Democratic state rep plans to challenge Upton in U.S. House race

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
State Rep. Jon Hoadley

Democratic state Rep. Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo plans to challenge in 2020 longtime U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a southwest Michigan Republican. 

Hoadley, 35, is in his third term and serves as minority vice chair on the House Appropriations Committee and represents Michigan House District 60, which includes Kalamazoo, parts of Kalamazoo Township and Portage.

"I’m running because we need to put people and community back at the center of our decisions," Hoadley said Monday. 

"For too long we’ve made decisions that have not been good for everyday people. It’s time that we changed that."

Upton, first elected in 1986, is Michigan's senior Republican in Congress and former chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. The 6th Congressional District includes Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties and most of Allegan County.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph

In a statement, Upton's campaign stressed the bipartisan issues he's worked on this year, including the economy, PFAS chemicals, health care and protecting the Great Lakes. 

"Fred Upton has always been focused on fighting for common-sense ideas that actually work and help southwest Michigan's families," spokesman Josh Paciorek said.

"We understand there are those excited to start politicking, but right now Fred’s energy and efforts are focused on solving problems."

Upton won reelection last year by 4.5 percentage points, defeating Democratic political newcomer Matt Longjohn of Portage in his closest challenge in decades.

Longjohn, who won a four-way primary in August 2018, is considering another run, noting that no Democrat before him had gotten within 11 percentage points of Upton. 

Longjohn said he's noticed a change in Upton this year, highlighting his willingness to challenge President Donald Trump on his emergency declaration at the border and a vote last week to approve a gun-reform provision as part of the Violence Against Women Act. 

"I think we sent a message that was loud and clear. He lost St. Joseph, his hometown," Longjohn said.

"Right now, his votes seem to reflect that either he heard the electorate and saw he’d been playing more partisan politics than people were happy with, or something else is happening. Maybe he’s preparing for retirement. His votes have clearly changed." 

Longjohn said he suspects "plenty of people" will be jumping into the race on the Democratic side to build on 2018 and the infrastructure built in Michigan's 6th District. 

Hoadley was born and raised by two educators in Vermillion, South Dakota. He graduated in 2006 from Michigan State University, majoring in social relations and women's studies. 

Hoadley said he owns the consulting and strategic planning business, Badlands Strategies, and lives in Kalamazoo with his partner, Chris, and their beagle, Benjamin.

He serves on the advisory committee to the National LGBTQ Task Force, on the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators and the steering committee of the American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention.

In the Legislature, he's been the primary sponsor on expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include an explicit prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Hoadley has also focused on health care including the Safe Patient Care Act on nurse-to-patient ratios and legislation to secure funding to study ways to pay for and structure long-term care in Michigan. 

The Michigan Republican Party issued a statement Monday suggesting Hoadley’s positions are too liberal for the values of West Michigan.

“Tax-Hike Hoadley has never seen a problem he didn’t think he could tax and spend his way out of. Washington’s tried that and it simply doesn’t work,” Michigan Republican Party Chairman Laura Cox said.

Cox claimed that Hoadley introduced Gov. Whitmer’s "reckless" 45-cent gas tax omcrease proposal, saying it would "devastate families across Michigan and hit southwestern Michigan’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors especially hard." 

Hoadley said that is not correct. As the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, Hoadley helped introduce a budget bill proposing the spending as part of the executive's recommendation. 

The Legislature would have to vote to raise the gas tax to generate the money in a separate bill, and no lawmaker has introduced legislation to do so. 

"This is probably indicative of what’s to come — misinformation from my Republican friends and colleagues," Hoagley said. 

Tony Zammit, spokesman for the Michigan GOP, said the budget that Hoadley introduced included the money that would be generated by the gas-tax increase, "therefore, we stand by our statement."

"We’re having conversation about potholes in our roads because there was a half-hearted solution four years ago that didn’t solve the problem, and our cars, our windshields, our rims are dealing with that half solution today," Hoadley said, adding the same applies to school funding and the state's water crisis.

"People are tired of half-baked solutions, and they want us to be honest." 

Hoadley said he appreciates Whitmer "being direct and saying, this is the size of the problem."

"I’m still looking at all the options on the table here. We need to actually fix the problem," Hoadley said.

"I’m open to anyone who has ideas for how do we raise enough funding dedicated to fixing the roads that actually fixes them this time, instead of just a little bit more patchwork for the Republican-made potholes."

Staff writer Jonathan Oosting contributed