to retiring and was a trucker for more than three decades. He was also named Monroe County Republican of the Year in 2019.

In addition to being a trustee, Ms. Miller has also served as the township's Public Safety Committee as its former vice chair, executive director of the National Strawberry Festival and vice president of the Belleville Downtown Development Authority. Mr. Morrison did not have any information available regarding work history and did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

The new 31st District is eclectic, combining strongly Democratic Belleville, Romulus and Van Buren Township with Republican territory in northwest Monroe County, southeast Washtenaw County and northeast Lenawee County.

ANOTHER WHITEFORD SEEKING THE 38th HOUSE DISTRICT: The husband of Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Township) – Kevin Whiteford – is among the Republicans running in the new 38th House District. Mr. Whiteford owns a financial advising and tax accounting business.

He is facing George Steven Lucas in the GOP primary, who is the past president of the Southwestern Michigan Association of Realtors.

Another Republican, Troy Rolling, a last minute filer in the race, previously ran in 2018 for the 79th House District though came in third to Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet) in the primary. He also ran in 2016 for the same district, again losing in the primary election to now Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Township).

For Democratic voters, they have a choice between Annie Brown or Joey Andrews. Both have run before. Ms. Brown is a former member of the South Haven Board of Education and regional coordinator for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township).

Mr. Andrews is a licensed attorney and policy analyst for the Michigan AFL-CIO who tried to take on Ms. Wendzel in that same 2018 contest Mr. Rolling ran in, though lost to the lawmaker in the November primary.

The area includes the cities of New Buffalo, Bridgman, Stevensville, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, Covert, South Haven, Douglas, Saugatuck and their surrounding township areas. Due to its awkward shape, it has been referred to as the "stairway" district.

ANOTHER HAADSMA VS. MORGAN MATCHUP IN 44TH DISTRICT: The 44th House District may be new, but the matchup is not.

Rep. Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek) is set to go up against Republican David Morgan for the third time in 2022.

Mr. Morgan lost to Mr. Haadsma by 1,080 votes in 2020 after handedly sweeping the Republican primary; he lost to Mr. Haadsma as well in 2018 by a slightly wider margin of 1,137.

Though Mr. Haadsma lucked out in getting practically the same district as he had prior to redistricting, the narrowing gap between himself and Mr. Morgan will be one to keep a close eye on, especially considering the continuing Republican trend of the area.

A COMPETITIVE JACKSON SEAT IN 46TH HOUSE: In an area where Democratic House members need to take should they hope to gain a majority in the House, only one candidate from the party has filed to run, meaning a lot is resting on the shoulders of Maurice Imhoff.

Mr. Imhoff is president of the Jackson County Historical Society and serves on the Advisory Board of the Jackson Salvation Army, as Trustee of the Michigan Theatre of Jackson, and as Fund Development Chair of the Jackson Young Professionals. He was also appointed to Jackson's Historic District Commission and Human Relations Commission at just 18 years old.

One of the two Republicans filed will go on to face him come November, either Kimberly Sheppard Hugle or Kathy Schmaltz.

Ms. Hugle served as Au Sable Township treasurer in 1996 though resigned from the role due to her family moving downstate. She tried again to run a treasurer position in 1998, this time in Blackman Township, though lost in what she told Gongwer was a "close vote."

Ms. Schmaltz was a TV news anchor and writer at WILX TV in Lansing, where she also served as associate news director of community relations. She also had a brief stint in radio, serving as the public affairs director of the Michigan State Radio Network in the late 1970s.

This is a Jackson-based district which, for the first time in a long time, looks competitive again. It covers Jackson, Blackman Township, Leoni Township and stretches east to Chelsea.

DEM CANDIDATE AVOIDS PRIMARY IN 48TH DISTRICT: Democratic candidate Jennifer Conlin will need to wait until November to meet someone at the polls after her only immediate challenger, Martin Cousineau, withdrew from the race. Ms. Conlin works as a freelance journalist with bylines in the New York Times, Hour Detroit and Vogue.

Also vying for the district are Republican candidates Jason Negri and Jason Woolford.

Mr. Negri is an attorney and the current treasurer of Hamburg Township. He also serves as the executive director of The Daniel Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization for the victims of clerical sexual abuse. Mr. Woolford is a Marine Corps veteran turned pastor who serves as the president of Mission Cry, a group which sends free Bibles and Christian teaching items to countries around the world.

Due to the unpacking of Democratic voters in Ann Arbor, the district has become competitive, consisting of northern Washtenaw County plus conservative Genoa and Hamburg Townships in Livingston County.

SHANNON DEDENDING SEAT IN 58TH HOUSE: This district will see another incumbent Democratic lawmaker defend their seat in the House, this time in Rep. Nate Shannon of Sterling Heights.

The newly drawn 58th House District comprises eastern Sterling Heights, northwest Warren and southern Shelby Township, not giving Mr. Shannon much of a break in the process. He is not facing any sort of Democratic challenger.

