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U.S. Rep. Candice Miller launched a campaign Wednesday to unseat Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco from his job of 23 years as she concludes seven terms in Congress.

Miller said Macomb County is plagued by millions of gallons of sewage overflows into the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair each year and she would work to address the county’s aging underground infrastructure if elected to the post.

“Certainly with the water crisis in Flint, I think people are painfully aware of what poor underground infrastructure can mean,” Miller said in a phone interview with The Detroit News. “I just felt that this is where I could have the most positive impact. I want to step up and help address it.”

The Harrison Township Republican immediately picked up a big endorsement Wednesday from Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who, like Marrocco, is a Democrat.

“I don’t look at the R and the D,” Hackel told The News. “Over the last five years, I’ve not had one conversation with our current water resources commissioner on environmental issues, and that’s unacceptable.”

Marrocco, 67, said Wednesday that treated sewage overflows during heavy rain storms from St. Clair Shores, Eastpointe and Roseville into Lake St. Clair are “nothing new.”

“This has been going on for a long time, long before my time as public works commissioner,” said Marrocco, who has held the seat since 1993.

When asked about Miller making sewage overflows an immediate campaign issue, Marrocco replied: “I guess she has to make an issue of something.”

Miller, 61, decided last year against seeking re-election to Congress in November, saying she would return home to Macomb County.

But Miller had been coy about what her next step would be as some Republicans push her name onto the list of potential contenders for governor in 2018.

Miller, a former two-term secretary of state, said Wednesday she’s “totally focused” on winning the Macomb County post while speculation swirls about whether she desires a return to Lansing.

“I never said I was running for governor,” she said. “Others have said that.”

Miller’s decision to run for a countywide position doesn’t suggest she’s gearing up for a 2018 gubernatorial campaign, said Susan Demas, publisher of the Lansing publication Inside Michigan Politics.

“My first blush response is she’s not going to run for governor in 2018 because if that were the plan she had a much better approach from Congress,” Demas said.

David Forsmark, a Republican political consultant from Genesee County, said Miller’s popularity in Macomb County puts the odds in her favor of unseating a longtime Democratic politician.

“If any Republican’s going to take a countywide officeholder, it would be her,” Forsmark said. “I think countywide offices are about the best job in politics. They pay as well as Congress, no travel. You set policy and then your day’s your own, and you probably have to make some kind of hard decision once a week.”

If Miller does not face a GOP primary opponent, she will be challenging incumbent Marrocco for the post, which is called drain commissioner or water resources commissioner in other counties.

In a YouTube video filmed on the banks of a Clinton River, Miller said she would work to address “inadequate” underground water and sewer infrastructure in Macomb County.

“We need to make certain that the water that we drink is pure,” Miller said. “We need to stop all of these sewer overflows that for decades have been fouling our waterways and closing our beaches.”

Miller was Michigan’s secretary of state from 1995 through the end of 2002 and is credited with modernizing the state’s motor vehicle registration offices.

Before that, she spent two years as Macomb County treasurer and 12 years as Harrison Township supervisor.

Miller did not make any comments directly criticizing Marrocco, saying only there is “enormous room for improvement” at the public works department.

But Hackel was more direct in his criticism of the incumbent, saying Marrocco is “more interested in the politics and the power of that office than really getting at the heart of the issue and environmental issues.”

Hackel’s “grudge” with Marrocco makes Miller’s entry into the race an easy endorsement of a politician from the other party, Demas said.

“That form of politics is an art form in Macomb County,” Demas said. “When it comes down to it, the party label is second to personal animosity and grudges.”

Marrocco has sparred with Hackel over the years and brushed off the county executive’s endorsement of Miller.

“I didn’t know they made drugs that strong,” Marrocco said when asked about the endorsement.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter: @ChadLivengood

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