July 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Road funding a key issue for Oakland Dems in state House primary

A licensed medical marijuana caregiver, an investment adviser, an attorney, a union leader and an insurance agent are the Democrats competing for an Oakland County state House seat in the Aug. 5 primary.

The primary race to replace term-limited state Rep. Ellen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, has attracted five Democratic candidates and two Republicans. The fiercest contest is among the Democrats because the state House District 27 is predominantly Democratic, covering Berkley, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge and Royal Oak Township.

Robert Wittenberg of Oak Park is a 33-year-old insurance agent who says he wants to continue Lipton’s work as a fierce advocate for education and opposes for-profit operators of charter schools and full-time cyber schools.

“We want more transparency and to make sure the money is being used for kids,” Wittenberg said.

He is endorsed by the United Auto Workers and the Detroit Regional Chamber.

To fix the roads, Wittenberg says the state needs to lower weight limits or increase taxes that allow such trucks. He also supports placing warranties on roads and using better materials to ensure long-term use. Raising taxes should be a last resort, he said.

Andrew Robert Cissell of Oak Park is a 26-year-old licensed caregiver and user of medical marijuana who is working to get marijuana decriminalized in several Oakland County communities.

“I think we need some real change,” Cissell said. “I think I represent that.”

To raise more money for roads, Cissell said he would increase the tax on the price of gas per gallon, hike the diesel tax to make it equal to smaller vehicles and raise auto registration fees.

Cissell is facing trial later this month in Oakland Circuit Court on five felony counts of manufacturing and delivery of marijuana.

He contends two of the alleged crimes occurred in Wayne County, not Oakland County, and the remaining charges related to the seizure of marijuana from his home should be dropped because he can legally possess marijuana.

Rudy Serra of Ferndale is a 58-year-old lawyer who was a 36th District judge in 2004-07.

“I’m the only candidate with a proven track record of hard work and accomplishment with values that represent the people in this area, the only one to hold elective office and hold an education in the law,” said Serra, a former Oakland County commissioner and Ferndale school board member.

Road funding must addressed “by any means necessary. The conditions are so bad and so dramatic,” he said. His solutions would include legalizing marijuana and taxing it. He would consider an increase in the sales tax and creating a fairer funding system overall that would include adding toll roads.

If elected, Serra wants to add sexual orientation and gender identify to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Candidate Joe McHugh of Berkley is a 35-year-old investment adviser who has a health and fitness business. He served in the Marine Corps from 2008-12 and was deployed to Asia and Africa.

McHugh said he is the only candidate who can show leadership by example. “When Hurricane Sandy hit, I dropped what I was doing and deployed for two weeks for the cleanup,” he said. “I have creative solutions that actually work. ... I use market-based solutions that can be passed in a Republican Legislature.”

McHugh’s solution to the road crisis would include obtaining warranties on roadwork and taxing cannabis and hemp. Raising taxes would be a last resort, he said. “Michigan spends $158 million per year on cannabis-related incarceration and legal fees. We could put that directly toward roads,” he said.

Kelli Williams of Oak Park is a 33-year-old telecommunications representative and secretary-treasurer of Communications Workers of America, Local 4004.

Williams says the road solution is to better allocate existing state money. She says Congress needs to bring more funding home to Michigan.

“I would oppose raising taxes. Raising taxes is an attack on working people,” she said.

Her first order of business if elected would be to repeal the state’s right-to-work law that makes union dues payments optional because it is a “threat to working families.”

Williams says voters should consider her because she is the only woman and African-American in the race.

“The dynamics of what leadership looks like need to change in Lansing. There are not a lot of women at the table. If you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu,” she said.