Opinion

Is anyone paying attention?

The August primary election approaches

Posted

(Editor's note: Because of an editing error, a previous version of this  story included a photo that wrongly identified the person in the photo as D. Taft, a candidate for the Lansing City Council, because the source of the photo had wrongly identified the person in the photo. 

(The story has also been updated to correct the first name of  Alan Fox, one of the founders of Practical Political Consulting.

Also, two facts were incorrect about Penelope Tsurgolou in an earlier version of the story. She is no longer a county commissioneror  or third vice chair of the Ingham County Democratic Party. 

Finally the commentary on the  75th House District  race should have said Clinton County, not Clinton Township, is in the district.

(City Pulse apologizes for the errors.)

 Ingham County voters can start voting absentee this week for the Aug. 2 primary election …  if you remember that there's a primary. 

The door-knocking and campaign mail and yard signs we've come to expect with contested gubernatorial and legislative primaries are hit and miss, to be kind. 

We're all voting in new congressional, state Senate and state House districts. Most of the districts don't feature an incumbent.  

Yet, with few exceptions, longtime political observer Bill Ballenger conceded, "There hasn't been a damn thing!" as far as political activity. 

The turmoil and confusion over the new legislative districts and whether they'd withstand judicial challenge led to late decision-making, he said. 

That's led to little opportunity to fundraise. That's led to limited opportunity to organize and put together the type of door-knocking and activity we're used to in the Capital City. 

Emblematic of the situation is the Republicans' fluid gubernatorial race, where half of the 10-candidate field of "political amateurs" was kicked off the ballot for falling victim to widespread petition fraud. 

A few political newcomers didn't qualify for the ballot locally. Those who did qualify got into the race relatively late. 

In the opinion of former Ingham County Commissioner Thomas Morgan — himself a commission candidate on Lansing’s south side: “People  are exhausted." 

"They're exhausted from the pandemic. They're exhausted dealing with misinformation that's been put out there by extremists in the GOP. It's just been a long couple of years, and a lot of people can't take it anymore. They don't want to get involved. It's unfortunate and understandable.  

"They're throwing their hands up in the air and saying, 'Fuck it. I'm too tired.'" 

For Republicans, the name of the game is the governor's race, but recent polling has shown around 50% are undecided. Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig is running as a write-in candidate. "Quality Guru" may be following suit. 

The candidate with the most support in two recent polls is Ryan Kelley, whose antics, captured on videotape, during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots earned him four federal misdemeanor charges this month. 

There's a contested state Senate race in the new East Lansing/Meridian Township/Clinton County on the Republican side, but the Democratic nominee is likely Sam Singh, the former state House minority leader and East Lansing mayor running with token opposition. 

 The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission reduced the number of districts that included portions of Lansing from five to two.

The long-awaited Singh-Rep. Sarah Anthony state Senate race is not happening. Anthony has her own seat in the new 21st District, which is most of Lansing and Eaton County. She has no primary and only token Republican opposition in the fall. 

The action for Democrats is in the state House, where Democrats likely will win out all five Lansing area seats after the Dem primaries are settled in the three contested races. 

Outside of the Penelope Tsernoglou-Emily Stivers race in the new East Lansing/Meridian Township/

Clinton County 75th District, the primaries have been relatively low-energy affairs. 

Even the Ingham County Board of Commissioners’ primary races are falling under the radar as observers see a very real scenario where no African Americans end up on the 15-member board come 2023. 

The Lansing City Councilmember Brian Daniels needs his appointment to the post verified by the voters of the First Ward, but his two opponents aren't engaged in widespread direct voter engagement. 

With that backdrop, below is a breakdown of primary election races that seem competitive at this point: 

Governor 

James Craig, 65, a Detroit Republican, is the former Detroit police chief of eight years, originally brought into the job by then-Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr in the Gov. Rick Snyder administration. A Cass Tech High School product, Craig retired after 28 years with the Los Angeles Police Department at the rank of Captain III in 2009. 

From there, he became the police chief for Portland, Maine, for a couple years before moving to the Cincinnati Police and becoming the police chief there. He received his bachelor's in business management from West Coast University and a master's in management and business administration from the University of Phoenix. 

Craig was disqualified from appearing on the primary ballot May 27 but is running as a write-in candidate. 

Tudor Dixon, 44, a Muskegon Republican, is a conservative television host of an afternoon program for America’s Voice News. She also works in the radio news business. Previously, the married mother of four and cancer survivor was the co-founder of Lumen Student News, a product designed to share news with middle and high school students with a bent toward "reinforcing traditional American values." 