That cannot be said on the Republican side, as Giovanni Ndrea and Michelle Smith will inevitably meet up in the primary come August.

Ms. Smith has worked office settings before transitioning to real estate appraising where, in 2015, she took that interest and started her own company and is now self-employed. She serves on the Michigan Republican Party state committee and is chairwoman for the Republican's 9th Congressional District. Information for Mr. Ndrea, however, was not immediately made available.

MACOMB OFFICIALS RUNNING FOR DEMS IN 61ST HOUSE: Moving to Macomb, Democratic and Republican candidates alike are in for a competitive primary. The district is an open seat and a great opportunity for Republicans to continue their gains in Macomb but Clinton Township, the core of this district, has been a tough road for them.

Republican candidates in the running for the seat are Mike Aiello and Austin Negipe, neither of which are strangers to seeking a House seat.

Mr. Aiello ran for the 61st House district in 2016, now held by Rep. Christine Morse (D-Texas Township) though was disqualified from the ballot prior to the primary and Mr. Negipe ran for the 31st House District in 2020, a seat now held by Rep. William Sowerby (D-Clinton Township), though lost in the primaries.

A professional chiropractor, Mr. Aiello has operated his practice for the last 30 years and also runs a coffee business called Java Java Espresso on the side. As for public service experience, he is PTO President at Algonquin Middle School in Clinton Township and is a member of the Italian American Cultural Center's executive board. Mr. Negipe is a senior mortgage consultant at Great Lakes Mortgage Financial.

Candidates on the Democratic side include Alex Bronson, Patrick Maceroni and Denise Mentzer.

Mr. Bronson, a painter and drywaller by trade, has a decent amount of public service experience, having served on the Mount Clemens City Planning Commission for two years. He currently is the fundraising chair for the 10th Congressional District Democratic Committee and, like in the case of Mr. Aiello and Mr. Negipe, had tried unsuccessfully running for the House in 2020 but lost in the primary. The seat he sought is now held by Rep. Steve Marino (R-Harrison Township).

Mr. Maceroni is a sergeant with the Macomb County Sheriff's Department, a title he's held for almost a decade, and is the spokesperson for its marine division. Ms. Mentzer is a Mount Clemens city commissioner.

REP. MARINO'S DAD SEEKING THE 62ND HOUSE DISTRICT: The new 62nd House District probably favors a Republican but with it being an open seat, Democrats have a shot, particularly with Fraser and part of Clinton Township in the district. That said, Harrison Township is still a Republican powerhouse, and the conservative lean to the district shows when considering the number of Republicans who initially filed to run.

Most recognizable name-wise may be Joe Marino, father of Steve Marino. Other Republicans in the running include Hilary Dubay, Rola Zarife and Alicia St. Germaine, with Dave Morgan having withdrawn from the contest.

Ms. Dubay replaced Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Township) on the L'Anse Creuse Public Schools Board of Education in 2017 and is now the board's president. Ms. Zarife is a financial advisor with Transamerica, a freelance writer with the Arab American News and a program specialist with the Southeast Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. St. Germaine, who filed shortly before the 4 p.m. deadline on Tuesday, did not have any career information immediately available in time for publication.

Michael Brooks and David Vale round out the Democratic side of the ticket, the latter of whom also did not have any career information immediately available in time for publication. Mr. Brooks is a career optician and is a member of the Clinton Township Democratic Club.

EATON COUNTY COMMISSIONER RUNNING AGAINST WITWER IN 76TH: In another instance of an incumbent defending her turf, Ms. Witwer will see only one Republican challenger in Jeremy Whittum come November.

The basics of her district are the same, with Ms. Witwer needing to win Delta Township and the parts of Lansing in it by a big number to overcome the large Republican vote elsewhere in Eaton County. She ran a great race in 2020 but didn't win by much against a weak GOP foe, meaning it will be much of the same in 2022 as well.

Mr. Whittum sits on Eaton County's Board of Commissioners both representing District 14 and by serving as its chair. He also is the chief executive officer of the county. He served in the Michigan National Guard for over 20 years and had previously been elected Hamlin Township supervisor.

KENTWOOD A TEST FOR DEMS IN THE 80TH HOUSE DISTRICT: What started out as a large Republican field is down to one after three GOP candidates withdrew prior to the filing deadline in the 80th House District. That leaves just Jeffrey Johnson left on the ticket, a 2016 state House candidate who ended up coming in third in the primary in a seat that would go on to be taken by Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell).

He'll have to face off against either Kent County Commissioner Phil Skaggs or Lily Schulting-Cheng, a disability rights advocate and founder of the group Disability A-Team of West Michigan.

Prior to sitting on the Kent County Commission, Mr. Skags also served for five years as an East Grand Rapids City Commission. Ms. Cheng also has some experience in running a House campaign, having lost to Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) in the 2020 general election.

