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State Sen. Tom Casperson on Monday became the first Republican to launch a campaign for the northern Michigan congressional seat being vacated next year by retiring U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek.

Casperson, R-Escanaba, spent 27 years working in his family’s log hauling trucking business before being elected to three terms in the state House. He was elected to the state Senate in 2010 and re-elected last year.

During his time in Lansing, Casperson has sparred with state agencies, pushing the Department of Environmental Quality to speed up the approval process for cleaning up underground storage tanks.

Casperson also had a leading role in getting a law passed that capped the amount of land the Department of Natural Resources could purchase at 4.6 million acres until the department creates a land management plan.

“I’ve been working on making our government more responsive to the people,” Casperson told The Detroit News.

Casperson kicked off his campaign Monday in his hometown and drew immediate political fire from a newly formed political action committee targeting Republicans who have voted to raise taxes.

Conservative political activist Scott Hagerstrom, who previously ran the Americans for Prosperity chapter in Michigan, on Monday announced the formation of a new group called Tax-Hiking Republicans PAC.

The group’s initial target is Casperson because he voted in the state Senate to place the failed Proposal 1 sales tax increase on the May 5 ballot and voted for a proposed 15-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase that never got enacted, Hagerstrom said.

He also criticized Casperson for voting to expand the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

Hagerstrom would not say who is funding the federal PAC, which will be subject to filing quarterly campaign finance disclosure reports with the Federal Election Commission.

“We definitely believe that voters in the 1st District deserve to know that Tom Casperson is a tax-hiking Republican,” Hagerstrom told The News.

In defending the Medicaid vote, Casperson noted he was the first Republican ever elected to the 38th District seat, which includes all but three counties in the U.P.

“I went to Lansing to govern and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said. “I think my credentials as a senator were pretty good.”

Casperson voted for the final $1.2 billion road funding plan the Legislature sent Gov. Rick Snyder last week. It included voting in favor of a 20 percent hike in vehicle registration fees and raising the 19-cent-per-gallon gas tax and the 15-cent-per-gallon diesel tax to 26.3 cents per gallon.

“It was the best we could do with the votes we had,” Casperson said.

Benishek, R-Crystall Falls, said in September he would not seek a fourth two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives, reversing earlier plans to run for re-election.

The expansive 1st Congressional District seat includes the entire Upper Peninsula and 17 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula.

Since it’s an open seat for a congressional district with a 53 percent Republican base, the race is expected to generate a competitive GOP primary next year.

Former state Sen. Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, and state Rep. Peter Petallia, R-Presque Isle, are among other Republicans said to be considering a bid for the GOP nomination.

Former Kalkaska County Sheriff Jerry Cannon, who was Benishek’s Democratic opponent in 2014, is challenging former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson of Kalkaska for the Democratic nomination.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood

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