Wozniak wins GOP primary for Macomb County state Senate seat

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Republican state Rep. Douglas Wozniak will face off against Democrat Martin Robert Genter in a special election to decide a GOP-leaning state Senate seat for Macomb County.

Wozniak was the top vote getter among seven GOP candidates in the race, earning 35.7% of the vote, while state Rep. Pamela Hornberger of Chesterfield Township finished second with 29.5%. Former Macomb County sheriff candidate Terence Mekosk ended up woth 20.8% of the vote. 

Genter of Harrison Township won 70.5% of the vote against challenger John Bill of Rochester Hills.

State Rep. Pamela Hornberger, state Rep. Doug Wozniak and Terence Mekoski are three of the seven Republicans running in a primary for the state Senate in Macomb County this summer.

The November 2020 election appeared to be a decisive factor in the Republican race.

Mekoski and Wozniak said they supported a new audit of Michigan's November 2020 election, which former President Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden by 3 percentage points or 154,000 voters. Among the seven candidates, only Hornberger didn't make such a commitment, saying it would depend on what evidence of fraud comes forward in the state.

Most Republican candidates in the 8th Michigan Senate District field told The Detroit News that election integrity was among the top issues in the primary. It is the most Republican-leaning Senate district in Macomb County, a swing county that Trump won twice.

Reviews by local election officials, a series of court rulings, bipartisan boards of canvassers and an investigation by the GOP-controlled state Senate Oversight Committee have upheld Biden's victory.

The 8th District seat is open after former Sen. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, was elected Macomb County's prosecutor in November.

The winner of the GOP primary in the special election is the favorite to claim Lucido's old seat in November. In 2018 — a year where Democrats won at the top of the ticket in Michigan — Lucido prevailed in the 8th Senate District with 62% of the vote, defeating Democrat Paul Francis by 24 percentage points. The district includes Mount Clemens, St. Clair Shores, Harrison Township, Shelby Township and Washington Township.

Wozniak, an attorney by trade, is a former Shelby Township trustee who has been endorsed by the supervisors for Bruce, Washington and Shelby townships. In the House, Wozniak has championed a proposal to increase the fee schedule that specialized, post-acute care rehabilitation equivalents can charge in helping victims of auto crashes after the 2019 overhaul of Michigan's auto insurance laws.

Hornberger, who was first elected to the House in 2016, is being backed by the Michigan Freedom Fund and Great Lakes Education Project, two conservative interest groups tied to West Michigan's DeVos family. She's also been endorsed by former Republican state Sens. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, and Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township. She's a former teacher and the current speaker pro tem in the Michigan House, meaning she holds a leadership position.

But a nonprofit called Michigan for Traditional Values, which doesn't have to disclose its donors, sent out a mailing and set up a website criticizing Hornberger for voting against a bill in 2018 that would have required schools to submit reports on applicants about whom they found allegations of inappropriate behavior involving a minor.

Mekoski has worked in law enforcement for about 35 years, including 26 years with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office. In 2020, he challenged Democratic Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, losing by 12 percentage points.

He described himself as a "constitutionalist" and said election integrity and border security are the top two issues for primary voters in the district. He called for a "full forensic audit" of the 2020 election.

Among the remaining GOP candidates were Mary Berlingieri, a small business owner from Washington Township who finished with 8% of the vote. Kristi Dean of Shelby Township got 2.5%, followed by Bill Carver, a truck driver from Harrison Township, with 2.4% and Grant Golasa, a mechanical engineer from Shelby Township, with 1%.

St. Clair Shores voter Jean O'Leary, a controller, said she supported Hornberger in the primary.

"She is conservative fiscally and otherwise and she is pro-life and pro-Second Amendment," O'Leary said. 

In Sterling Heights, Mayor Michael Taylor and former City Council member Ken Nelson are headed for the November ballot.

With all precincts reporting, Taylor was the top vote-getter with 63% of the vote after the Republican incumbent said last year he voted for Joe Biden in Michigan's Democratic March 2020 primary election. 

Nelson received 33%and resident Charles Jefferson, who has not been campaigning, trailed with 6%.

Macomb County backed Trump in 2016 and 2020.

The November winner will be in office for four years instead of the normal two years after voters approved the change.

Nelson has criticized Taylor, saying he is concerned about the direction with spending and the city's debt, including for the approval in December of a nearly $38,000 raise for City Manager Mark Vanderpool. The move increased his salary to $202,950.

On Wednesday, Nelson said he was not disappointed with the results but learned a lesson based on results from absentee voters.

"I better do an absentees mailer (for the general election). That is where we lost it," Nelson said. "I am very pleased with what happened. My word is not going to change that we need to make changes in our budgeting and in how we treat our residents and that is not going to gather any dust."

Taylor has defended his record and pointed to property values increasing 5% in the latest year. Taylor refused on Wednesday to comment.

Eighteen-year-old Kaeli Haselhuhn votes for her first time at the 19th precinct inside Heritage Junior High School in Sterling Heights on Tuesday. The mayor's race was among the contests on the ballot.

Sterling Heights voter Robert Snyder voted Tuesday in the city’s mayor for Nelson.

“The roads are horrible, and I want more parks and safer parks,” Snyder said. 

Nicholas Habib, 24, said he did not vote for the Sterling Heights incumbent because he supported Biden in the presidential election.

“That didn’t agree with me, so I went with Ken (Nelson),” Habib said.

jchambers@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.