Who's running in state Senate primaries in Wayne County

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The redrawing of Michigan's state Senate districts has brought out familiar and new names on the Aug. 2 primary ballots for five state Senate districts in Wayne County.

In the new 1st Senate District stretching across Downriver communities from Taylor to Detroit, six Democrats are pursuing the seat, including Sen. Erika Geiss of Taylor, who currently represents District 6 prior to redistricting.

The 2nd Senate District now stretches from Dearborn Heights into Detroit. Sen. Sylvia Santana of Detroit, who's been representing the old 3rd District, faces a challenger in the Democratic primary.

Sen. Stephanie Chang of Detroit currently represents the 1st District, but is running for reelection in the new 3rd District, which is the only district to represent portions of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. From the north it hits Clawson, travels down through Warren, Madison Heights and Hazel Park into Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park. Chang has one challenger in the Democratic primary.

Four Republicans are competing in a primary for an open seat in the 4th District, which now stretches from Van Buren Township south into Flat Rock and east to Grosse Isle.

And the new 5th District covers Canton, goes north to Livonia and stretches east to Garden City. The current 7th District's Sen. Dayna Polehanki has one Democratic challenger. Three others are running in the Republican primary.

Erika Geiss

1st District

Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, is running for reelection in the district focused in west Detroit and Downriver against former Rep. Frank Liberati of Allen Park as well as Detroit Police Commissioner Ricardo Moore, Detroit real-estate agent Shellee Brooks, railroad company CSX Corp. worker Carl Schwartz of Taylor and former Judge Brenda Sanders of Detroit. The winner will face Republican Erik Soderquist of Taylor in the general election.

Geiss, 51, has served in the Legislature since 2015, first in the House. The former humanities educator at the Wayne County Community College District highlights her work in passing legislation to better care for women who are pregnant while incarcerated, writing a bill to repeal Michigan's 1931 law that could ban elective abortions and being an original member of the Gun Violence Protection Caucus.

Frank Liberati

She hopes Democrats secure the majority in November to repeal Michigan's "right to work" legislation and to preserve "people's bodily autonomy" with respect to reproductive rights.

"I’m not going to change because of who the residents are," Geiss said. "My core values are rooted in equity and justice. I will fight for whomever I’m serving."

Liberati, 58, previously served his limited two terms in the Michigan House, which ended after 2020. Since then, he's been focused on running his Italian deli and bakery in Allen Park he opened in 2002 and mourned the death last summer of his 26-year-old son following a heart transplant surgery.

Inspired into politics at the school board level originally to fight for the needs of his son with autism, Liberati points to bipartisan legislation that he helped pass to restrict the use of restraints and seclusion on students in public schools and to allow residents voluntary to have noted on their driver's license a communication impairment. Especially if Democrats take the majority, he hopes to codify Roe v. Wade and repeal right to work.

Ricardo Moore

Moore, 50, says a Detroiter should represent the new district, because it would be easier for a Detroit resident to understand the issues faced by Downriver residents than vice versa, because of the city of Detroit's high rates of poverty and crime. And in those areas, he says he's an expert after starting his second term as a Detroit police commissioner in January following a hiatus while serving on the Michigan Parole Board.

"Detroit needs representation in Lansing bad," he said. "It's easier for me to reach out to Taylor than it is for them to handle Detroit. Detroit is its own unique city. Our issues are different than any part of the state."

The U.S. Army veteran says he knows how to work across the aisle, would like to see surplus funds used to pay for medications for senior citizens and wants to revamp the parole board to improve transparency.

Real-estate agent Shellee Brooks is running for state Senate.

Brooks, 44, also thinks it's important for a Detroiter to represent the district. The 20-year real-estate agent is a community activist through organizations like the NAACP, has a master's degree in urban planning from Wayne State University, and has experience with development projects.

She calls her priorities the "three E's": education, economy and equity with a bonus fourth in environment. She initially plans to examine the resources Michigan has available and see if they can be better distributed.

"I have the actual skillsets to complete the job," she said. "I am single. I have no kids. I am ready to throw all my passion and effort into this."

Schwartz, 28, works with railroad engineers at CSX from Michigan to Indiana. He's worked in various factories and jobs and has held an administrative role with the Michigan DeMolay, a fraternal organization. He says he's a "pro-choice" candidate passionate about preserving voting rights and and fighting for higher standards in education funding and attainment.