This election will be a litmus test on whether Kentwood Township's shift blue will finally pay off for the Democratic Party in this district, which consists of it, East Grand Rapids and Cascade Township. Republicans do have a chance, on paper, but the trend is starting to move against them.

LOCAL OFFICIALS RUNNING FOR THE 83RD HOUSE DISTRICT: This district links the purple Wyoming with solidly Democratic southwest Grand Rapids, making it a competitive one, and it shows in the candidate filings with three Democrats and two Republicans vying for the open seat.

On the Democratic side, there's Keith Courtade, John Fitzgerald and Jose Flores, with Ivan Diaz and Arthur Bowman withdrawing prior to the filing deadline.

Mr. Courtade is no stranger to running for office, having most recently lost in the 28th Senate District special general election in November to now Sen. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker). He previously served as a Kent County Commissioner and is a retired General Motors employee.

Mr. Fitzgerald was elected to the Wyoming City Council in 2020 and comes from a line of public servants, including former Michigan Governor Frank Dwight Fitzgerald and former state Supreme Court Justice John Warner Fitzgerald. Mr. Flores is a member of the Grand Rapids Board of Education and is a former educator.

For Republicans, Lisa DeKryger is the only candidate on the ticket. She manages the accounting, contracts and is a design consultant for the business she and her husband started, Sheldon DeKryger Builder, Inc. Ms. DeKryger is also a deacon at Resurrection Life Church in Wyoming, Michigan.

REGAN A QUESTION MARK IN NEW 84TH HOUSE DISTRICT: The new 84th House District is decidedly more left-leaning than its previous iteration. There's no guarantee that the Republican candidate who wins here in the May special election will go on to take the seat come November.

Only one Democratic candidate has filed to run, Walker City Commissioner Carol Glanville. Ms. Glanville is also running in the May special election and will go up against Republican Robert Regan, who has also filed for the full term as well.

Mr. Regan, a small business owner, has now become infamous for his racist, sexist, homophobic and antisemitic remarks on social media along with his continued perpetuation that the ongoing war in Ukraine is somehow a hoax staffed by crisis actors (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 14, 2022).

Other Republicans in the running include Granville City Council Member Justin Noordhoek – who came in third to Mr. Regan in the March special primary – and Mike Milanowski, a loan officer with the group Mike Milanowski CrossCountry Mortgage. Mr. Milanowski is also running as a write-in candidate against Mr. Regan in the May 1 special primary (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 29, 2022).

A fourth Republican, John Wetzel, also submitted the necessary paperwork to run but career information on the candidate was not immediately made available.


HALL HAS A PRIMARY IN 42ND BEFORE FACING DEM: Rep. Matt Hall (R-Comstock Township), newly moved to this Kalamazoo County District, faces a Republican primary against Gary Mitchell, who was the party's nominee in the solidly Democratic Kalamazoo district in 2020. He's a former Dow employee and Republican activist. Assuming Mr. Hall wins his party's nomination, he'll face a more competitive general election district than he has had in the past. The Democratic candidate is Justin Mendoza of Parchment, a former union representative who works in health care policy. This district probably has too strong of a Republican lean for a Democrat to win in 2022 but as the decade progresses, the changes in Kalamazoo County could show up here.

BOTH PARTIES FIELDING NAME CANDIDATES IN NEW 54TH: The new 54th House District connects solidly Republican Orion Township with a piece of solidly Republican Oakland Township plus Democratic leaning eastern Auburn Hills and Democratic leaning northern Bloomfield Township and Republican-leaning Bloomfield Hills. On paper, this is a competitive but Republican-tilting district. But it's such an unusual group of communities stitched together, who knows how it turns out in practice?

Democrats scored a strong potential candidate in the past week in Bloomfield Township Trustee Stephanie Fakih. Also seeking the Democratic nomination are Gary Gerson, a teacher who briefly ran for the old 40th House District in 2020, and Shadia Martini of Bloomfield Hills, who challenged Rep. Kyra Bolden (D-Southfield) in a different district in 2020 and got routed.

On the Republican side are Orion Township Trustee Donni Steele; Sandy Kiesel, president and CEO of Go Lean, a consulting firm; and Ken Trafton of Lake Orion.

LATE FILER ENTERS RACE AGAINST TISDEL IN 55TH: For a while, the only Democrat in the race against Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills) was community organizer Neil Oza. On Tuesday, Patricia Bernard, president of the Heels on Wheelz with a background in the U.S. Army, filed to run. Mr. Tisdel has the advantage of incumbency and will be tough to dislodge even though this area is trending Democratic, albeit more slowly than other areas of Oakland County. And U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, with the change to her district, won't be leading the Democratic effort in the Rochesters anymore.

