Four Wayne County legislative races promise to be battlegrounds
Suburban Wayne County is one of the legislative battlegrounds where Democrats are trying to reclaim three Michigan House seats and one Senate post currently held by Republicans.
The Democrats want get control of the state House for the first time in eight years and make a dent in the GOP’s current 27-10 hold on the Senate.
The Senate District 7 race pits Republican Rep. Laura Cox of Livonia, the House Budget Committee chairwoman, against Democrat Dayna Polehanki of Livonia. This is an attempt to keep the seat held by term-limited state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Township.
"This is ground zero for the realignment going on: It’s a suburban district that’s traditionally been country club Republican," said Adrian Hemond, a Democrat and CEO of Grassroots Midwest, a bipartisan political consulting firm in Lansing.
"But Republicans are hemorrhaging college-educated white women and that’s who lives in this district. Also, Plymouth and Canton Township are seeing an influx of Asian residents, which isn’t the country club Republican demographic.
While the changes help Democrats, it is a close race, he said.
"The Cox political family name is good, particularly in Livonia, but it’s a very tough race," Hemond said.
Cox, a 54-year-old former Wayne County commissioner, dismissed the notion that college-educated white women won't vote for her.
"Both my opponent and I are white and college-educated," she said. "But I have a track record of leadership. If people look at my record, whether they're voting Republican or Democrat, they’ll realize I have a lot to offer and have room to grow.
"When there were 10,000 untested rape kits found (in a Detroit police storage room in 2009), I worked with Prosecutor Kym Worthy and elected leaders and law enforcement to find money to ... have those kits tested, and those cases investigated. All the kits are tested and we’re getting prosecutions from serial rapists. That's not a Republican or Democrat issue; it's about leadership and building relationships.
"We’re running on my record," said Cox, a former federal Customs agent. "For eight years, Republicans have been doing great things at the state level. I want to continue that with my leadership in Lansing."
Polehanki, a teacher for 17 years, said she'll focus on education if elected.
"As a classroom teacher I’ve seen the bad hand dealt to public education for the last eight years from the leadership in Lansing," she said. "We have to turn that around. I'm definitely on board with heeding the call of the bipartisan studies that say we have to increase per-pupil funding; that’s extremely important to me.
In June, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a $16.8 billion education funding plan that included the state's largest per-pupil school allowance increase in more than 15 years.
K-12 districts received a funding increase of between $120 and $240 per student with the lowest-funded school districts in Michigan getting a $7,871 foundation allowance, up 15 percent from $6,846 in 2012, according to the non-partisan Senate Fiscal Agency.
"We must get rid of the one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter approach to funding," said Polehanki, 48. "Maybe a school has special needs kids; or maybe a high school might cost more to run than other schools.
She also criticized the state's charter school law that allows for unlimited numbers of the independent public schools, many of which are run by for-profit companies.
"The (U.S. Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos for-profit motive has no place in education," Polehanki said.
In House District 20, Democrat Matt Koleszar of Plymouth is challenging Rep. Jeff Noble, R-Northville, a first-term lawmaker.
Noble, 54, is a Baptist pastor who touts himself as a fiscal conservative who wants to keep taxes low. He has been taking care of his wife, who has an illness.
Noble is considered in trouble in his district, in part because he is more conservative than his district, Hemond said.
Despite his wife's illness, Noble said he has been campaigning since April.
"Yes, my wife is a priority, but she gave me her full support to campaign. It hasn't affected my job: I haven't missed any meetings or votes on the floor," he said.
Noble has emphasized that he is delivering for the district, which comprises part of Canton Township plus Northville, Plymouth and the townships of Northville and Plymouth.
"We've worked hard, and got about $3.5 million back into the district for roads and libraries. They're trying to make my faith an issue. But I never bring it up — they do.... I'm not here to preach; I'm here to do a job, and I think I've done a good job for the community.
"One of the things I've worked on was trying to get tax relief," Noble said. "We voted to reduce the income tax from 4.25 percent to 3.95. We were unable to get that across the board, but we did vote on that. I also voted to reduce auto insurance rates. No-fault badly needs to be reformed."
Koleszar, who is a teachers union president, said education reform is his top priority.
"I've been a public school teacher for 12 years, and we need to make sure schools are adequately funded, and we also need to remove the for-profit motive from charter schools," he said.
"I think I have a lot of first-hand experience that benefits me," said Koleszar, adding that his experience as a high school social studies teacher in the Airport Community Schools "fits running for office."
"A lot of politicians in the past have said they want to be pro-education, but don't have the practical experience of being in the classroom," he said. "A lot of teachers have said 'Boy, it would be nice to have a teacher in Lansing, so they'd know where we're coming from."
In House District 17, a swing district, Democrat Michelle LaVoy faces Republican Rep. Joe Bellino Jr.
"I’m skeptical of Democrats’ ability to flip this one," Hemond said, noting that President Donald Trump's polling numbers are better in Monroe County than in Macomb County.
"Also, Ms. LaVoy’s husband lost to Mr. Bellino two years ago, so now-Rep. Bellino knows how to work this district, and appears to be working hard," Hemond said. "That also weighs against the Democrats. It's not impossible for the Democrats to flip this one, but I'm skeptical."
Neither LaVoy nor Bellino responded to requests for interviews.
In House District 19, Cox's old seat, Democrat Laurie Pohutsky faces Republican Brian Meakin.
"The Democrats like their chances in this district," Hemond said. "This will be a good test for how bad things are going for Republicans with suburban white women."
Neither candidate in the House District 19 race responded to requests for interviews.