Two Macomb state House races will see who’s in tune with voters
A country singer who penned Dr. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign anthem, a firefighter and the daughter of a former state senator are among Macomb County Republicans competing in state House races that could effectively be decided by the Aug. 2 primary.
District boundaries are expected to favor Republicans vying for open seats in the 32nd and 33rd House districts, meaning the primaries could be more important than the general election.
Art teacher Pamela Hornberger of Chesterfield Township locked up early GOP establishment support for her 32nd District campaign but faces spirited conservatives in Justin Tranchita of Chesterfield Township and Michael Shmina of Fair Haven.
Trachita, 35, is a singer and actor whose song “This is America” was adopted by Carson’s 2016 campaign. Carson inspired him to run for state House, said Tranchita, who added the former GOP presidential hopeful teleconferenced in to a May fundraiser he held in New Baltimore.
“Millions of people have responded to it,” Tranchita said of his song. “...There’s some angst, some anger, and people are feeling like their voices aren’t heard. I feel that. I’m a blue-collar guy, not some elitist or crony that wants to be in the ruling class.”
Tranchita grew up in Illinois but said he moved to Michigan a couple years ago to help look after a younger brother with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Tranchita supports school choice, wants to lower the Michigan corporate income tax and argues that clean water is an important issue for the 32nd District, which borders Lake St. Clair.
Others in District 32
Hornberger, 48, teaches in East China Schools and is a member of the L’Anse Creuse Public Schools Board of Education.
“I have a proven record in the school district of representing people in the community, even if it’s not part of the Republican platform,” said Hornberger, 48, explaining she supports schools-of-choice policies but voted against a proposal before the L’Anse Creuse board to reflect the will of her constituents.
Hornberger, endorsed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and other influential groups, said she grew up around a family business and understands the needs of small business owners. But improving the state’s education system remains her top focus.
“We do need to look at funding to make sure it’s adequate across all districts, but funding is not the only answer,” Hornberger said.
Shmina, 49, works as project manager for a family-owned construction company and ran for the same seat in 2010 and 2012, losing both times to incumbent GOP Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, who cannot run for re-election due to term limits.
“I’m extremely pro-life, and I’d like to see Michigan be a leader in pro-life legislation,” said Shmina, who acknowledged the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent rejection of a restrictive Texas law complicates matters for abortion foes. “I think the pro-life movement needs to take some time and re-evaluate what we can do next.”
Shmina touted the fact he’s never held a government job or served on an elected board, arguing that politicians too often see the world through a “government-colored” lens.
“They can end up preserving the system rather than focusing back on the original goal of what we’re trying to do, which is make life better for Michiganders.”
The winner of the Republican primary will take on Democrat Paul Manley of Chesterfield in the general election. LaFontaine won more than 60 percent of the vote in 2014.
Firefighter race free of fireworks
A firefighter is among six Republicans vying to replace term-limited GOP Rep. Ken Goike in a crowded 33rd District primary that has so far lacked some of the fireworks often seen in Macomb County elections.
Jeff Yaroch, a 45-year-old firefighter and attorney from Richmond, called himself a fiscal conservative who has served the past 16 years on the Richmond City Council.
“It seems that, very often, local government ends up taking the hit on some of these things,” he said.
Yaroch said the state needs a “reasonable” tax system and business regulations to facilitate job creation. He is also focused on government accountability and called the Flint water crisis a “total failure” at the local, state and federal levels.
Republican Colleen Carl of Armada, 28, is the daughter of the late state Sen. Doug Carl and Maria Carl, a conservative activist who lost her bid for the State Board of Education in 2014. She teaches music lessons and previously worked as a therapist.
“I grew up in the political process, learning from my dad,” Carl said. “...I’m pretty concerned by the direction our country is heading.”
Carl is focused on family values and freedom, including “fiscal freedom” from high taxes, she said. She described herself as a “100 percent pro-life” Christian.
Mel Koch, 30, worked as a legislative aide in the state House for the past six years. A Macomb Township resident, Koch said he’s the only GOP candidate who has personally knocked doors in every part of the 33rd District.
Koch said wants to reduce the state’s personal income tax to at least 3.9 percent, where it was before it increased to 4.35 percent in 2007; the current rate is 4.25 percent. He also wants to make civics a core curriculum subject in Michigan schools.
Steven Stoll of Macomb Township, 58, is a senior project manager at an auto supplier and owns a real estate rental business. He’s served as a Republican precinct delegate but is proud he’s not a career politician.
“I see a lot of gridlock in Lansing,” Stoll said. “I am a Republican, but Republicans have the governor’s office, House and Senate but don’t seem to be able to effect positive change and move Michigan forward, at least in my opinion.”
Stoll said the state has to do more to fix crumbling roads and wants to reduce regulatory burdens to improve Michigan’s business climate.
Fifty-year-old Republican Charles Karafa of Macomb Township works as director of recruiting and staffing at Dynamic Human Resources and says his business experience has prepared him well for managing a state budget.
Karafa said he believes Michigan schools are largely underfunded and wants to make sure that new road funding revenue approved last year actually ends up being used for its intended purpose.
“My campaign has been very grassroots and my background is not in politics,” Karafa said.
Julianne Cusumano of Macomb Township, a certified medical assistant, did not respond to a request for an interview. The winner of the 33rd District GOP primary will face uncontested Democrat Yani Warda in the general election.