A BATTLE SHAPING UP IN 57TH: Republicans scored a name candidate in this district that is mostly western Sterling Heights with the eastern most slice of Troy as well with Oakland County Commissioner Thomas Kuhn of Troy filing. But Democrats have two candidate from where most of the population is in Sterling Heights, Aisha Farooqi, a member of the city's Zoning Board of Appeals and Marcia Squier, who has run as a Green Party candidate in the past. The Republican trend in Sterling Heights makes this a tilting GOP seat.

TV ANCHOR FILES IN 68TH, COULD FACE MARTIN: Rep. David Martin (R-Davison) has a much different district and had an intriguing candidate file against him at the last moment. He had been facing two little-known Democrats in Amie Carter and Raymond Freiberger, both of Burton, but just before the deadline, Cheri Hardmon, a weekend anchor for WJRT-TV, filed. Mr. Martin first faces a Republican primary consisting of Lynne Freiberger (Mr. Freiberger's wife), Vern Miller of Grand Blanc and Kristen Swanson.

BESON FACES DEM COUNTY COMMISSIONER IN 96TH: From a candidate quality standpoint, Democrats are not giving up on this district in southern Bay County even as it trends ever more Republican. Democratic Bay County Commissioner Kim Coonan filed to face Rep. Timmy Beson (R-Bay City) in this seat that Mr. Beson flipped in 2020.

WHO WILL DEMS PICK AGAINST O'MALLEY IN 103RD?: The new 103rd House District is just what Democrats hoped for in its design – the most Democratic parts of Grand Traverse County plus Democratic-shifting Leelanau County. The one problem: drawn into the district was popular Rep. Jack O'Malley (R-Lake Ann). That makes taking this district a tough go in 2022.

But Democrats do have two candidates, one familiar and one a newcomer. The familiar face is Grand Traverse County Commissioner Betsy Coffia of Traverse City, who lost bids in 2012, 2014 and 2016. She's a writer and progressive who once criticized state Democrats for airing ads to help her in an earlier campaign. The newcomer is Michael Brodsky of Traverse City, a Democratic activist, member of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority and vice president for business operations at an area company.

This is a very different district for Mr. O'Malley than what he has had, but as a former regional radio host, he has strong name recognition. He'll first have to get through a GOP primary. Heather Cerone, who lost the 2020 primary to Rep. John Roth (R-Interlochen), is back for another try.


ARBIT, SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER TO FACE OFF IN DEM PRIMARY: Democratic activist Noah Arbit seemingly won't sail through three-way primary for the nomination despite a massive fundraising haul. West Bloomfield School Board Trustee Ken Ferguson, a teacher, and James Sklar, a former legislative aide, have also filed for the Democrats.

The Republicans have activist Albert Mansour and attorney Diana Mohyi.

GOP NOVI OFFICIAL COULD FACE BREEN IN 21ST: Two Republicans are vying to take on Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) in a seat slightly less competitive than the one she won in 2020. Daniel Lawless, who has been involved in various MAGA events in Lansing and a supporter of the Secure MI Vote initiative, and David Staudt, the mayor pro tem of Novi, is running.

KOLESZAR FACING COUNCILMEMBER IN 22ND: Republicans have two candidates: Livonia City Councilmember Rob Donovic and Cathryn Neracher of Northville who hope to go up against Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) in November. Ms. Neracher owns a bar trivia business. Mr. Koleszar should start out favored in this district thanks to incumbency, but on paper this district is very competitive, and Mr. Donovic's entry into the race could move this to tossup.

STAUNCH OPPONENT OF MASKS FILES AGAINST MORSE IN 40TH: Republican Kelly Sackett, who was part of a group suing Portage Public Schools over its mask mandate this year, has filed to go up against Rep. Christine Morse (D-Texas Township). Given Kalamazoo County's trend toward the Democrats, Ms. Morse is starting out in good shape. That said, a major swing backward toward the Republicans would put this seat in play.

COMPETITIVE RACE COULD TAKE SHAPE IN TROY-AREA 56TH: The open 56th House District covering parts of Troy and Clawson could shape up to be a real tossup. Republicans have Mark Gunn, a 2017 unsuccessful city council candidate, and Democrats have Sharon MacDonell, who has worked for Lawrence Technological University for more than a decade and has a background in journalism, as well as Cyndi Peltonen, the party's unsuccessful nominee for an area Senate seat in 2014.

SHINKLE V. BRIXIE IN NEW 73RD: Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Okemos) will have a tougher fight than she is used to in the new 73rd House District. Republican Norm Shinkle, current chair of the Board of State Canvassers, filed near the Tuesday deadline. Mr. Shinkle, a longtime GOP operative in Ingham County, was the only canvasser to vote against certifying the 2020 election. He gives the GOP a good competitor and Ms. Brixie will have to work the base of Michigan State University students hard in this seat. Most of the permanent resident portion of East Lansing is in the new 75th District, as is Meridian Township north of Grand River Avenue.

