2 Macomb House vacancies draw Hertel, other candidates

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Two state House vacancies in Macomb County districts have attracted a member of a prominent Michigan political family and a host of other candidates for seats that Democrats seemed heavy favorites to win in the fall.

In the 18th District, three Democrats are running in the Aug. 2 primary for a chance to replace term-limited Democratic state Rep. Sara Roberts. The seat, which the party is expected to retain in the fall, covers Eastpointe, St. Clair Shores and Grosse Pointe Shores.

The most prominent candidate is Kevin Hertel, who knows his way around the Michigan Legislature and has been endorsed by the Michigan AFL-CIO. Also running are Paul Francis of St. Clair Shores and Steven Fleck of Eastpointe.

Hertel is a 31-year-old St. Clair Shores Democrat, the son of former House Speaker Curtis Hertel, who died in March, and the brother of current state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. They are connections he embraces in his campaign.

“I was taught growing up the importance of public service, but also about being involved in my community,” said Hertel, who previously worked as a legislative aid and is now an insurance analyst with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“I find a lot of peace, actually, as I’m out knocking doors and talking to voters and using the skills that my father taught me,” he said. “A week before he passed away I met with him and all he wanted to talk about was my campaign and how he could help.”

The primary winner will take on uncontested Republican Renata Polonaise. Roberts won the 2014 general election by more than 7,000 votes in the Macomb County district.

Hertel said he wants to increase funding for public schools, restore revenue sharing for local communities and repeal the so-called pension tax approved by the Legislature in 2011.

“We need to refocus the priorities of state government on supporting working families and middle class families in our state,” he said. “I feel we’ve lost track of that priority in recent years.”

Francis, 45, is a co-owner of Big Bobs Firewood and regional sales manager at a material sealant manufacturer. He is financing his campaign and said he’s not seeking endorsements or contributions from interest groups.

“That puts me at a special advantage where I won’t have people coming back looking for favors,” he said.

Francis also wants to repeal the pension tax, create a 30- to 40-year infrastructure plan and do more to market the state to attract high-technology companies.

“I feel that Michigan’s at a turning point,” Francis said. “We’ve had great technological advances across the country and state, and we need someone up in Lansing to get the people looking forward instead of to the past.”

Fleck did not respond to a request for an interview.

Miller seat fight

Four Democrats are duking it out for a “safe” 28th District seat that opened up when former Rep. Derek Miller resigned to become Macomb County treasurer.

Voters will see all four names on the ballot twice – once for the chance to finish the current term, which lasts through January, and again for the following two-year term that starts in 2017.

Warren City Councilman Patrick Green, an ally of Mayor Jim Fouts, is the highest-profile Democrat in the primary and has been endorsed by the Michigan AFL-CIO. But he has faced criticism from fellow candidate Paul Kardasz of Warren, who said he is a military veteran and considers himself a government watchdog.

“Patrick Green in my opinion is one of the worst legislators the City of Warren has ever had,” said Kardasz, 30, who questioned a recent $74,000 contract extension awarded to lobbyist Art Miller, a former legislator who had previously contributed to Green and most other council members.

Kardacz, 30, said his campaign is focused on transparency and rooting out corruption. Until that happens, he said, “we can’t have a real dialogue” about how to solve other important issues he cares about, such as infrastructure and charter school oversight.

Green downplayed the contract extension for Miller, suggesting the council action was a routine approval of an administrative request.

“I think the people of Warren and Center Line deserve strong representation in Lansing,” he said. “I’ve proven myself doing that for them on City Council, and I think I have the background and skill set to give extreme value to them.”

Green, a 51-year-old insurance agent, said the state needs a “better way” to fund public education and should invest more in cities, arguing he is the only candidate in the race with direct knowledge of how decisions in Lansing can have a direct impact on local investments.

“We need to raise our standards, reduce class sizes and really stop attacking teachers,” he said.

Democrat Lori Stone of Warren, a 36-year-old teacher with Fitzgerald Public Schools, studied political science in college but had not run for office until this year. She was motivated, she said, by her belief that state education policies have been enacted with little consideration for teachers.

She supports expanded access to early childhood education, sustainable infrastructure funding and a “living wage” for workers.

“I’ve been an advocate for my students, for families, for my community and as a union representative an advocate for my colleagues, and I see this as a way to take those voices to Lansing,” she said.

Mike Westphal of Center Line, 31, is a data entry specialist for a trucking company who is running a grassroots campaign for the state House and is focused on promoting mandatory paid sick days and maternity leave policies.

“I would like big corporations to start chipping in, especially if they receive tax breaks, because I think they shouldn’t just consider families and workers as profit creators and profit generators,” he said.

The winners of the Democratic primaries for both the full-term and partial-term in the 28th District will face uncontested Republican Antoine Davison of Warren in the November general election.