Bare-knuckle politics surfaces in Macomb County legislative races

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Mike MacDonald, left, R-Sterling Heights and Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights

In Macomb County, where the campaign season reputedly doesn’t begin until someone gets punched, the most intriguing race for the state Legislature involves drunken driving and an amputated leg.

The second-most intriguing campaign features unpaid liens and an attack-mode website that claims the incumbent is in favor of child labor.

The drunken driver was Mike MacDonald of Macomb Township, the Republican candidate opposing Democratic Rep. Henry Yanez of Sterling Heights in Senate District 10. They are running to fill the seat of term-limited Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights.

The personal, state and federal liens belonged to Democrat Laura Winn of Macomb Township, who’s running against Republican State Rep. Steve Marino of Harrison Township in House District 24, who is accused of being an advocate for hiring 10-year-old employees.

MacDonald’s case dates to July 15, 2007 — “when I was in my 20s,” he notes.

Driving home from McDonald’s at 4:40 a.m. with four sandwiches and three orders of hash browns, MacDonald collided at a Clinton Township intersection with motorcyclist Timothy Soucie.

MacDonald told police he hadn’t been drinking, then upgraded to one beer before logging a BAC of .17, slightly more than twice the legal limit. Soucie’s life-threatening injuries included a lower left leg so damaged that it had to be amputated.

Ultimately, MacDonald pleaded guilty to impaired driving, served 12 months’ probation and paid $1,585 in fines. Soucie settled a civil suit for $32,500, paid by MacDonald’s insurance company.

In September, the Michigan Democratic Party released a video and mailed a flier suggesting that the accident and MacDonald’s initial fudging to police render him unfit for office.

MacDonald responded with a statement, pointing out that both drivers had been drinking and “for me, it led to remorse and a commitment to never let it happen again.”

“We both were idiots,” he says now, adding that Republicans knew about the incident before a three-person primary in August and reiterating his resolve to never again drive while intoxicated.

Bringing up the case “means they’re losing,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald, the vice president of the Michigan Air Force Association, said he hasn’t been asked about the case as he’s gone door-to-door. Conversations in the Republican-leaning district, he said, tend to center on expensive auto insurance and bad roads — issues that play into his analytical approach.

Yanez, 61, a retired firefighter and paramedic, said he believes MacDonald’s lack of disclosure regarding the accident is a campaign issue, but he has not mentioned it.

“I’m focused on the issues important to my district,” said Yanez, who served the maximum three terms in the House.

Yanez has a particular interest in water quality and — like MacDonald — said he hears a lot from constituents about poor roads and the cost of insurance to drive on them.

“I tell them that unfortunately, we passed a very bad bill in 2015 that cost them a lot of money and isn’t getting the roads fixed,” he says. “I voted against it.”

He said a bipartisan insurance proposal called the Fair and Affordable Act has been unable to get a hearing.

The District 10 race includes Libertarian Mike Saliba, 34, of Clinton Township, who advocates removing some requirements of no-fault insurance to lower costs and using medical marijuana to help stifle the opioid crisis.

House District 24

Winn, a first-time candidate, said she knew her financial problems were going to come up. “I’m not afraid of it," she said. 

Winn owns a cleaning company, Two Girls and a Bucket, and said an accountant who was supposed to be paying her personal and tax bills didn’t. He died before she could sue, Winn said, but she had whittled $56,000 in debt to $24,000 before the Republicans last month brought up the issue. She produced documents showing the tax liens have since been discharged.

Though the state Republican Party issued a bulletin targeting Winn and several other Democrats, Marino said the first he had heard about the liens was from a reporter.

Winn said her decision to run was inspired by elderly customers who can’t afford health care or car insurance, let alone assisted living.

Her lengthy to-do list includes finding out where the money for roads has gone, establishing an unspecified fair wage, and repealing the tax on pensions.

Marino, 29, was elected to the Macomb County Commission at 24. He said his district has gradually been turning red, but remains 55 percent Republican, which would not allow him to coast even if he were inclined.

Marino said he’s hearing the same rumblings on doorsteps that most candidates report: roads, rates, rivers and lakes. None of that gets highlighted at, a name that harkens to his previous political lobbying and consulting firm.

During the 2016 campaign, Michigan Democrats tried to take advantage of audio recordings they made in 2015 of Marino during constituent coffee hours. One snippet on the website claims he supports sending jobs offshore. He says he was simply explaining the rationale of those who do.

Likewise, a few sentences about using 10- and 12-year-olds to build cars in India can be more easily seen as a discussion point than an endorsement.

“They have some very creative quotes,” he said, and he paused:

“It’s Macomb.”

Other Macomb races

Senate District 8: Rep. Peter Lucido, a Republican who left the House after two terms to seek a Senate seat, opposes Democrat Paul Francis, co-owner of a recycled hardwood campfire company.

Senate District 9: Democrat Paul Wojno, the Warren city clerk, opposes Republican Jeff Bonnell of Roseville, a military retiree.

House District 18: Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, faces Republican Kyle McKee of St. Clair Shores.

House District 22: Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, will face Republican Arthur Blundell of Roseville and Libertarian Matt Kuehnel of Warren.

House District 25: Democrat Nate Shannon, a Sterling Heights city council member, faces Republican Jazmine Early of Sterling Heights, whose campaign Facebook page warns that the opposing party wants to turn Michigan into another Venezuela.

House District 28: Teacher Lori Stone of Warren, who defeated Democratic incumbent Patrick Green in the primary, opposes Republican Aaron Delikta and Libertarian Ryan Manier.

House District 30: Republican Diana Farrington, R-Utica, is the incumbent. Her Democratic challenger, also from Utica, is auto salesman John Spica.

House District 31: Incumbent Bill Sowerby, D-Clinton Township, faces Republican Lisa Valerio-Nowc of Clinton Township, who fell to Sowerby by 17 percentage points in 2016.

House District 32: Pamela Hornberger,  R-New Baltimore, opposes Democrat Paul Manley of Chesterfield Township.

House District 33: Incumbent Jeff Yaroch, R-Richmond, faces Democrat Andrea Geralds, a small business owner and school volunteer from Macomb Township.

House District 36: Attorney Douglas Wozniak of Shelby Township bested four opponents in the Republican primary. He’ll oppose Democrat Robert Murphy of Romeo and Libertarian Benjamin Dryke of Shelby Township.