Ex-convict set to withdraw from Michigan congressional race

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A former convict running for Congress in Michigan's 10th District that includes Macomb County is withdrawing from the race because of work commitments. 

Jeffrey Jowske of Port Huron had filed with the Federal Election Commission to run as an independent in the traditionally Republican district. But he said Thursday his work at a factory is too consuming and he plans to withdraw. 

Jowske was released on parole in 2017 and discharged from the Michigan Department of Corrections in December after serving roughly 24 years in prison for second-degree murder, escape while awaiting trial, escape from prison, possessing a weapon as a prisoner and assault of a prison employee. 

Jeffrey Jowske

He said his experience in the criminal justice system spurred him to enter the race to replace U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, who is retiring at the end of 2020. 

“I spent 24 years in there so I just saw so much,” Jowske said. “The system is broken. The criminal justice system is broken.”

While noting eligibility for federal posts is governed by the U.S. Constitution, the Michigan Secretary of State's office is not aware of any constitutional prohibition against a person with a criminal record running for Congress, said Mike Doyle, communications manager for the department.

Initially convicted of the first-degree premeditated murder in his father's 1992 death in Wales Township, Jowske's case was reversed and remanded back to trial court on appeal in 1996. Jowske said Thursday that he was "railroaded" into a second-degree murder plea deal in 1997, but he maintained he is innocent of murdering his father. 

He did not deny culpability in his other convictions.

“I felt entitled to try and get out,” Jowske said about his escape attempts. But after his 2006 escape attempt at a Muskegon prison, “I almost died and thought this isn’t a game.”

According to Detroit News archives, Jowske and a fellow inmate commandeered a garbage truck in 2006 and drove through an inner fence at Muskegon Correctional Facility. When the truck stalled, they were apprehended as one of them jumped on the truck and tried to scale the outer fence. 

A female corrections officer escorting the truck was beaten and the truck driver punched during the incident. 

Prior to entering prison, Jowske said he considered himself a “Reagan Republican.” When he left and tried to run as a Republican, he said party members discouraged him because of his criminal history. Democratic Party members cautioned him to wait a couple of years before running for office, he said.

Instead, he filed as an independent.

Jowske is currently among six candidates who are vying for Mitchell's seat in the 10th District, which includes northern Macomb County as well as parts of St. Clair, Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac and Lapeer counties. 

State Rep. Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, said Thursday he would be entering the race. Federal Election Commission records indicate four others also intend to run, including Republicans Richard Piwko of Lexington and Brandon Mikula of Macomb, and Democrats Kelly Lynn Noland and Kimberly Bizon, who last year lost to Mitchell.