Republicans, Democrats vie for Oakland County state House seats
The departures of three state House incumbents in Oakland County have prompted spirited battles to replace them in the Aug. 7 primary elections.
While most state legislators from Oakland County are Republican, two districts represented by Democrats have attracted a slew of candidates because the incumbents in Districts 29 and 35 are seeking other elective posts. Both districts have six Democrats running for the open spot.
Meanwhile, the departure of term-limited Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, in District 39 has attracted four members of his party to fight for the open spot.
Since few candidates enjoy name recognition, the races will likely come down to organization, money and their connections to the local community, political experts said.
Six Democrats, including current and former Pontiac city officials, are competing to replace term-limited state Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, who is running for Congress. The area includes Pontiac, Auburn Hills, Orchard Lake, Keego Harbor and Sylvan Lake.
Kermit Williams, 35, has been on the Pontiac City Council for nine years, serving as president for the first time this year. He has been endorsed by the United Auto Workers union.
In Lansing, he’d advocate more revenue sharing for cities as part of an overall effort to “support strong communities.”
Williams, who works as a community outreach specialist for Oakland Integrated Healthcare Network, would push to make preventative care accessible to more people.
Williams also wants to cap class sizes in schools to 21 and possibly fewer students in the earliest grades.
“Not matter how effective a teacher is … you can’t teach with too many kids,” he said.
Mike Demand, 34, of West Bloomfield, is a former community affairs staffer for the Detroit Tigers who said he stepped down from the post so he could run for the Lansing job. He said he is a bridge builder who would work to bring lawmakers together.
This is first race for political office.
If elected, he’d push for criminal justice reforms, more job protections for people who develop serious health problems, seek more funding to decrease seniors’ prescription costs and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“The vast majority of people are living on wages that haven’t caught up to rising prices,” Demand said.
Chris Jackson, a 29-year-old Pontiac native and community liaison for music education nonprofit Accident Pontiac, said he’s running to be a voice for young people in Lansing.
“There are a lot of decisions being made on our behalf without us having a seat at the table,” Jackson said.
Jackson said if elected he’d work on legislation to encourage small business and entrepreneurship and push criminal justice reform for non-violent offenders.
He also wants to work with the local officials in cities he’d represent to keep and attract new residents. One example would be pursuing tax credits for college graduates who stay in the area, he said.
Kone Bowman, 50, of Pontiac, is a former Pontiac City Council member who pledges to make the state’s infrastructure fixes, from its sewer and water systems to the roads, among his first priorities if elected. He wants to expand and enforce weight restrictions on trucks.
Bowman has owned and operated his own insurance agency and currently is a robotics programmer.
He said he’d also push to boost school funding, bring down high insurance rates and focus on creating more treatment options so those suffering from mental health issues don’t end up in prison by default.
“It costs more to house a prisoner than educate a child,” Bowman said.
Brenda Carter, 63, has served eight years on the Pontiac School Board, mostly recently as president. She said she wants to rethink school funding if elected to Lansing.
“There is huge … inequity in education,” said Carter, a past president of the Michigan Association of School Board of Directors. “We need to develop a more comprehensive funding system.”
Carter, a retired General Motors quality systems analyst for 31 years, she also wants to make sure that when economic development comes to a community, the current residents benefit and aren’t displaced. She’ll also fight to update Michigan’s infrastructure, in part to prevent government failures like the Flint water crisis.
AFSCME Council 25, Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and Emily's List have endorsed Carter.
Keyon Payton, 39, of West Bloomfield, has been the pastor at Pontiac’s New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church for 12 years and was a board member on a Pontiac charter school for four years. He wants to focus on improving education, particularly access to early childhood education.
That would include revamping the state’s funding system for schools, letting Intermediate School Districts distribute funds more equitably. And he wants to see free universal early childhood care from infants through preschool.
“The challenge is often literacy,” Payton said. “Knowledge is power.”
The winner will face Republican Timothy Carrier, of Auburn Hills, in November.
Among the Democratic candidates to replace two-term Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, are a state senator, a small business owner, a data entry researcher and a church musician. Moss is running for the state Senate.
