Local state House races a microcosm of statewide trend

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

In a campaign season that has been characterized by public unrest and economic uncertainty, there is one certainty in next Tuesday’s state Legislature elections: There will be a big shake-up to the makeup of the 148-seat bicameral body.

Due largely to term-limited lawmakers no longer run able to run for their respective offices, only 67 incumbents are seeking re-election in the state House and Senate. That means that as of Jan. 1, there will be a minimum of 52 new faces in the 110-member House and at least 29 new faces in the 38-member Senate.

And in local races, the trend of turnover mirrors the one statewide. Of the four House districts covering the Dearborn-Dearborn Heights area – the 11th, 15th, 16th and 17th – two races feature an incumbent, while the other two have only candidates for whom a Nov. 2 victory would signify their first time as a state lawmaker. Of the two Senate districts representing the area – the 3rd and the 5th – only one features an incumbent.

The race with the most intrigue for local political watchers is in the 15th House District, where sitting Dearborn City Council members Suzanne Sareini, a Republican, and George Darany, a Democrat, are facing off in a three-way contest that includes U.S. Taxpayers candidate Daryl Smith. The Lansing hopefuls are vying for what has been a steady position for recent office holders, with current Rep. Gino Polidori (D-Dearborn) and his predecessor, then-Republican Gary Woronchak, holding onto the seat for the maximum of three two-year terms.

Sareini, 59, first was elected to the Council in 1990 and last year became the body’s President Pro Tem with a second-place finish among the seven candidates who won election. A former restaurateur, Sareini currently counts her part-time council position as her only job and has said on the campaign trail that jobs are her No. 1 priority.

In framing her candidacy, she often touts a nonpartisan ideology uncharacteristic of most GOP candidates this election cycle and has pledged to work across the aisle with Democrats.

Darany, 54, is just a year removed from his first successful foray into elective politics, a third-place finish in the 2009 Dearborn City Council race. A real estate agent by day, Darany also has made jobs one of his top issues, along with protecting educational funding and government reform.

The wild card in the race is Smith, a supply chain manager who has eschewed the broader issues most candidates have focused on – jobs, education, cutting bureaucracy – in favor of specific measures he would seek to enact. Among the main items in his consumer-advocacy platform are increased foreclosure protections for homeowners and a change in the way taxable property values are calculated that would account for the disproportional negative effect foreclosures have on surrounding properties.

The other local House race sure to produce a Lansing newcomer is in the 17th District, which includes the northern half of Dearborn Heights and parts of Redford Township and Livonia. Current 17th District Rep. House Speaker Andy Dillon (D-Redford Township) is term-limited and cannot run for re-election, leaving fellow Redford residents Phil Cavanagh, a Democrat, and Republican Mike Adams to vie for his spot.

Cavanagh is a former Wayne County commissioner who has worked in the private sector exclusively since 2008 when he left the commission to make an unsuccessful bid to become Wayne County treasurer. A licensed attorney with a master’s degree in business administration, Cavanagh runs a business development firm that helps firms navigate government bureaucracies and identify tax incentives. Like his Democratic counterpart Darany, Cavanagh has campaigned on increasing job opportunities, protecting educational funding, and government reform.

GOP candidate Adams has run a traditional conservative campaign, with a focus on reducing government, cutting taxes and making the state more business friendly. He has received the support of Republican lieutenant governor candidate Brian Calley and was scheduled to hold a rally on Sunday in Redford with the current state representative.

For the two area House races featuring a current state lawmaker, two Democrat incumbents are expected to roll in the steadily Democratic-voting 11th and 16th districts. In the 11th District, which comprises parts of northwest Detroit and a sliver of northeast Dearborn, Detroit Democrat David Nathan is seeking a second term against opponent Republican Leonard Mier of Dearborn.

In the 16th District, Rep. Robert Constan (D-Dearborn Heights) is going for a third and final term against Republican Mike Mullins. Constan, an attorney, and Mullins, an Allen Park resident and business manager, are squaring off to represent a district that includes parts of Dearborn Heights, Garden City, Inkster and Allen Park.

In the 3rd Senate District, which serves Dearborn, River Rouge and portions of Detroit, current officeholder Sen. Irma Clark-Coleman (D-Detroit) is term-limited and cannot run for re-election. Looking to replace her is longtime former 11th District Rep. Morris Hood (D-Detroit) and Republican candidate Doug Mitchell of Dearborn. Since leaving the House in 2008, Hood has worked as a project manager for Wayne County. Along with jobs and education, Hood has campaigned on one of his biggest advocacies during his days as a House member – reducing homeowner’s and auto insurance rates. Mitchell, an ACO store manager, has run a relatively low-profile campaign.

And finally, there is the 5th Senate District, where incumbent Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit) faces GOP challenger Bonnie Patrick. Hunter is finishing his first term as a senator and has focused his campaign on specific measures related to jobs, health care, and fixing the state’s budget process. The district covers all of northwest Detroit, Dearborn Heights and Inkster.

Among the initiatives Hunter is pursuing are getting off the ground the proposed Aerotropolis project at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, and also requiring that insurance companies provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder. Patrick, for her part, has zeroed in on government transparency and accountability as her top issues.