Brenda Sanders

"I was tired of feeling that the place I was from didn’t have proper representation in the state Legislature," he said. "There wasn’t anyone being a true voice for the people and representing what we stand for and what we would like to see in our towns and in our state."

Sanders, 63, is a former judge for the 36th District Court. She was removed from the bench in 2015 by the Michigan Supreme Court because of mental illness, which Sanders says is unfounded. She originally intended to run for Congress, but failed to secure enough signatures to appear on the ballot. The 38-year attorney posts on social media pictures and videos of clouds and plane contrails, which she alleges is evidence of "military gang stalking" and is most passionate about addressing this matter if elected.

2nd District

Sylvia Santana

Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, faces a challenge from Detroit resident Maurice Sanders. The winner will run against Republican Harry Sawicki, 76, of Dearborn Heights, a self-employed manufacturer's representative.

Santana, 42, prior to serving in the Senate spent one term in the state House and has 15 years of experience in the financial industry. She points to her efforts in repealing driver responsibility fees and being an advocate for criminal justice reform, especially for young people and juveniles. She's proud of securing financial support for trauma recovery victims, for maternal health and for patients with sickle cell disease. Santana believes COVID-19 recovery dollars should go toward infrastructure investments that will be beneficial for the long term for drivers, students and patients.

"When I was younger, my mom would say, 'Stop trying to solve the world’s problem,'" she said. "I'm still trying to solve the world’s problems. We need sound leadership in the state of Michigan, leaders who are going to the table, who want to see change and also want to make sure change is long-standing."

Attempts to reach Sanders were unsuccessful.

Stephanie Chang

3rd District

Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, is pursuing reelection against Toinu Reeves of Detroit, an economics doctoral student, in the only district with portions of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. There are no Republicans running.

Chang, 38, sees the new district as an opportunity for her to use her bridge-building skills. She emphasizes her efforts to get work done even with the Republican majority with which she's worked as a senator and as a House representative for two terms.

The former Detroit community organizer and first Asian American woman elected to the Michigan Legislature highlights her work in last year's community crisis response legislation as part of advocacy to protect residents in need of help from mental health professionals, a water shutoff moratorium in 2020 and bipartisan police accountability measures still being discussed, including around no-knock warrants, the use of choke holds and training. She has her eyes set on being Senate Majority Leader if the Democrats flip the Senate.

Toinu Reeves

"I've built a reputation," she said, "as someone who works really hard for her constituents, especially on issue of environmental justice, housing issues, and at the local level, while also addressing mental health abuse, substance abuse, domestic violence, and I will continue to do that work."

Reeves, 46, expects to complete his doctorate in economics at the University of Michigan in the next two years. The Ivy League undergraduate's experience spans IT consultancy, teaching, automotive factory work and founding nonprofits focused on policy and developing technology to teach children tech skills through video games and to track firearms in real-time.

He says he's a solution-oriented candidate with ideas to revamp university degrees to combine classroom and work experience. He wants to create sustainable funds for the state with investments that offer long-term tax cuts and a "tax and lend" philosophy over a "tax and spend" one. He likened this strategy to the Alaska Permanent Fund that pays an annual dividend to residents.

James Chapman

"As a professional economist, we're essentially social scientists, policymakers — economists wrote Obamacare — and we're economists," Reeves said. "One of the problems our country faces is people stuck in ideologies. I ask: How can we solve this problem?"

4th District

Blue-collar workers James Chapman of Belleville and Michael Frazier of Romulus as well as former congressional intern Houston James of Flat Rock and Flat Rock resident Beth Socia are pursuing the Republican nomination for state Senate in the 4th District. Rep. Darrin Camilleri of Trenton is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Chapman, 62, is a "semi-retired" tree service, firewood and sawmill man and former autoworker. He's run for state representative three times previously as well as for township trustee and library board positions and is an elected precinct delegate. He says he believes the 2020 election was stolen. He says Michigan should decertify its results.

"I believe what they're calling the 'big lie': There was widespread election fraud," he said. "I do support President Trump. I believe our country took a wrong turn in 2020, and we need to go back and see what we can do to revise the election law."

Michael Frazier

Frazier, 48, works on the assembly line at engine manufacturer Detroit Diesel Corp. and is a member of the United Auto Workers. He ran against Camilleri in 2018 for the House seat. Finding that experience rewarding, he hopes to be a voice again for south Wayne County families against the Common Core school curriculum, the pension tax and government waste.