AFENDOULIS V. HOOD IN 81ST: Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) was drawn into a much more competitive seat that includes northeast Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Township, much of conservative Plainfield Township and the Ada area. Combine that with Republicans getting former Rep. Lynn Afendoulis and this one could end up a barn burner.

DEMS LAST U.P. SEAT IN 109TH: Democrats will surely fight hard to keep their last seat in the Upper Peninsula, the 109th House District where Rep. Sara Cambensy cannot seek reelection. Joe Boogren, a Forsyth Township supervisor, Navy veteran and former school board member is facing off against Marquette City Commissioner Jenn Hill for the Democratic nomination.

The Republicans – who will fight equally as hard to get a clean sweep of U.P. seats – will also see a primary. Ron Gray, a mobile park owner from Gwinn, and Melody Wagner, who was the GOP nominee in 2020, are running.

Special Election Wins May Affect GOP House Speakership Race

Posted: March 18, 2022 6:48 PM

Special election primaries in the 36th, 43rd and 74th House districts earlier this month could have implications for the Republican leadership race after outsider candidates took home victories in two of three conservative strongholds.

These wins are for terms ending January 1, 2023, should these candidates go on to win in the May general special election. They'll also need to run in the standard August-November races if they hope to keep the seat for a full term.

Republican winners on March 1 included Terence Mekoski in the 36th House district, Robert Regan in the 74th and Mike Harris in the 43rd (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 1, 2021).

Currently in the running for, potentially, speakership among Republicans is Rep. Matt Hall of Marshall, Rep. Sarah Lightner of Springport, Rep. Andrew Fink of Hillsdale and Rep. Matt Maddock of Milford.

Mr. Hall is considered the leading candidate currently with a wealth of caucus support behind him. Some, however, are looking to the recent rise in Trump-backed candidates that are running for state office as trouble for Mr. Hall given that Mr. Maddock has sway over that wing of the party.

Sources familiar with the situation said that of the three who won in the special primary, Mr. Regan and Mr. Mekoski are likely to back Mr. Maddock in his run while Mr. Harris would be behind Mr. Hall.

The candidates in question, though, are remaining tightlipped about who they would support.

While Mr. Harris gave Mr. Hall a shout out as being a big help during his campaign, he said he was "keeping his powder dry right now" when asked if he supported the lawmaker for leadership.

"He has been a huge help, but I don't know any of the leadership candidates very well yet and my goal is to go in and meet everybody and see where I should put my support," Mr. Harris said.

Mr. Regan made similar remarks when asked shortly after his win.

He said that he was aware of the leadership race, naming that he knew of Mr. Hall and Mr. Maddock specifically, but that he didn't know enough about either candidate yet to decide where to levy his support.

"I haven't been approached yet but I'm sure I will be," Mr. Regan said. "I know there's a race for speaker going on but, quite frankly, my sole focus has been working so hard on this election that I haven't really given it a whole lot of thought."

Mr. Mekoski also indicated that Mr. Hall, Mr. Maddock and Mr. Fink all called to congratulate him on his win earlier this month but that he hadn't given much thought to the leadership race outside of those well-wishes, telling Gongwer News Service: "I haven't even looked into it."

Per Gongwer's last check, Mr. Hall boasted more than a dozen leadership endorsements, Mr. Fink had at least two and both Ms. Lightner's and Mr. Maddock's counts are unknown (See Gongwer Michigan Report, November 1, 2021).

HD-74 GOP Primary Winner Regan Pushing Ukraine Conspiracy Theories

Posted: March 7, 2022 9:34 AM

No less than 24-hours after his win in the 74th House district primary election, Robert Regan is already being scrutinized for posts on both his Facebook and Twitter pages where he appears to back the Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling the situation at large a "hoax."

Mr. Regan, a professional recruiter for larger companies, won the 74th House district primary on Tuesday by 81 votes. He was one of two candidates considered to be outsiders by the party who won their elections by a narrow margin (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 1, 2022).

What this means for Republicans in the primaries remains to be seen, but conspiracy of this level is nothing new for Mr. Regan, who gained a small amount of traction while running in 2020 for his belief that the COVID-19 pandemic was an attempt by Democratic lawmakers to stymie the reelection of former President Donald Trump.

He also insisted at that time that hospitals were inflating the COVID-19 death toll.

Now, however, it appears Mr. Regan has turned his attentions eastward – to Ukraine – where he insisted three times on Tuesday that the Ukrainian-Russian conflict is a hoax. It was on that same day that House Republicans introduced, and the body at large overwhelmingly adopted, a resolution condemning the attack on Ukraine.

In one Twitter post around 4 p.m. Tuesday, Mr. Regan writes that because the billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros is sympathetic to the violence occurring in Ukraine then it was "the right thing to do" to support the "opposite."

To criticize Mr. Soros (who is Jewish) is not inherently antisemitic, however a large portion of far-right outcry over his actions are couched in anti-Jewish stereotypes, including the belief that Jewish individuals have control over what media outlets write or over financial institutions like banks.

