GOP will control Michigan House for two more years

Michael Gerstein, and Jonathan Oosting

Republicans will retain control the Michigan House of Representatives for another two years after successfully defending their majority during Tuesday's elections.

Democrats, who haven’t controlled the House since 2010, had hoped to flip as many as nine seats to regain power in the lower chamber. Instead, Republicans appeared poised to again control 63 of 110 seats in the lower chamber after likely losing one seat but picking up another.

GOP challenger Joseph Bellino Jr. scored a surprise victory over incumbent Democratic Rep. Bill Lavoy of Monroe in the 17th District. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, 52 percent of voters were backing Bellino compared to 44 percent for LaVoy.

In the 23rd District, Democrat Darin Camilleri of Brownstown Township was topping Republican Bob Howey in a hard-fought race to replace term-limited Rep. Pat Somerville. Unofficial results from Wayne County showed Camilleri with a 320 vote lead, with 99.91 percent of precincts reporting.

Reps. Brandt Iden of Oshtemo and Tom Barrett of Potterville were among Republican incumbents who held off Democratic challengers to keep their seats. The party also controls the governor’s office, state Senate and Supreme Court.

Republicans won total control of state government in 2010 with a 20-seat landslide victory in the House, the largest of its kind since 1964. Tuesday’s performance was likely aided by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s surprising strength across much of the state.

Republicans declared their victory by 11 p.m.

“People from every corner of Michigan and every walk of life have put their trust in House Republicans and our message of opportunity for everyone,” said House Republican Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton.

By 11:30 p.m., Democrats acknowledged their defeat.

“I’m proud of the hard work Democratic House candidates put into their races across the state,” House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said in a statement. “While it’s disappointing that we won’t be in the majority in the House, I couldn’t be more pleased with the efforts they and their supporters made to get our message out to working families, students and seniors across Michigan.”

Battleground seats

The fight for control of the House focused on about 15-20 districts.

Both parties were keeping close tabs on the 106th District, a vacant seat after Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, recently died in a motorcycle accident.

In that district, Republican candidate Sue Allor won nearly twice as many votes as Democratic challenger Robert Kennedy when most of the district’s precincts were reporting results late Tuesday. The seat was expected to be competitive.

Former Rep. Pettalia won against Kennedy in 2014. In the 2016 primary, Allor beat Kennedy in total votes.

Kennedy’s top legislative priorities included an overhaul of the state’s campaign finance system to get “big money out of politics,” and doing away with “trickle down economics” in favor of “a middle-out approach,” according to his campaign website.

Kennedy has also said he would like to allocate more funding for K-12 and higher education, devote more state aid to local government, institute transparency and ethics reforms to state government and expand anti-discrimination laws “to include the LGBT population.”

But those campaign promises didn’t seem to aid Kennedy in his bid for state House.

District 62 was also extremely competitive Tuesday night, when most of the total precincts were reporting results.

Rep. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek, appeared to win re-election by fewer than 600 votes, according to unofficial results from Calhoun County, narrowly defeating Democratic challenger Jim Haadsma.

Republican Rep. Klint Kesto of Commerce Township won re-election to a third term, topping Democrat Michael Stack by eight percentage points, according to unofficial results.

Political experts had expected it to be a close race despite Kesto’s strong fundraising because Democrats also put considerable resources behind Stack, who they thought could also benefit from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's popularity in Oakland County.

The 91st District seat of state Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, was also in play Tuesday as the incumbent faced Democratic challenger Collene Lamonte, a former representative. But with 85 percent of precincts reporting, Hughes was leading the race 50 percent to 44 percent.

Republican Diana Farrington also won against Democrat Michael Notte, son of late Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte, an open seat that Democrats believed they could flip.

High-profile Republicans aid campaigns

Gov. Rick Snyder personally campaigned for many state House Republican candidates and avoided the presidential campaign, instead stressing that Michigan is a state on the “comeback,” skirting questions about whether he supports Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

In some places, Trump fueled negative perceptions of Republicans, helping Democrats.

But elsewhere Trump’s popularity likely bolstered some Republican candidates’ chances. In the 24th District, GOP Macomb County Commissioner Steve Marino appeared likely to survive a slew of fierce attacks and embarrassing clandestine recordings that Democrats released, hoping to sully his image and give Democrat Dana Camphous-Peterson an edge in the race.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Marino held a 10 percentage point advantage over Camphous-Peterson.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter’s 99th District seat, R-Mount Pleasant, was expected to be competitive but Republican candidate Roger Hauck was beating Democrat Bryan Mielke by nearly 20 percentage points when more than 65 percent of the precincts were reporting results after midnight.

Michigan Republican Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel attributed the solid GOP victory in the state House to Michigan’s “comeback” story in a statement.

“Our comeback has led to 475,000 new private sector jobs in the state, an unemployment rate lower than the national average, and personal income growth that is outpacing the rest of the country,” she said. “Thanks to tonight’s results, we know we’ll be able to continue enacting the kinds of policies that have made Michigan a better place to live for at least two more years under strong Republican leadership.”