The winner of the primary will face Republican Theodore Alfonsetti III of Southfield in the general election. District 35 covers Southfield, Lathrup Village, Beverly Hills, Bingham Farms and Franklin.
Term-limited State Sen. Vince Gregory, D-Lathrup Village, represented the district from 2009-2012. The former detective with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, who has been endorsed by the United Auto Workers union and AFSCME Council 25, said the three biggest challenges facing the state are jobs, education and infrastructure.
Gregory, 70, said education is especially critical because it would produce a better work force that could attract more employers to the state.
“We must keep the School Aid Fund in the K-12 budget," he said, referring to Gov. Rick Snyder's diverting some school aid to subsidize higher education.
Alex Meyers, 28, a church musician for Northwest Unitarian Universalist Church in Southfield, said the biggest issue is Michigan's failing infrastructure. The woes stretch from roads to bridges to drinking water to energy pipelines, he said.
Money for improvement could come from rolling back tax abatements to corporations, he said.
“Large corporations pay pennies for water consumption while people in Flint still don’t have clean drinking water,” he said.
State testing has found Flint's water has tested below the federal standard of 15 parts per bill for two years.
As for roads, Meyers would tighten weight restrictions on trucks and increase gross vehicle weight fees.
Lisa Cece, 50, a data entry researcher from Southfield, said the lesson of the Flint water crisis is other cities need to check their infrastructures for possible problems. The state needs to better manage existing money and not raise taxes, Cece said.
“Everything is taxed enough,” she said. “The partisan stuff needs to stop, and we need to work for our citizens and not try to be the winner of every debate."
To create more jobs, the state needs to allow marijuana farming, bring back the movie business and emphasize tourism more, she said.
Katie Reiter, 54, a small business owner from Southfield, also said it was important for the state to fix the roads.
The money for road improvements could come from replacing the state's flat 4.25 percent income tax with a graduated income tax for different income groups. She said the state also should invest more in mass transit.
“You cannot have healthy families, healthy communities and a healthy economy if you have failing infrastructure,” she said. “It’s become a public health crisis and a looming economic crisis.”
Michael Poole of Lathrup Village and Kyra Harris Bolden of Southfield didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The Republican primary candidates include two attorneys, an insurance agent and a small business owner in a district that covers West Bloomfield, Walled Lake and Commerce Township.
Marsha Kosmatka, 46, a lawyer from West Bloomfield, said the biggest problem in Michigan is an erosion of conservative values that affects everything from education to spending to public safety to illegal immigration.
The solutions include providing adequate funding for police, ensuring accountability in education through teacher evaluations, reducing unnecessary regulations and opposing sanctuary cities, said Kosmatka, who is endorsed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
The state income tax of 4.25 percent is too high, she said.
“Higher taxes put us at a disadvantage with neighboring states and reduce consumer spending,” she said.
Ryan Berman, 37, an attorney from Commerce, said the biggest issue is the health care crisis and rising health care costs.
The key to dealing with it is transparency, he said. A good start is a state Senate bill that would require hospitals to post their charges online, he said.
“The health care field is the only industry where most everyone involved doesn’t know the cost of a service or procedure until it’s ultimately billed,” Berman said.
To help people without insurance, the state should impose a requirement that charges be reasonable, he said.
Kevin Tatulyan, 28, who owns the Mathnasium learning center in Sterling Heights, said the most critical need in Michigan is to create jobs.
Colleges and trade schools could help by providing more training for 21st-century jobs, he said. The state also needs to lower taxes and remove needless regulations, he said.
“Small business owners in Oakland County know how to run their companies a lot better than politicians and bureaucrats in Lansing,” Tatulyan said.
Phillip Hoyt, 52, an insurance agent, said his biggest priority would be the ballooning $56.8 billion state budget.
Tthe state needs to be more fiscally conservative and listen more to the wishes of residents, who he said want less spending.
“Michigan is a tax and spend state,” Hoyt said. “The spending is being done by the centers of influence and not by the voice of its people.”
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Jennifer Suidan of West Bloomfield and Libertarian Anthony Croff of West Bloomfield in November.