North of the Ingham County line — where the political dynamics of greater Lansing gets markedly more Republican — a competitive primary has broken out. An interesting piece is that the featured character in the plot line is someone not even on the ballot.
Before Brian Calley was tapped to be Gov. Rick Snyder´s running mate two years ago, Calley was embroiled in a surprisingly competitive state Senate Republican primary race against a local township official named Michael Trebesh.
The race gained some attention among statewide political folks after Trebesh put out a series of mailers that pictured Calley with then-House Speaker Andy Dillon, a Democrat, with the charge that he was an architect of the Michigan Business Tax. At least one other Trebesh mailer questioned whether Calley was as pro-life as he was.
Seeing as Trebesh came into the race as the underdog, the negative mail didn´t seem to the challenger as being out of bounds. But the Calley camp frowned on the attack, considering the then-state representative was spending weeks in the hospital with his young daughter, who was suffering life-threatening issues, and didn´t have an opportunity to respond.
The mailers were seen by some voters to be in poor taste (not to mention not exactly accurate). Calley eventually beat Trebesh but weeks later was named Snyder´s running mate. That freed up the Republican nomination in this 33rd Senate District, which includes all of Clinton County.
So when the local Republican Party poobahs came together for a special convention to pick a replacement for Calley, it came as little surprise when Trebesh couldn´'t round up the necessary votes to win the nomination. He ended up dropping out, giving the race to Judy Emmons, who was since elected to the seat.
Now, Trebesh is back, running in the 93rd House District, which is being left open by term-limited Rep. Paul Opsommer. Given that Tresbesh beat Calley in Clinton County two years ago and finished second to Opsommer in 2006 for basically the same seat, it would seem Trebesh would have a leg-up in a district that´s also made up of most of Gratiot County.
The 62-year-old CPA has shown a willingness to spend money in the past. He´s already on the local radio airwaves with his accurate self-portrayal of not being a Lansing insider.
His conservative credentials are not going to be beat. He´s pro-right-to-work. He´s taken Grover Norquist´s "No Tax Pledge." He received the Right to Life endorsement, but so did every other Republican candidate in the race.
Standing in his way is Tom Leonard, a 31-year-old on leave from the Attorney General´s Office, who is the husband of one of Calley´s few staffers.
While the connection is interesting, Leonard insists Calley was not the one who recruited him for the race. Leonard said Clinton County Sheriff Wayne Kangas and former Sen. Alan Crospey got into his ear before he ever talked with Calley, who hasn´t officially endorsed.
And as far as endorsements, Leonard just received the backing of the Citizens for Traditional Values, which he´s pretty proud of.
This go-around, there are no negative mailers or negative anything for that matter.
Outside of southern Clinton County being completely blanketed with campaign signs from Trebesh, Leonard and a third Republican candidate, Kevin Kirk, the individual candidates are pushing their personal attributes and staying away from framing their opponents.
Leonard likes to talk about how he received the Ralph M. Freeman Scholarship from Michigan State University, which is awarded once a year to the one student that "most exemplifies the Rules of Professional Conduct by treating others with courtesy and respect."
Why? Because his nominator, Joe, is "the most liberal person you´re ever going to meet," which he said speaks to his willingness to work with others professionally regardless of their political persuasion.
Another factor working for Leonard is location. He´s the only one of the four GOP candidates in the race (the fourth is Jeremiah Napier) who isn´t from St. Johns. He´s from southern Clinton County, which has earned a reputation as having a population that turns out for elections.
Leonard said he´s knocking on doors throughout the district, but his concentration in southern Clinton County is notable in that Kirk, Trebesh and Napier are expected to cut into each other´s base of support in the center piece of the county.
Then there´s the emergence of Kirk, a former special assistant within the Department of Agriculture. The 63-year-old former St. Johns School Board member surprised some observers by being the first out of the shoot with campaign signs and taking an aggressive approach at door-knocking.
The seat has a 57 percent Republican base, large enough that the Republican primary winner can be expected to win the General Election.