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Published: Wednesday, 3/20/2002

Political battles drawn on Monroe County soil


TEMPERANCE - Scattered among the businesses and government booths at last weekend's Bedford Trade Fair were the first indications that Michigan, and Monroe County in particular, promises to be a political battleground this year.

Gubernatorial candidates were there, as were those running for local office or circulating petitions for statewide and local issues. With six weeks left before the filing deadline for candidates, officials from both the county Democratic and Republican parties are in full campaign mode, recruiting would-be politicians and making sure incumbents are properly steeled for another run for office.

“Making sure we have a full slate is my job description,” said county Republican chairman Greg Stewart, who said his party, while dominant in Bedford, will pick its fights elsewhere across the county this year.

Meanwhile, his Democratic counterpart, Mike Jackson, said he's still lining up his slate of office-holders and challengers for Republican seats, and has several people interested in running for office this year.

“It's so early in the game yet,” Mr. Jackson said, adding that politicians often see some advantage in waiting until the last moment before announcing their run for office. “Everybody always keeps the door open. We're early enough that some people can change their minds.”

It promises to be a busy election cycle across Michigan this year. The race is on for governor and lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, while term limits will play a major role in reshaping the legislature next year.

Every state senate and house seat will be on the ballot this fall as Republicans try to strengthen their grip on the state's highest elected offices while retaining control of both houses of the state legislature. Democrats, meanwhile, hope to use the momentum of a spirited three-way primary for governor to energize efforts to retake at least one of the state legislative houses.

Locally, State Rep. Randy Richardville (R., Monroe) will try to use his third and final run for a two-year term in the state house's 56th district to capture one of the top leadership posts in that body. Mr. Richardville will face a challenge from Monroe attorney Josh Sacks, who served as campaign manager two years ago for Democrat Renee Pipis in her bid to unseat Mr. Richardville.

In the 55th District, a primary will be likely to decide which of three Republicans will represent the GOP in an effort to replace State Rep. Gene DeRossett (R., Manchester), who announced last month that he would run for his final term in the 52nd District, where his home is. He had to switch because of redistricting spurred by the 2000 Census.

Matt Milosh of Lambertville, Bill Dean of Pittsfield Township, and Bob Bykowski of Saline, district coordinator to Mr. DeRossett, will square off in August for the right to face Democrat Gail Hauser-Hurley, a longtime county commissioner, for the 55th District seat.

In the state senate, Republican incumbent Bev Hammerstrom is seeking her second and last four-year term in office, and is so far challenged only by Larry Gregory, a former member of the Dundee School Board.

At the county level, the only county commissioner who has thus far indicated their intentions to seek office is Mrs. Hauser-Hurley, who will lose her seat on the county board in order to run for the state house.

Democrats are hoping to expand their 6-3 majority on the county board, while Republicans are looking to take back control by unseating at least three incumbent Democrats.

“We're working hard to make sure that there is competition for every Republican seat,” Mr. Jackson said. “All of our incumbents are running [for re-election] as far as we know, and we're confident we'll have opposition against all three Republican [county commissioners].”

For his part, Mr. Stewart said Republicans would challenge incumbent Democratic commissioners who they feel are vulnerable.

“We haven't gotten a commitment yet, but we're talking to three good candidates that should allow us to take the county commission back,” Mr. Stewart said.

“We're going to take a look at where we've got the best chances and go after those slots. We're trying to coordinate our state, county, and local races together so that we can help each other out.”

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