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Wednesday, March 14,2012

GOP eyes House district in Ingham County

by Kyle Melinn

Of Michigan’s 110 House districts, only one district held by a term-limited Democrat can realistically be considered a pick-up possibility for Republicans in 2012.

That district is the rural Ingham County-based 67th held by Rep. Barb Byrum, of Onondaga. 

While slightly tweaked through redistricting last year, the 67th is essentially the same — covering southern pieces of Lansing, Delhi Township, Mason and the various other smaller communities south of East Lansing, Meridian Township and Williamston. It maintains a 52 percent Democratic base, but with the right candidates in the race, the R’s are hoping for a pick up to their 63-47 majority during an election cycle where losses are coming.

So far the GOP has its eyes set on running a familiar face — Jeff Oesterle, a Mason-area farmer who lost to Byrum in 2010 by 53 percent to 47 percent in a huge year for Republicans. 

The former Vevay Township supervisor enjoyed past support from the local farm bureau, a huge plus in this district. He covers all the GOP bases, being a member of Right to Life, the National Rifle Association and the Mason Area Chamber of Commerce.

Oesterle is already out there. He filed for the seat with the secretary of state in January and has a couple hundred bucks left over from the ’10 run to start with.

Will Oesterle face a challenger in the primary? Nobody has formally stepped up, but 25-year-old Williamston resident Timothy Grant, a Williamston firefighter and EMT said he’s running as an independent, which could slightly chew into Oesterle’s support if he follows through.

Although he announced last May, Grant reported only spending $6 on his campaign in 2011. With the $20 Grant put into the race from his own pocket, he’s got all of $14 to work with going into 2012.

The more interesting primary is on the Democratic side, where three candidates are emerging — former radio host Walt Sorg, Delhi Township Trustee Jerry Ketchum and Mason School Board member Tom Cochran, who retired recently as Lansing’s fire chief.

Sorg’s been running for the seat before he even knew it. Originally, Sorg had his sights set on the Lansing-based 68th District until the Republican legislature redrew the districts last summer and put Sorg’s residence in the 67th.

Since then, he’s announced support from county Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel, Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann, Treasurer Eric Schertzing and Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth.

He’s also signed on to a plan with neighboring Democratic state rep candidate Doug Drake to get voter approval for a $2 billion bond that would be used to cover tuition costs for Michigan students if they live and work in Michigan after graduation. Those who move out-of-state would gradually pay the money back.

The knock on Sorg is that as a first-time candidate he hasn’t proven himself on the campaign finance or door-knocking front. Sorg raised $11,818 in 2011 (much of which came from his own pocket), but he spent all but $217 of it by year’s end. While neighboring candidate Andy Schor in the 68th District may be a special case, Schor reported $44,453 in the bank at the end of last year.

Observers also wonder if the leftish Sorg is the right philosophical fit for the more rural, conservative 67th. Byrum and her mother before her, Dianne Byrum, traditionally had more moderate voting records than their Democratic colleagues, which helps explain their mini-dynasty in the district.

Ketchum, 64, a 12-year veteran of the Delhi Township Board, gets into the race as a former Department of Transportation employee. He told local media last month when he filed with the secretary of state that he was ready to begin knocking doors and start working, but some Dems wonder if he’s too conservative given his record on the township board.

Matt Bennett, a volunteer firefighter in Delhi Township, filed campaign finance paperwork with the secretary of state, but he’s not expected to go forward with a run.

The final name floating among Democratic circles is Cochran. He has appeal with the union crowd, having served as a union president for eight years. He worked with the Lansing Fire Department for 28 years before retiring last November.

Cochran could be more of a middle-of-the-road Democrat, but he is running behind Ketchum and Sorg in getting his name out there. That said, he may be the one to watch when he gets in, which should be shortly.

National politics could take this seat off the board for state Republicans and Democrats in the battle for state House control in 2013-‘14, but the numbers may be too tempting for Republicans not to make a play, especially if they expect heavy losses elsewhere in the state.


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