Old names, new candidates in Macomb state House race

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Macomb County voters will see familiar names on primary ballots in the 30th state House District, where the wife of a sitting legislator and the son of a longtime mayor are among six candidates competing for a closely watched seat Democrats hope to pick up this fall.

Diana Farrington of Utica, the wife of term-limited Rep. Jeff Farrington, is among four Republicans set to square off in Tuesday’s primary. The winner will face Michael Notte of Shelby Township, the son of former Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Notte, or auto salesman John Spica of Utica, who are matched up on the Democratic side.

Jeff Farrington won re-election by nearly 10 percentage points in 2014, but Democrats see the seat as a target come November, when the presidential election is expected to drive more voter participation. It is one of two Macomb County seats where Republicans may be playing defense come November.

Diana Farrington, a 51-year-old mortgage auditor, enters the 30th District GOP primary with a decided name recognition advantage but is facing a strong challenge from Michael Shallal of Sterling Heights. Also running are tea party conservative Jackie Ryan of Sterling Heights and anti-corruption advocate Joseph Bogdan of Utica.

Farrington said she is hoping to continue the work that her husband and other Republican legislators have done since winning control of the House in 2010.

“I’m just passionate about seeing the state continue to move in that direction, with the awesome opportunities the current Legislature has put in place, and I want to see all that move forward,” she said.

Farrington said she wants to “keep the government off” small business owners who create jobs and said she generally supports a new road funding package that will take effect in coming years with a combination of higher fuel taxes, registration fees and dedicated general fund dollars.

“I think what they passed is definitely acceptable,” she said of the road funding bills approved in late 2015. “People at the doors seem to think it’s moving in the right direction.”

Other GOP candidates

Shallal, 36, is an Iraq native who said he came to the country when he was 17, worked alongside U.S. troops as a subject matter expert in a civil attachment during the Iraq War and is now a senior intelligence analyst in Detroit, a job he said he cannot discuss in detail due to security clearances.

“This chronic unemployment and the social welfare needs to go,” Shallal said, calling jobs a key focus of his campaign. He also wants more transparency in road construction contracts and opposes Common Core curriculum guidelines.

“There’s a lot of jobs out there, but they’re not being filled because people don’t have the skill sets that match the vacancies,” he said. “We need to fix that problem.”

Shallal, whose campaign website features a photo of him in camouflage fatigues, has faced questions over his service history. He said he tried to join the U.S. military when he was 22 but was denied because he only had a green card at the time. Instead, he said the Department of Defense hired him to work as a civilian in Iraq, where he said he did five tours in uniform. He became a citizen in 2003.

“I consider myself a common-sense man, a patriot, a family man,” Shallal said. “…I fought for this country and I want to fight for the people.”

Ryan, 55, is a social conservative who fought for the repeal of a gay and transgender rights ordinance in Sterling Heights and is concerned about the influx of immigrants in the region. She received around 5 percent of the vote last year in a failed bid for the Sterling Heights City Council.

“Our state and local police need to be given the tools to aggressively go after jihad and ISIS – if that’s what’s coming in,” Ryan said of immigration. “They also have to educate the community to have eyes wide open and to report what they see.”

Bogdan, 29, is an automotive manufacturing quality engineer in Sterling Heights who ran for the same seat as a Democrat in 2014, but finished a distant second in the primary.

“My mission is to do what is right, work for the best interest of the people, and eradicate corruption from society,”  said Bogdan, who is promoting an open-source tool called Representation 2.0.

Democratic primary

Notte enters the Democratic primary with one of the more recognizable names in Macomb County, where his father served as Sterling Heights mayor for more than two decades until his death in 2014. Democratic primary opponent Paul Spica of Utica, a car salesman, argues name recognition is the only thing Notte has going for him.

“I’m running on my merits and qualifications; my opponent is running on his daddy’s coattails,” Spica said.

But Notte, who works at Fiat Chrysler, says he has practical experience that make him fit for the job, including 23 years in the auto industry. He is part of the UAW Community Action Program and says he’s active with local Polish and Italian groups.

“I’m not just running on my dad’s legacy. I’m running on my accomplishments,” he said. “…I was very involved in his campaigns, attending functions and seeing all that he did. I was very fortunate and honored to be part of that with my father.”

Notte said he wants to ensure K-12 public schools are well funded, curtail rising college tuition costs and ensure corporations “pay their fair” share for needed road repairs beyond the funding package that will begin to phase in next year.

“I’m campaigning on tax fairness, that those at the top pay their fair share,” he said.

Spica said he’s also focused on funding public schools, is opposed to publicly funded charter schools and thinks the state should be doing more to secure federal dollars for road repairs.

“It’s a rough environment right now” in the state Legislature, he said. “What I have to offer, which makes me unique, is I’ve been in sales for 17 years. ... I negotiate for a living and I get things done.”