His other post is on Facebook, a screen recording of another Facebook post that features both a tweet and a video. The video shows a behind-the-scenes look of the making of a 2019 science-fiction movie "Invasion Planet Earth," which – as the title suggests – is about an alien invasion.

Though the scene is shot in England, it is being presented as a genuine look into the crisis in Ukraine and "proof" that those involved are crisis actors. The videoed Facebook post also appears to suggest that media outlets are uncritically presenting the sci-fi footage as reality.

A quick fact check shows the only account to be circulating this is a now-deleted Twitter with no outwardly apparent connection to any credible news outlet.

Mr. Regan made a third post on his personal Twitter account as well which linked to a video on the alt-right social media platform Gab, with the caption "fake war in Ukraine exposed via citizen livestream."

The video is from an account called "Morpheus MAGA" and features a man walking through an area crowded by cameras and reporters, while the individual recording loudly remarks "look at all the corporate media … having a good old time on the dime of their corporate masters" while saying the media is responsible for drumming up "hysteria based on fake news."

Speaking with Mr. Regan on Wednesday, he doubled down when asked if he thought that the war in Ukraine was a hoax, saying: "The only difference between a conspiracy theory and the truth is about six to 12 months."

He maintained that there was a continued push to blame Russia for global happenings, speaking at length of the Russian disinformation campaign launched in 2016 to help Mr. Trump get elected. He also redoubled debunked theories that masks are a detriment to human health and that COVID-19 has always been no worse than the flu.

"We now have consistently, years, seen how the fake news media reported on things. … What I'm telling people is, yes, we understand that the mainstream media is presenting this particular narrative this way, but this isn't my first rodeo and I understand, and can smell, bullcrap a mile away," Mr. Regan said. "Because if time has taught us anything, it's to not trust the mainstream media. This is going to be no difference at all."

He added that he wanted to "let the truth play out, just like we saw with COVID, just like we saw with election fraud," and was clear that he would not delete the posts off his accounts. When confronted with the fact that his Facebook post had been debunked and proven to come from a movie, Mr. Regan said he fact checks "about as much as Facebook fact checks their posts."

As to if he thought this could work against him, mobilizing Democratic voters against him, Mr. Regan said he was already cognizant of the fact Democratic candidate Carol Glanville would be "one tough competitor" and that the only thing he could do is continue to knock doors and run radio ads over the next few weeks.

Sources within the district say that it is very possible Democrats could see some sort of fire in the run up to the general special election but these types of post will not make a difference when it comes to the May contest for two reasons: party loyalty and voter apathy.

With the election being on May 3, turnout is already anticipated to be low. It also is a strongly Republican district. Those same sources say it's equally as unlikely that traditional Republican voters will be switching over to vote for Ms. Glanville, due to them more than likely not digging into a candidate's social media presence.

With the strong Republican backing in the area, Ms. Glanville will more than likely be beaten unless a strong anti-Regan campaign is mounted within the area. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.

Rob VerHeulen, Kent County Republican chair, said he was "very optimistic" Mr. Regan would go on to win in the May primary election.

However, he seemed taken aback when asked what he thought of Mr. Regan's social media posts, saying he hadn't seen them or had been made aware of them prior to Gongwer's call. He did say, though, that he wanted to talk to Mr. Regan about the post and see "exactly what he said and what his focus was" on social media.

"I think, generally speaking, the public is very supportive of Ukraine," Mr. VerHeulen said. "So, in that sense, I think if you're not supportive of the Ukrainian people, I think that's not a positive."

Both Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores) and Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport), co-chairs of the House Republican Campaign Committee, said that it was clear the House stands with the people of Ukraine when asked if they would comment on the party supporting Mr. Regan's general election bid.

Should they choose not to, it wouldn't be the first time the party declined to support a candidate despite being a Republican. In 2020, 25th House District Republican candidate Paul Smith was completely disavowed by the Michigan Republican Party for scoffing at charges brought against a handful of men that planned to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 12, 2020).

Those close to the situation, however, say the situation between Mr. Regan and Mr. Smith is different and that the caucus will likely want to meet with Mr. Regan and outline priorities and expectations prior to making such a drastic move. Even still, it seemed unlikely the HRCC or MIGOP would make any sort of move against Mr. Regan ahead of the May election

Among those congratulating Mr. Regan Wednesday was Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser.

Mr. Regan will face a much different map when he runs for the full term later this year. The conservative areas in northwest Kent County will be replaced by far more liberal areas of Grand Rapids.

Speaking with Walker Mayor Pro Tem Steven Gilbert, who came in second in the 74th House district primary on Tuesday, he said he was "taking some time, taking a step back, evaluating where we are and trying to catch my breath a little bit."

Should he choose to run again come August, the new map should play to his advantage. What is currently the 74th House district will become the 84th House district, which will see the area go from deeply conservative to much more of a toss-up for the general election.