From June 2002 until June 2017, Dixon worked off and on in the steel industry, mostly in sales. The Chicago-area native did take some years off within that window to raise her kids. Dixon received her bachelor's in psychology in 1998. 

Ryan D. Kelley, 39, an Allendale Republican, is a real estate agent with NuCon Realty and an Allendale Township planning commissioner. He also produces vlogs that he'll put on YouTube through his company, "The Kelly Krew." He is the "founding father" of the American Patriot Council, a group that gathered online signatures for the arrest of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for actions taken to control COVID-19. 

Kelley attended the Jan. 6 protests outside the U.S. Capitol, although Kelley said he left before things became destructive. Kelley and his wife, Tabitha, have five children. 

Ralph Rebandt, 62, a Farmington Hills Republican, is the lead pastor for Oakland Hills Community Church in Farmington Hills. He serves as chaplain for state and local police organizations, including the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police and the Southeastern Michigan Chiefs of Police. 

He serves on the board of the Farmington Hills Crime Prevention Advisory Committee and is a member of the Farmington Hills S.A.F.E., an organization dedicated to suicide awareness. He also is a member of Farmington Families in Action. 

At the national level, Rebandt is a member of the Board of Governors for the Council of National Policy. On the state level, he served as religious adviser on Gov. John Engler's Sex and Drugs Education Task Force. Before becoming a pastor, he worked in construction, a collision shop and for the United Parcel Service. 

Kevin Rinke, 60, a Bloomfield Hills Republican, works with Centria Healthcare, which provides autism therapy to children across the country. Prior to this experience, Rinke bought Cassell & Associates, which is a rehabilitation workplace for those with traumatic brain injuries. The company became the largest company of its kind and Rinke sold it a national service provider. 

Rinke started his career working for his family’s automotive business, where he picked up trash, cleaned customer restrooms and washed cars. After graduating from Michigan State University in 1983, he joined the Rinke Automotive Group as a full-time member and eventually became the head of the company. He and his wife of 25 years have three children. 

Garrett Soldano, 43, a Mattawan Republican, is a chiropractor, small business owner, public speaker and author of "God's True Law, a parent's guide to raising successful children." In 2020, he became a leader of the 386,000-member Facebook group Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine, which sought to pressure the governor to end her administration's orders that were designed to slow COVID-19 spread. 

Earlier in life, Soldano was most valuable player for the Western Michigan University football team. He signed a free agent contract with the 

Chicago Bears, but was cut before the season began. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two sons. 

Commentary: Rinke pledged to spend up to $10 million of his own money to win this primary, but that hasn't translated into overwhelming success in the polls. He's run the most traditional campaign with a statewide bus tour, but he lacks organic enthusiasm behind his campaign. Kelley and Soldano have that, but neither of them has much money. 

Soldano is riding his anti-COVID lockdown organization for everything he can. Kelley's dissatisfaction with government runs much deeper. Dixon has all the tools to be a quality candidate, but even the Chamber of Commerce, Right to Life and DeVos family endorsements haven't pushed her beyond the mid-single digits. 

Craig was the only candidate with built-in name ID, but he's now running a write-in effort. With absentee voting starting soon, anybody who says this isn't a jump ball has a dog in the race. 

State Senate, Republican primary, District 28 

(East Lansing, Meridian Township) 

Madhu Anderson, an East Lansing Republican, is the director of government relations at The Nature Conservancy, prior to which she served as the deputy director for both the Michigan Agency for Energy and the Department of Environmental Quality. 

Anderson ran to represent the 93rd House district in 2018, losing in the primary. Along with raising three children in Bath Township, Anderson served as former Gov. John Engler's deputy state treasurer. 

Anderson was born in India and immigrated to the United States as a child, choosing to become a citizen as a young adult. The University of California, Berkeley graduate holds an undergraduate degree in political science. She earned her master’s in public policy from the Gerald R. Ford School at the University of Michigan. 

Daylen Howard, 26, an Owosso Republican, works in retail sales. Howard has attended classes at American University. 

He was the assistant manager at JB Robinson Jewelers until the store shutdown during the COVID pandemic, which he said was a driving reason for him to file to run. The first-time candidate also interned for a state senator's office while in high school. 

Howard has been involved in politics since he was five, working as a volunteer for various candidates for office. 

Sam Singh, 50, an East Lansing Democrat, is the chief executive officer at Public Policy Associates, Inc. and former House minority leader. Singh also served three terms on the East Lansing City Council. In 2005, he was elected as the youngest mayor in the history of East Lansing at that time. 

