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Wednesday, October 31,2012

Countywide stronghold

Meet the candidates for countywide seats in Ingham County

by Andy Balaskovitz

Will 2012 be the first year in over a decade that a Republican is elected to a countywide position in Ingham County? No. But we’ll give our due deference to Republican challengers trying to make races out of it.

Drain Commissioner

We’re still a little hung over from the only competitive primary race of all six countywide offices. Democrats Mark Grebner and incumbent Pat Lindemann, 64, duked it out in a memorable effort by both campaigns to expose each other’s financial improprieties and conflicts of interest. Lindemann, who’s seeking a sixth term, prevailed.

Now comes Republican challenger Tim Grant, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician and small-business owner from Williamston who is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility — but who is taking the high road.  Grant distanced himself last week from a former campaign manager, Jake Davison, over attacks against Lindemann alleging sexual harassment. Moreover, Grant largely agrees with Lindemann’s environmental policies, but he says he has heard from residents about alleged over-assessing of drain fees.

Register of Deeds

Republican Kate Mortensen, 24, is running for a job she wants to eliminate. Mortensen, a full-time student at Cooley Law School, is running on one main platform: Merge the Register of Deeds and County Clerk offices. She estimates it could save between $25,000 and $50,000 a year.

It’s a plan incumbent Democrat Curtis Hertel Jr., 34, says is wrong for Ingham County — acknowledging that over 30 Michigan counties have done so — and one that could shortchange residents in the long-run by ending services like a foreclosure hotline and office that have been established during his tenure. Moreover, the cost savings would be negligible (which Hertel says would be about 10 cents to 20 cents a year per taxpayer) for the services provided.

“It’s just a ridiculous idea,” said Hertel, who’s seeking a second term.

Treasurer

Democrat Eric Schertzing, 50, is seeking a fourth term as the county treasurer, a job in which he also plays a second and important role as chairman of the Ingham County Land Bank. He says adjusting to fewer federal dollars coming into that program — about $25 million of which has already been spent in neighborhoods — will be one of the biggest challenges if re-elected.

Meanwhile, Republican challenger Davison, 33 (the same Davison who was Grant’s campaign manager) says Schertzing hasn’t done enough with the federal stimulus money as he could have, based on the number of houses sold and the amount of money coming in. Davison is a political strategist who owns his own firm, Advantage Associates, in downtown Lansing.

Clerk

State Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, is being term-limited out of a job at the Legislature, so she’s decided to take a shot at the County Clerk’s Office. Byrum, 34, has owned and operated a hardware store in Charlotte for 11 years after getting a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness management from Michigan State University. She also got her law degree from MSU, but she failed the bar exam “more than once” before becoming a state rep.

Her opponent, Republican Barry K. Damon, could not be reached for comment. From what we can tell on Facebook, he’s a Holt High School graduate; a veteran of the U.S. Air Force; a member of the Tea Party; and has been a county employee for various departments for more than 30 years. He ran for county commissioner in 2010 but lost in the primary to Republican Commissioner Vince Dragonetti.

Sheriff

For Clyde Smith, 58, the race for county sheriff should be nonpartisan. “I explain to people: I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, it’s time for a change,” he said.

Along with his apolitical attitude, Smith is running on a platform for increased road patrols and a smaller command staff within the office; providing more services to out-county areas; and fiscal responsibility. Smith has served for the Leslie Police Department for five years and retired from the Lansing Police Department after 25 years. The Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed both him and his opponent, incumbent Democrat Gene Wriggelsworth.

Wriggelsworth, 67, is seeking a seventh term. He says the biggest challenge within the office is “trying to provide law enforcement services with constricting budgets.” He points to a countywide booking system and credit card scanners in patrol cars that can accept bond payments as a couple of ways in which he’s made the office more efficient.

Prosecutor

Democrat Stuart Dunnings III, 59, has served as the county prosecutor since 1997. Before that, he worked for 16 years at a general law practice specializing in criminal cases.

Dunnings has the support from organized labor groups like the UAW, MEA, Fraternal Order of Police and the Greater Lansing Labor Council. On his campaign website, Dunnings promises to focus on serious, violent felons; fiscal responsibility; and “educating the community.” He did not respond to a request for comment.

His Republican opponent, Matthew Scholz, also could not be reached for comment.

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