Mr. Noordhoek won Grandville by 300 more votes than Mr. Regan and 404 more votes than Mr. Gilbert. Conversely, Mr. Gilbert won Walker by 142 more votes than Mr. Regan and 375 more votes than Mr. Noordhoek. Where Mr. Regan bested the other Republicans in the race – in the townships of Algoma Solon and Sparta, as well as the cities of Rockford and Cedar Springs – will shift to the new 90th House district. Rep. Bryan Posthumus (R-Cannon Township) will be seeking reelection from that district.

A Song Of Frustration And (Arcade) Fire: A Redistricting Playlist – For You!

Posted: February 11, 2022 7:39 AM

There was a Twitter thread the other day which posed an interesting question: If you had to make a playlist to describe the redistricting process, what would be on it?

While the question wasn't specific to Michigan's redistricting process, it did prompt a series of replies from Mitten-based journalists and politicos who threw out their own ideas – me included – about what our own redistricting playlist might sound like.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but more of a primer for what it was like to cover Michigan's own redistricting efforts. If you can think of more, I'd certainly welcome the suggestions (especially considering that I'm fighting the urge to make this an actual Spotify playlist as we speak).

"Changes" – 2Pac

It was a tough choice between this, and David Bowie's "Changes," but the sentiment is the same – Michigan's U.S. House, state House and state Senate maps are changing, and 2Pac's right: Things will never be the same.

"Dare You To Move" – Switchfoot

With incumbents being drawn into the same district at the state House, state Senate and congressional level, it's become a game of who will blink first in terms of people ceding districts to members of their own party.

While many have chosen to stay put in an area that has most of their base, some are looking elsewhere in the state – or even looking at not running for the same or different office at all – given the way Michigan's maps break down.

"Detroit Rock City" – Kiss

Given the intense fixation on whether the newly selected maps are or aren't in compliance with the U.S. Voting Rights Act, it was only proper to include something of a shoutout to Detroit on the playlist. That said, the first lawsuit filed against the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission was dismissed by the Michigan Supreme Court earlier this month in a 4-3 decision.

Justices in the majority say the maps, drawn with fewer and in some cases no majority-minority districts, had not violated the act (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 3, 2022).

"Maps And Legends" – R.E.M.

Maybe not the most original choice, but given the fact that we had so many circulating at one point, the song was inevitable. Also, I think our editor – a certified R.E.M. superfan – would probably fire me if I didn't include this one over another map-related song, like "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or "Maps" by The Front Bottoms. Or even "Maps" by Maroon 5.

Side note: Who knew there were so many songs about maps?

Editor's note: Editor nods approvingly.

"Dazed And Confused" – Led Zeppelin

We cover redistricting pretty diligently. And while I'm not our beat reporter for that, the honor going to our own Ben Solis, I have sat in on my fair share of redistricting meetings. Let me tell you, after several hours of watching places you're vaguely familiar with being picked apart and drawn one way, only to be erased and drawn another, simply because some lines looked a little too gerrymandered – your brain starts to feel like soup.

Even now, with the districts more or less established, I'm still having trouble learning what exactly each jurisdiction is, who lives there or who could be running there. I don't know if that will change any time soon. Maybe by the primaries.

"The Suburbs" – Arcade Fire

If you'd read any of the comments on the proposed maps (when that option was still available, as the non-selected maps have since been pulled from the ICRC's website) it felt like everyone's eyes were on the suburbs and how those districts were dissected – and for good reason.

Suburban voters were credited with helping now President Joe Biden win election in 2020, and will likely be where Republicans and Democrats alike zero-in on in the run up to the 2024 presidential election. Not to mention the number of changes suburban districts underwent during this process, in an effort to make them more competitive regardless of political party.

Editor's note: Editor squints at selection and starts singing "Subdivisions" by Rush to himself.

"I Fought The Law And The Law Won" – The Clash

While there's still a case from Republicans regarding the redistricting commission's maps as well as one from a coalition of voting groups, so far, the ICRC has been able to claim a win of sorts over if they'll have to go back to the drawing board on the final incarnation of their maps. Maybe the song isn't a perfect fit for the example, but the commission has been somewhat successful in defending their maps as they currently stand.

Now, defending that closed door meeting the commission tried to undertake? Not so much (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 20, 2021).

"How To Disappear Completely" – Radiohead

I consider this a farewell to Michigan's former 14th U.S. House district, given that we lost it to the census and the ICRC was tasked with drawing us a new map with only 13 U.S. House districts. Also, it's a formal signoff for all the lawmakers who've more or less lost their entire base to new districts which have divvied up their current constituency across two, three, even four other, newer jurisdictions.

"I Ran" – Flock Of Seagulls

With the new maps out, it feels like everyone and their brother is throwing their name into the ring to be the next state representative, senator or member of Congress – a given, considering many of these maps endeavor to put areas of the state in play that haven't been in quite some time.

