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Whitmer emerges as key issue in Macomb County state House race

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan House races in Macomb County aren't expected to play a big role in the battle for control of the Republican-led chamber since there is only one open seat in the Nov. 3 election.

But the race in the Sterling Heights area 25th District between the Democratic incumbent and his Republican challenger is emerging as one to watch. Sterling Heights voters favored President Donald Trump 54%-42% over Democrat Hillary Clinton four years ago — the same as the countywide results.

Air Force veteran Paul M Smith, left, a Republican from Sterling Heights, is challenging Michigan State Rep. Nate Shannon, D-Sterling Heights in the Nov. 3, 2020 election.

Republican Paul M Smith of Sterling Heights launched an extensive door-to-door campaign in a bid to unseat State Rep. Nate Shannon, D-Sterling Heights, including spending cash on lawn signs and posters. A key issue in the race is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive orders in response to the coronavirus.

The seat  could flip, said Mark Forton, chairman of the Macomb County Republican Party.

“We think we can take it. It would be interesting if we could," Forton said. "The other races, all current Republicans seem to be safe."

Democrats are hoping to pick up four seats statewide to take control of the House, where Republicans effectively hold a 53-47 majority. The GOP has led both the House and Senate since the 2010 election.

Shannon, 45, who is serving his first term in the $71,685-a-year job, is a former economics and history teacher with the L'Anse Creuse Public Schools and served on the Sterling Heights city council.

"I’m running for re-election to continue what I have started," Shannon said. "To strengthen our public schools, support first responders and front-line workers, protect the Great Lakes and ensure real economic recovery."

Michigan State Rep. Nate Shannon, D-Sterling Heights

If re-elected, Shannon said he would work on education reform — including repealing the state's third grading reading law that stops third grade students from moving to the fourth grade if they read a grade level behind on the state's English Language Arts assessment, which measures reading, writing, listening and language. 

He also wants to address the issues with the state's Unemployment Insurance Agency, which had a huge backlog of unemployment claims during the pandemic that has been  the subject of legislative hearings.

Shannon was elected two years ago 54%-46% over Republican Jazmine Early when Whitmer won Sterling Heights 50%-47%.

Shannon criticized his opponent by saying Smith "has a far, far right agenda and will do anything to gain power."

"We need strong experienced leadership during the time of COVID and social strife," he said.

State Rep. Steve Marino, R-Harrison Township, represents Michigan's 24th House District.

Smith, 74, is a former Sterling Heights City Council member, a retired engineer from General Motors Co. and a veteran of the U.S Air Force where he was a pilot.

Smith said he is running to protect the district, which includes Sterling Heights and a portion of Warren, and the entire state of Michigan from the "destructive one-woman authoritarian rule" of Whitmer, the Democratic governor.

"She has already permanently damaged and/or destroyed jobs, small business, churches, charities, schools and sports," Smith said. "Global warming is bogus. Climate change is bogus. Whitmer is bogus."

Smith called Shannon "a tool of The Democrats" and said there is an "ongoing leftist dictatorship of Sterling Heights." Sterling Heights' mayor is Michael Taylor, a Republican who has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. 

If elected, Smith said he would contain spending, reduce tax rates and eliminate all state regulations that impede industry.

"Federal regulations are bad enough. We can’t afford to pile on with even more at the state level," he said.

In other races of note:

* In the Republican-leaning 24th House District, state Rep. Steve Marino, R-Harrison Township, is being challenged by Democrat Michelle Woodman.

Michelle Woodman

Marino, 31, is seeking a third and final term under term limit rules. He chairs the House Commerce and Tourism Committee and is vice chair of the Local Government and Municipal Finance Committee. He has been endorsed by the Michigan AFL-CIO.

The lawmaker, who has been targeted by Democrats in two straight elections, said he is running for re-election to ensure that Michigan's economic climate is heading toward a full recovery.

Woodman, 36, from Harrison Township has been teaching music in Chippewa Valley Schools since 2012 and has spent summers as a division director at Interlochen Arts Camp. 

Woodman said she is running because the people in her district deserve a representative who shows up, who listens and who works for them.

Richard Steenland

* The sole open House seat in Macomb County belongs to state Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, who is term-limited.

Richard Steenland, a Democrat from Roseville, and Steve G. Warner, a Republican from Warren, are vying for the open seat in the Democratic-leaning district.

Steenland, 58, of Roseville has been the city's clerk since 2007. He worked for Macomb County from 1983 through 2007 in Juvenile Court, Friend of the Court and the Court Administrator’s Office as a judicial aide and in tax collection at the Macomb County Treasurer’s Office. 

If elected, Steenland said he would work on restoring the economy and getting past the pandemic.

Steve Warner

Warner, 56, served on City Council for 12 years. He said he is running to further serve his community and provide fresh ideas for the district.

jchambers@detroitnews.com