He was the president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association from April 1997 to July 2007 and senior consultant at the New Economy Initiative from June 2009 to November 2012. Prior to obtaining an array of leadership positions, Singh graduated from Michigan State University in 1994, where he studied economics and religious studies and earned a bachelor's degree in history. 

The married father of one served on the boards of more than 20 organizations, such as the Capital Area United Way, Lansing Refugee Development Center and the Michigan Municipal League. 

Muhammad Rais, 47, a Dewitt Democrat, is a doctor at McLaren Greater Lansing Hospital and specializes in family medicine. He received his medical degree from Nishtar Medical College and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He did his residency at Loyola University and Forest Park Hospital. The Pakistan native did his medical school training at Nishtar Medical School in Pakistan. A DeWitt resident for over 13 years, Rais is married with three kids. He's volunteered with several different charities including food banks. 

Rais ran for the state House in 2020, losing to Rep. Graham Filler 63% to 37%. 

Commentary: The conventional wisdom has the Republican winner here being eaten for lunch by Sam Singh, who has nominal opposition in the primary. But with elections becoming more national in focus over the last few years, and inflation/gas prices emerging as a central focus among voters, nothing can be taken for granted in this 55% Democratic base seat. 

Michigan Chamber-endorsed Anderson has a long resume in state government while Howard is a relative newcomer to the political and policy scene, who nabbed the endorsement of the Freedom Fund. Whether he can translate early enthusiasm into votes will be the question. 

State House, Democratic primary, District 74 

Rep. Kara Hope, 47, a Holt Democrat, is a second-term House member who began work as a pre-hearing attorney in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Following that, she worked as a defense attorney before going on to teach as an adjunct professor back at Cooley Law School, and eventually started her solo practice in 2015, specializing in family law. Hope began considering serving her community in a political capacity and ran for the Ingham County Board of Commissioners in 2012, where she served until her election to the House. 

Albert L. Kelley Jr., 72, a Lansing Democrat, is the senior pastor at the Pennsylvania Avenue Original Church of God, a post he’s held for the last 24 years. He grew up in Lansing and attended Lansing public schools. After high school, he took a few classes at Lansing Community College and worked at the General Motor Fisher Body Plant for 37 years. He joined the U.S. Air Force for four years, reaching the rank of sergeant and receiving an honorable discharge. 

He and his wife have been married for 42 years. They have four adult sons and eight grandchildren. He is a member of the Greater Lansing Clergy Forum, which is made up of 23 different churches and denominations. At the forum, he heads up the social justice group. 

Carlee Knott, 27, a Holt Democrat, has been working for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., for a year and a half. Prior to that, she spent five months as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Southern California. She also spent four months as a legislative analyst intern for the Senate Fiscal Agency. Knott attended the University of Michigan, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in political science. 

The product of Holt Public Schools, she then attended the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and earned her master’s in public policy analysis. 

From 2019-2020, Knott was director of finance for Price Women & Allies, a student organization that is committed to fostering a diverse community at USC for women, transgender, non-conforming gender, non-binary folks and their allies. 

Commentary: Hope picked up Lansing’s entire southern half, from the Grand River to Interstate 96. That’s good news in that it means a Republican has no shot on a good day. It’s bad news in that her expanded Lansing district attracted a pair of Lansing candidates — one with some political experience in Knott and another with deep community connections in Kelley. Lansing is now 68.6% of Hope’s district. Her current 67th House District is 19.5% Lansing. 

Delhi remains about 30% of her district, meaning about half of the 74th is new territory for Hope. Roughly 35% of the district consists of voters from an ethnic minority. Local political observers haven't seen anything from Kelley or Knott, as of yet. 

State House, Democratic primary, District 75 

Don Keskey, 75, a Haslett Democrat, has over 48 years of legal experience, including his time as the CEO of Public Law Resource Center. He's been endorsed by the Michigan Farm Bureau. 

Emily Stivers, 40, an Ingham County Democrat, is an Ingham County commissioner who worked as the social media coordinator for the House Democratic Caucus. She's also served on the Meridian Township Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Commission. The open bisexual is the mother of two. 

She has a master's degree from the University of Michigan's Ford School and a bachelor's degree from Michigan State University's James Madison College. Her professional experience includes the United Nations Foundation and EduGuide, an education organization helping students develop social and emotional skills for long-term success in college and careers. During the Great Recession, she started her own company to help low-income homeowners avoid foreclosure. 

