Ballot battle marks GOP race for Macomb House seat

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

A primary race in Macomb County could help determine whether the GOP retains control of the state House this fall as four Republicans compete in Tuesday’s primary election for the chance to defend the seat.

In the 24th state House District, Macomb County Commissioner Steve Marino of Harrison Township and two other Republicans are on the primary ballot for the chance to take on uncontested Democrat Dana Camphous-Peterson in the general election. A fourth GOP hopeful is running an aggressive write-in campaign.

Marino, a Harrison Township Republican who owns a public affairs firm, is a likely front-runner in the 24th District primary after getting his closest competitor tossed off the ballot. He is continuing to build on an aggressive reputation he earned during his 2014 run for Macomb County commissioner.

“While I might be young, I think that’s advantageous,” said Marino, 27, adding he is focused on continuing the state’s economic rebound and reducing regulatory burdens. “Certainly you have the energy to produce on the campaign trail.”

Marino got involved in state-level politics as a college student at Michigan State University, helping push a “medical amnesty” policy allowing underage drinkers to report emergencies without risk of criminal penalties.

Term-limited Republican Rep. Anthony Forlini of Harrison Township, whom Marino is hoping to replace, sponsored related legislation that Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law in 2012.

“It was a deterrent in order to protect lives,” Marino said. “You’ve got to curb underage drinking, but you have to acknowledge sometimes it’s going to happen.”

The GOP primary ballot will also feature Arzo Smith of Macomb Township and Daryl Smith of Macomb, neither of whom responded to requests for interview. Arzo Smith ran in 2014, but received 800 votes in the primary.

Mike Aiello of Clinton Township, a retired chiropractor, was kicked off the ballot after Marino filed a challenge because Aiello failed to fill out the primary date on one of his nominating petitions. A court battle ensued, and the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered his name removed from the ballot.

“He was trying to take the American dream away from the voters by making them have less options to vote for,” Aiello said of Marino, whom he referred to as “the kid” because of his age and relative inexperience.

Aiello, 60, said losing his spot on the ballot has led him to campaign even harder. He has focused on the economy and infrastructure. He criticized the road funding plan passed by the GOP-led Legislature last year, saying it should be possible to fix roads without raising gas taxes or registration fees.

“We’re tax-burdened almost to the point where people can’t put food on the table,” Aiello said. “If you repaired my roads, my property values are going to go up. It’s a win-win deal.”

Daryl Smith is a financial agent in the auto industry, according to his campaign website, and believes he has the budgetary skills and business acumen to work in state government. He opposes transgender student bathroom access at schools, saying adults should not cater to student “fantasies” by allowing them to “pretend to be another sex.”

The GOP primary winner is expected to face a serious battle with Camphous-Peterson, a former Macomb County Commissioner and Care House co-founder who is an ally of County Executive Mark Hackel.

Forlini won re-election to the seat in 2014 by nearly 20 percentage points, but he outperformed the GOP base and Democratic turnout tends to be higher in presidential years.

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Twitter: @jonathanoosting