July 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

State Rep.'s Republican primary challenge in Oakland County

Kesto complains about rival's message on van

First-term state Rep. Klint Kesto is pushing back on a Republican primary challenge in Oakland County by accusing his chief rival of violating a state law prohibiting candidates from implying they’re an incumbent in campaign advertising.

Kesto’s campaign manager this week filed a complaint with the offices of the Oakland County Prosecutor and the Secretary of State against Deb O’Hagan for driving around the 39th House District in a campaign van that says “Vote August 5th Deb O’Hagan Republican State Rep.”

The Kesto campaign alleges the verbiage on O’Hagan’s van violates a law prohibiting candidates for public office from using advertising that “gives the impression that a candidate for public office is the incumbent” — a misdemeanor offense.

O’Hagan, a tea party activist from West Bloomfield, said the complaint is a sign of desperation by Kesto in his bid to survive the Aug. 5 primary against her and a lesser-known third Republican candidate, Alan Stephens of Wixom.

“The roads are falling apart, Obamacare is falling apart, he’s committed us to billions of taxpayer dollars (for Medicaid expansion) and he’s filing a complaint on the van I’m driving around in?” O’Hagan said. “He must really be in poll trouble two weeks before the election. He’s just giving himself a little more rope.”

O’Hagan is challenging Kesto in the primary, in part, because he voted to expand the Medicaid health insurance program and supported the federally-approved Common Core education standards.

Kesto, R-Commerce Township, consulted with a Bureau of Elections employee who indicated O’Hagan’s advertising may violate the incumbency statute.

“I’m not desperate at all,” Kesto said of the complaint. “I’ve hit tons of doors – the response is fantastic.”

In an interview, Kesto defended his vote to add more than 300,000 low-income adults to the Medicaid rolls through a re-branded program dubbed “Healthy Michigan” that requires most participants to contribute co-pays toward their taxpayer-funded insurance. He also downplayed the significance of the controversial vote in his district, which includes Wixom and Commerce Township and western West Bloomfield Township.

“Not too many people ask me about it,” Kesto said. “Everybody I explain the Healthy Michigan plan to are appreciative of it .”

The top issue on the minds of voters, Kesto said, is the state’s crumbling roads and how to pay for improvements. Kesto and O’Hagan both said they favor filling an estimated $1.2 billion shortfall in road funding deficit with money elsewhere in the state budget.

“I think it’s a good start initially to look at existing revenue,” Kesto said. “No one wants to reach into taxpayers’ pockets

To better fund the roads, O’Hagan said she would start by eliminating the $50 million the Legislature has appropriated for subsidizing movie and television show production in Michigan.

“We don’t need to raise taxes,” she said. “We have plenty of money there.”

Absent from debate

O’Hagan criticizes Kesto for not agreeing to debate her and holding a fundraiser Wednesday night in Farmington Hills — outside of the district — that featured Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, nine other Republican state legislators and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

“Why is it OK for him to accept $100 and $200 in fundraising dollars outside of the district with all the GOP big wigs, but he can’t answer questions about his voting record in his district?” O’Hagan said. “I think he’s hiding.”

Kesto said he missed at least one candidate forum in West Bloomfield because he had a prior commitment to meet with constituents.

“They’re trying to make an issue out of this where there’s nothing there,” he said.

Kesto is hosting a public forum on road funding Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Commerce Township library on North Pontiac Trail. “I’m available to my constituents,” he said.

Stephens, who acknowledges his campaign is not likely to succeed, said he too has been frustrated Kesto hasn’t made time to debate issues impacting the state’s economy.

“It’s hard to debate somebody when they don’t show up,” Stephens said.

In the 39th District’s Democratic primary, West Bloomfield attorney Sandy Colvin is favored by party insiders to fend off a challenge from Commerce Township housing inspector Michael Saari, who switched parties before the filing deadline in April.

Saari has called President Barack Obama a “tyrant” and “lunatic” and questions his U.S. citizenship.

clivengood@detroitnews.com
(517) 371-3660
http://twitter.com/ChadLivengood