Penelope Tsernoglou, 42, an East Lansing Democrat, was an Ingham County commissioner. She also owns Practical Political Consulting, the voter information service founded by Mark Grebner and Alan Fox. The Southfield native has worked as an advocate for victims of domestic violence at EVE (End Violent Encounters) Inc. in Lansing.  She’s also worked as a court-appointed attorney for indigent defendants and juveniles in both Ingham and Eaton counties.    

She obtained degrees in psychology and sociology from the University of Michigan, where she played trumpet in the marching band.  She obtained her law degree from the Detroit College of Law and ran for the House in 2018. The attorney of 17 years was the third vice chair of the Ingham County Democratic Party. She is married with one child. 

Commentary: The redistricting commission created a second Democratic district out of East Lansing and Meridian Township by cutting the two communities in half down Grand River Avenue. Michigan State University and Okemos was put in 73rd. All of the student neighborhoods and Haslett was put in the 75th. It sets up a second chance at the House for Tsernoglou, who was edged out by now-Rep. Julie Brixie 47.5% to 36.6%. She’s gobbling up plenty of local endorsements, but Stivers has Brixie’s support and that of a few other local officials. 

Still, the biggest piece of this district in a General Election is not East Lansing (23%) or Meridian Township (28%). It’s Clinton County (33%), where only the sole Republican candidate, Chris Stewart of Bath, resides. Both candidates are spending money on mailers and TV ads. Tsernoglou is knocking a lot of doors, which she did in 2016, as well. 

State House, Democratic primary, District 77

Logan Byrne, 27, a DeWitt Democrat, was appointed in January to serve on the Clinton County Zoning Board of Appeals. This is his first run for elective office

An attorney, most of Byrne's work has been for social justice causes he’s passionate about, including the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence and a variety of immigration nonprofits, including the St. Vincent Catholic Charities Immigration Law Clinic while he was in law school. In San Francisco, he worked for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. Byrne works for the Genesee County Circuit Court as a judicial advisory assistant. 

Emily Dievendorf, 44, a Lansing Democrat, is the former executive director of Equality Michigan and a 2015 Lansing City Council candidate. She has been an adjunct faculty instructor at Olivet College for three and a half years and the founding operator of Village Strategies LLC for seven years. 

Dievendorf is on the Michigan Advisory Committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She previously worked as a community organizer for Michigan Voice. Dievendorf earned his bacholor’s in social relations and public policy at MSU. Last year, she blew the whistle on the strong sexual overtones coming out of a Lansing public relations firm. 

Jon Horford, 30, a Lansing Democrat, is a former Grand Ledge High School basketball standout who played and attended the University of Michigan. He received his bachelor’s degree at U of M and his master's from the University of Florida. He also played professionally in the G-League for the Canton Charge and the Grand Rapids Drive. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Horford to the Michigan Black Leadership Advisory Council Health Committee in April 2021. Horford and his wife own some rental property and run an app called Blueprint Athletes, which provides workouts and drills to help athletes improve their basketball skills. 

Commentary: Horford is starting to gobble up the union endorsements, while political observers are waiting to see if Dievendorf can bring the energy she brought in her City Council race. Byrne is bringing some energy out of Clinton County, but the bulk of the votes are coming out of Lansing north of the Grand River. Roping Grand Ledge into this district helps Horford, even if it is only about 4,500 voters. DeWitt is shifting more and more blue.  

Ingham County Commission races 

District 5 (Democratic) Manuel Delgado Jr., the son of the former commissioner, may have a leg up in terms of name ID than young Myles Johnson, who is hoping to succeed Derrell Slaughter in a Black-majority district but was slow getting out of the gate. 

District 13 (Democratic) — Environmental toxicologist and Stivers-backed Amy Salisbury could conceivably win, even though she won't be able to serve, since she won't be living in the district due to a personal change in her situation. That opens the door for 21-year-old MSU graduate student Graham Diedrich. 

District 15 (Democratic) Jordan Davis, executive director of the Capital Area IT Council, and real estate agent Brooke Locke are running for the Democratic nomination, but the Republican, Monica Schafer, may have political wind at her back. She's been working doors for more than a month and is already known in Williamston for her past activity on the transgender issue. 

Lansing City Council 

Iraq War veteran Brian Daniels runs the new boxing and fitness studio, Empower Lansing, and got the nod from the Lansing City Council after Brandon Betz left. Ryan Kost's crusade to clean up Lansing is admirable, but whether that translates into a successful council race is the question mark.  

D. Taft is the same Rev. DeMarco Taft whose best known for the flashy attire he wore while campaigning in downtown Lansing and along Saginaw Street for the Lansing City Council last year. 

The two top vote-getters will face each other in the General Election.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol News Service MIRS is a political columnist for City Pulse.) 

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