"I've seen a lot of people complaining and wanting something done," Frazier said. "I don't have kids myself, but I can be an advocate for them. I'm a hardworking Republican that has worked with both sides in the UAW."

Houston James

James, 23, just graduated from Tiffin University with a bachelor's degree in homeland security and counterterrorism. Interning under U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, on Capitol Hill before his death in March inspired James to run for state Senate. The former Division II quarterback wants to see tax incentives used to create jobs and keep the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline to promote energy independence and protect jobs, which he notes are union.

As for his age, James notes Camilleri was just one year older than he when he first ran for office: "I have a substantial amount of energy," James said. "It's not my generation that has gotten us into these problems. I don’t have as much life experience, but that might be refreshing and might be needed in Lansing."

Attempts to reach Socia were unsuccessful.

5th District

Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, is running for reelection against Ford Motor Co. retiree and community advocate Velma Jean Overman of Inkster. For the Republicans, GOP committeewoman Emily Bauman of Westland, former GOP committeewoman Jody Rice-White of Livonia and truck driver Leonard Scott Jr. of Canton Township are seeking the nomination.

Dayna Polehanki

Polehanki was elected to the Senate in 2018 after working as a high school English teacher. She touts her work in securing millions of dollars in additional funding for schools in her district and allocations for sidewalk gap reduction programs and road projects, particularly in Canton Township. If Democrats secure the majority, she hopes to chair the Education Policy Committee and be a voice for teachers and administrators who she feels haven't been heard during her first term.

"Although I still feel like a teacher at heart after being in the classroom for 20 years," she said, "I have definitely become a fighter in the Michigan Senate for students, teachers and parents, for residents fighting corporate polluters, for working class folks to have dignified lives, for unions that want to provide people with good-paying jobs."

Overman, 67, retired in 2008 from Ford after 30 years of hourly and salaried work. Since then, she's been involved heavily in the community, working as the executive director of charity Operation Refuge Inc. whose food pantry feeds 400 families each month and as pastor of outreach at Christ Temple City of Refuge. Eliminating the pension tax, investing in green sustainable infrastructure and increasing access to health care are among her priorities.

Velma Jean Overman

"I have familiarity with the needs of Wayne County simply because I have worked across the district for the last 10 years," she said. "The work that needs to be done throughout the district, I've been doing it already."

For the Republicans, Bauman, 55, previously ran for state representative in 2020. At the time, she set aside her leadership and personal development coaching company to pursue the position and has past experience in the telecommunications industry and owning a landscaping company. The mother of three has been a Michigan GOP committeewoman since early last year and has planned to run for state representative again, but opted for the Senate seat following redistricting.

She's passionate about supporting small businesses, protecting freedoms and ensuring parents have transparency and a say in education after Polehanki last year introduced a bill to increase the penalty for assaulting or endangering school employees, board members or contractors and described some parents fighting mask mandates as "hostile."

Emily Bauman

"Parents needs to have that right and speak about their children’s education and have a role in that," Bauman said. "My core is families: that they have jobs to pay for things, that things are not so out of whack that they can’t afford things, and they have education that helps people get the jobs they need."

Rice-White, 58, has a background in realty appraisals. She began homeschooling her now-grown children in 2010 and previously ran for Westland city clerk, Livonia Public Schools board and state House in 2018 prior to which she was a GOP committeewoman. Following the death of her father-in-law in 2014, she's been outspoken against elder abuse and reforms and accountability in the judicial system, specifically with respect to the the Oakland County Probate Court, which assigned a special fiduciary to her father-in-law, who the White family has sought to remove for years.

Jody Rice-White

"Our job ... is to help the people who have found themselves in an injustice," she said. "The only way I can help with the Elderly Abuse Task Force is if I can become a state senator, and continue to look at all the bills that are being written to care about what's going on with our elderly population."

Scott, 66, is an over-the-road truck driver, a father of two grown children and a 28-year Canton resident. He's concerned with how the government spends taxpayers' money, wants to see roads built better and emphasizes the need for improvement in cybersecurity.

Leonard Scott

"I have a passion for trying to right the paths I see wrong," he said. "I’m very unhappy with what I see as my representation. In state government in general, I want to see them be able to be more accountable for the money they are spending and get more value for what it is they spend on."


Twitter: @BreanaCNoble