July 31, 2014 at 1:00 am

GOP candidates spar over tactics in campaign for 13th District seat

Marty Knollenberg says he has the deepest local roots, Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski bills himself as a government outsider and Chuck Moss claims his legislative experience guarantees Oakland County residents the best return on their tax dollars.

The three former state lawmakers are jockeying to replace term-limited Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, representing the state Senate’s 13th District, in Tuesday’s primary election.

Sparks have flared over unflattering literature or a mass email Raczkowski claims was sent to district residents in May that depicted him dancing. It led to a text message exchange the three-term state House veteran initiated with Knollenberg, whom he blamed.

Knollenberg’s campaign denied sending out anything about Raczkowski and accused him of bizarre behavior. Knollenberg campaign manager Mike Murray said Raczkowski appeared to be posing as “Moss” in one of the text messages.

Raczkowski later dismissed the text message imbroglio as little more than private communications blown up to “biblical proportions” by his opponent’s campaign.

Ill feelings remain. Troy resident Knollenberg, emphasizing his longtime residency, noted he’s “not renting an apartment in the district like one candidate” — a pointed reference to Raczkowski, who moved to Troy from Farmington Hills.

“My roots have been in this community for 47 years,” Knollenberg told The Detroit News. “I’m the only candidate who went to public schools in the district. I’m the only one to own a business in the district.”

Moss, largely steering clear of attacks, emphasizes that at three levels of government — city of Birmingham, Oakland County commission and state House — he has balanced budgets, approved appropriations and helped wipe out deficits.

“I have experience in solving the budgetary challenges that are the core of good government,” the Birmingham resident said. “Whether it’s roads or retirement or just living within your means, I have a history of getting things done.”

While the three are considered leading contenders, Royal Oak educator Al Gui and Birmingham attorney Ethan Baker are making it a five-way GOP battle.

The primary may decide Pappageorge’s successor since the Republican makeup of the district doesn’t favor a Democratic victory in November. It stretches from Royal Oak and Berkley through Rochester Hills, with an appendage that takes in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills.

Knollenberg, son of ex-U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg of Bloomfield Hills, served in the state House from 2007 through 2012 and has owned a Troy insurance agency for 28 years.

He touts a series of bills he sponsored that led to laws reducing lawmakers’ pay 10 percent, outlawing the use of campaign funds for pay for criminal defense and docking lawmakers’ pay for excessive absences.

Knollenberg said he’s the only candidate to lay out a complete strategy for dealing with Michigan’s billion-dollar road repair shortfall. Key elements include eliminating prevailing wage rules; getting more than $100 million in savings from state bidding reforms; redirecting state oil and gas lease revenue from public land purchases to roads; and redirecting some sales and use tax revenue to roads.

Raczkowski, a logistics business executive, is calling attention to his life outside politics despite being deeply involved in past unsuccessful campaigns for federal office.

He’s been out of the Legislature since serving 1997-2002 in the state House, including a stint as majority floor leader. After leaving state government, he married and has a 5-month-old daughter.

“Business has always been my first calling,” he said. “(But) you can’t have good business unless you have good public servants willing to put government out of the way and allow the market to operate way it should.”

A military reservist, Raczkowski served two years overseas supporting the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’ve been out of state office for 12 years,” Raczkowski said. “I have lived under the laws and not just jumped from office to office. ”

He would like to eliminate intermediate school districts and redirect their budgets to public schools, reducing class sizes.

He said he’s interested in the concept of state-owned banks like those in California and North Dakota. It could be a way to keep state business assets pooled here and create more readily available investment capital, he said.

A state House contemporary of Knollenberg, Moss has been a Birmingham city commissioner, served on the finance committee while a county commissioner and chaired the House Appropriations Committee for two years.

He says Oakland is too much of a “donor county,” sending $1 billion more tax revenue to Lansing than it gets back each year. The county should get more for its own infrastructure, he contends.

“Oakland needs to get its fair share,” he said. “You can’t get milk if you don’t feed the cow.”

Baker, who resides in Troy and practices law in Birmingham, is a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan. He worked in the Reagans’ Los Angeles post-presidential office.

“He was a master at building relationships, even with people of opposing ideologies,” Baker said. “… It allowed them to get things done for people and the country.”

He set up his own practice in Los Angeles before moving to Oakland County five years ago.

“People are looking for new blood, a fresh face and new ideas,” he said. “They want somebody with everyday experience who hasn’t been a career politician.”

Baker said roads should be prioritized in the state budget but money for additional repairs shouldn’t come from tax increases. He also opposes the state’s involvement in Common Core national curriculum standards.

Gui of Royal Oak is a veteran teacher with three grown children and a desire to make changes in what he sees as a dysfunctional government.

“I’m tired of seeing people being elected when nothing is changed,” he said.

Gui says the state needs to more aggressively promote post-graduate education by reducing tuition increases and student debt.

Part of the answer, he said, could be allowing less-costly community colleges to expand their curricula and offer more four-year degrees.

gheinlein@detroitnews.com
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