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The 41st District state House race in Oakland County is a rematch from 2012, when Republican Martin Howrylak prevailed in a closer-than-expected 427-vote victory over Democrat Mary Kerwin, with whom he served on the Troy City Council.

There was a lot of internal finger-pointing in Democratic circles after the election about whether they should have spent some dough helping Kerwin. This time around, the Democrats are "in this one to win it," said Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee.

And Kerwin is sharpening her focus on how Howrylak has voted, which often results in pressing the red "no" button from his desk on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Howrylak has not been shy to buck his own party, voting "no" on 146 roll call votes that the GOP majority supported of 1,095 votes taken, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's vote-tracking service.

Kerwin argues the incumbent's tendency to vote "no" renders him ineffective for Troy constituents.

"People just want to have someone who can understand their needs and be responsive," Kerwin said. "They want effective candidates. Not just people who go to Lansing and don't do a darn thing."

Howrylak, an accountant by trade, makes no apologies for his voting record. He voted against the latest K-12 school budget, for example, because he thought it short-changed Troy schools with a last-minute change to per-pupil funding calculations.

Howrylak also opposed Republican-authored bills shielding "dark money" in issue advocacy campaigns from disclosure and a controversial bill transferring the Court of Claims from the Ingham County Circuit Court to the Michigan Court of Appeals that he felt was "jammed through" without proper legislative oversight.

He dismissed Kerwin's criticism.

"If she was in the Democratic caucus, she would be voting 'no' all the time," Howrylak said. "If I voted 'yes,' they would be attacking me for voting 'yes.'"

Another challenge on votes

Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, is another legislator with a propensity to vote "no" when he feels a piece of legislation needs more work or lawmakers haven't considered all possible options.

"I'm not a big fan of true-false questions. I prefer multiple choice," says Colbeck, a former aerospace engineer.

Colbeck has been an ardent opponent of the state's participation in Medicaid expansion, a multibillion-dollar part of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

The new law has added 425,000 low-income adults to the state-federal insurance program, which Colbeck contends could some day cost state taxpayers billions of dollars.

Colbeck faces a challenge in the Nov. 4 election from Democratic state Rep. Dian Slavens of Canton.

Slavens criticizes Colbeck for voting against allowing the Medicaid law to immediately take effect on Jan. 1, holding up enrollment by three months, which led to the loss of an estimated $630 million in federal funds.

"He held that up and cost our state $630 million," Slavens said. "I think that was irresponsible."

Before Gov. Rick Snyder secured enough votes to pass the Medicaid expansion, Colbeck pushed an alternative plan to separate routine medical needs from catastrophic care, which state health officials dismissed as bureaucratically unfeasible.

Colbeck said he voted to delay implementation of Medicaid expansion with hopes that Snyder and fellow Republicans would reconsider.

"Frankly it was a case for buying time for more rationale heads to get their arms around what we put forward," he said.

Special Nov. 1 delivery

On the Saturday before the Nov. 4 election, the Michigan Democratic and Republican parties will be busy marshaling thousands of volunteers to canvass neighborhoods across the state to get their bases to the polls.

Meanwhile, state officials in Lansing will be awaiting the arrival of this year's State Christmas Tree.

A 63-foot blue spruce is expected to roll into the capital city Nov. 1 on a truck after a 427-mile trek from Kingsford, which is nestled along the Wisconsin-Michigan border in the Upper Peninsula.

As usual, state officials at the Department of Technology, Management and Budget "scoured the entire state" in search of the right tree, said David Behen, department director.

Upper Peninsula spruces have dominated the 29-year tradition, with 20 of the trees coming from north of the Straits of Mackinac. This year's tree is provided from the property of Bill and Helen Bjorkman, who are donating the tree.

The Michigan Association of Timbermen and the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association will chop down the monster and make sure it arrives in Lansing in one piece, according to DTMB.

The tree will be decked with 4,000 lights — just in time for Lansing's 30th annual Silver Bells in the City parade and celebration on Nov. 21.

All quiet on political front

The big talk in some of Michigan's contested congressional races has been the lack of talk — namely, debates.

In the 6th Congressional District, Democratic challenger Paul Clements and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, argue about whether any of their joint appearances could be considered debates. And the Clements' camp is fuming that Upton won't reschedule a debate appearance he canceled when he held a recent House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on the Ebola virus.

In the 1st Congressional District — which includes the Upper Peninsula and some of the northern lower peninsula — Democrat Jerry Cannon and U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, are sparring over claims each has ducked out on opportunities for joint appearances, forums or debates.

There has been similar skirmishing in the 11th Congressional District, which includes parts of Wayne and Oakland counties, between Democrat Bobby McKenzie of Canton Township and Republican Birmingham lawyer Dave Trott. But they at least will have a debate on WDIV-Local 4's "Flash Point" Sunday show at 10 a.m.

It is "not a formal debate format but the face-to-face conversation that I prefer," WDIV anchor and host Devin Scillian said in an email. "Yeah, two candidates actually willing to appear together. Weird, right?"

Contributors: Chad Livengood, Gary Heinlein and Richard Burr

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