WEDNESDAY, Aug. 5 — Lansing’s east side will have new representation on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners after Democratic challenger Bob Pena narrowly defeated incumbent County Commissioner Thomas Morgan after just one two-year term on the board.
Preliminary results show Pena blocked Morgan’s chance at a second term by just more than 50 votes, 1525 to 1472, and carried less than 51% of the vote. And in the heavily Democratic district of Lansing, Pena is expected to defeat Republican Kelly Christopherson in November.
“I’m very excited, very humbled and very appreciative of this community and all they’ve done to come out to help me,” Pena said earlier this afternoon. “They took signs and put them up in their yards, distributed things in local neighborhoods. There was just a lot of action, and it paid off.”
Pena, 57, is a licensed civil engineer and has lived in Lansing for 35 years. This election marks his comeback after he was defeated by Morgan during a 2018 bid for Board of Commissioners. He didn’t knock on many doors because of the pandemic, but passed out plenty of brochures.
“I think people just appreciate my honesty and the dedication that I have to this community,” Pena added. “I look out for my neighbors, and I think people trust me to bring that to the job.”
Pena has no prior experience in elected office but served as a board member for Capital Region Habitat for Humanity and the Capital Area Food Council. He said he believes his experiences and skills will allow him to “streamline” local government and reduce inefficiencies.
With Morgan’s newfound free time, he said he plans to stay involved with the community and spend more time with family — or perhaps get involved with a mid-life crisis punk rock band.
“I was proud to be able to get a lot done in two years,” Morgan said this morning. “I didn’t just occupy a seat. I got a lot of things done, between expanding services for our community; a senior services millage passed last night. There’s extra trail funding. I’m proud of the work.”
Pena listed his top three priorities last month: Ensuring residents have access to quality food, bolstering housing opportunities for all income levels and maintaining local roadways. He also wants to ensure local businesses are fully supported during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of times, in government, you have this duplication of resources,” Pena said last month. “I’ve been working long enough as a civil engineer that I have some idea how to spot and correct those things, at least when it comes to transportation and infrastructure in the county.”
Pena also wants to ensure rural farmers receive the support they need to grow the food-supply chain in the region while ensuring that the product stream finds its way into urban areas across Lansing. Housing opportunities are also important, as are the roads to connect them, he added.
“County government is dynamic, and it’s something that needs to be reviewed constantly,” Pena said. “If you just wrote rules and walked away, you wouldn’t need the commission. Things change, needs change. That’s the real job: Sometimes policy adjustments must be made.”
He also said he plans to work to keep taxes and millages flat for local residents while taking a magnifying glass to the county’s overall budget and looking for ways to save money. He didn’t offer too many specific suggestions for change, but said he has a willingness to learn more.
“I’m not a dictator. I’m a team player. I work with people. I listen to people. If I don’t have the answers, I’ll do my homework. I’ll think and try to figure out the root of any problem,” Pena said.
In other news: Incumbent Republican County Commissioner Robin Naeyaert secured a third term last night after defeating challenger Gary Gierke by less than 30 votes. Democratic candidate Erin Graham also narrowly defeated Pam Weil for a two-year term after 9th District Commissioner Carol Koenig resigned to pursue election as an Ingham County circuit judge.
In Meridian Township, Deborah Guthrie easily defeated incumbent Brett Dreyfus for the Democratic nomination for clerk and hence the job after the Nov. 3 General Election, since no Republican filed for the post. Neither could be reached for comment for this story today.