"Walk The Line" – Johnny Cash

Get it? Boundary lines? You know, like between House or Senate districts? I'll see myself out.

It's January 2022. I'm Tired. And I'm Tired Of Being Tired. Aren't You?

Posted: January 24, 2022 4:10 PM

I missed my niece's first Christmas.

She's just about three months old, the first grandchild born on my husband's side, and I've seen her once. Held her, once. It's more than some in the family can say who live elsewhere in the country. And because of that, I just probably count myself as lucky.

But I don't.

I just count myself as tired.

We're staring down the barrel of another year in this pandemic. My husband and I have both lost family members. My own parents caught it, and it took my father out of commission for days in a scary way. We thought we both had it back in December – turns out it was just strep – but it scared us enough that we'd delayed seeing anyone until earlier this month.

Sure, a late Christmas is still Christmas, but it feels different enough that it's not the same.

We've missed friends' weddings. We've cancelled birthday plans. We were lucky enough to catch a lull in the virus to get married this past August, but with a guest list cut down to the point where we even questioned the need of having one. It's because of this that we haven't even given any thought to a honeymoon.

With how volatile things are, here and abroad, we probably won't for a while, either.

So much of our time has now been spent couped up inside, playing video games or watching television or reading, on the days when it's not nice enough to go out. When it was warmer, most of our time was spent doing solitary activities anyways, like camping or paddleboarding. There was always some fear about accidentally catching COVID and not knowing it, but instead passing it on to friends and loved ones.

We'd tried going to a concert shortly after our wedding but stood far apart from everyone else with masks on and felt awkward the whole time, like we were children about to get in trouble for doing something we shouldn't have. And this was despite the venue requiring proof of vaccination, music venue crowds being allowed indoors again and both of us having tested negative beforehand.

In March 2020, it felt bearable. We understood that what we were doing was for the greater good. While it was rough to be apart from family or to cancel major life events, it was because we were working toward snuffing out COVID. There was always a sense of understanding that our intangible losses paled in comparison to the losses of others, or the losses we could experience should we not stick to the guidelines.

In January 2022, everything feels insulated now. Claustrophobic. I'm not saying that we should suddenly go out and lick every doorknob in a six-mile radius because the virus isn't real. I'm also not saying that people shouldn't be allowed to feel tired. Or angry. Sad. Disappointed. Frustrated. To be one of the people who "followed all the rules," got their shots when they were supposed to and keeps masking up – even now – to find yourself in virtually the same place you were two years ago? It's a punch in the gut. It makes you question if it was even worth it.

I recognize that I'm speaking from a place of privilege here. My husband and I don't have children, so we didn't have to experience the daunting task that is virtual learning or worry about needing to find alternative daycare. We didn't lose our jobs. We haven't been sickened by COVID – yet, I feel the need to add, since it's likely we will eventually – and the virus hasn't ravaged our families like it has for some others.

Yet, I know we're not alone in feeling this sense of hopelessness. Whether people want to admit it or not, even the staunchest supporter of the necessity of COVID protocol is tired.

It's easy to see why.

This month alone, the House has cancelled voting in their first full week back due to the virus. Governor Gretchen Whitmer will again be giving her State of the State address virtually out of caution for spread. Several state boards and commissions are still meeting virtually, and for those that aren't, rooms are typically set up to mitigate the potential for people to sit near each other.

It's as if nothing has changed between 2021 and 2022 – and it's only January. If this is how I'm feeling now, I'm already dreading of how I'll feel come June or December. What other life events will be put on hold or missed entirely because of the pandemic? What should I expect when it feels like every few months the bridge to the "other side" of this thing is just a little ricketier than before?

I'm not sure what finally pushed me enough to write this blog. A sense of catharsis? Maybe. An open letter to others who feel like I do, who thought they were alone in feeling like this but realize their emotions are more common than they realized? Sure.

I wasn't even aware of what I was feeling until my husband and I sat down and talked through it. There's bound to be others in the same boat. And to them I say: feel it. It's already been established that this level of isolation and stress is doing great damages to peoples' mental health. But talk with someone. A sibling, a parent, a coworker, whoever.

Check in with them to see how they're doing. Make sure they're not neck deep in water and not even bothering to try and tread. Even from the outside if they look OK – ask anyways. You never know.

The road ahead of us, as it relates to COVID, is long. I'm not going to offer platitudes and say it's going to get better or that this will get easier. But we can make it easier for ourselves by just trying to be human and be there for each other. It's one of the few constants that stayed, well, constant throughout these last handful of months.

Cry if you have to. Scream if you must. However best you get your emotions out, in a healthy way, do that: yoga, reading, video chatting with a loved one, running, going for a drive, even unplugging from technology for a few days. But at least know you're not alone in feeling that way.

And at least know that whatever comes out of this year, at least we can all find some weird sense of community in being tired together.

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