Republicans have primaries in rural Ingham, Eaton state House seats

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Unless you’re a Republican in south Lansing, rural Ingham County or Eaton County, your primary election choice for state representative couldn’t be easier.

There will be one name on the ballot. Your only other option is to write-in your name or somebody else’s. But unless somebody filed a write-in campaign with the local clerks, that vote won’t count.

That leaves the following two races in the Lansing area.

67th House District - South Lansing, most of rural Ingham County

For the right to face Rep. Kara Hope, D-Holt, in the fall, Grand Ledge High product Nate Ross, 27, is up against Lansing native and two-time candidate Clyde Thomas, 47.

Ross has lived in Mason for the last couple of years after a brief stint in Huntsville, Ala., where he worked for Asahi Kasei Plastics. The Michigan State University graduate is now a senior analyst for Dart Container.

A member of the Ingham County Republican Executive Committee, Ross has never held a political office. According to his campaign’s website, Ross advocates for allowing “families quality choices in education and healthcare.” The Grand Ledge native is married and has two young children. 

Thomas, who hails from Dansville, runs a licensed and bonded freight shipping and trucking company along with Cornerstone Contracting. In 2018, Thomas fell in the Republican primary to Leon Clark with 35% of the vote.

In 2014, he studied constitutional law and economics in preparation for a career in politics. If elected, Thomas wants to offer an online platform for constituents to exchange feedback with him while voting on bills. 

Republicans periodically make varying degrees of attempts to win this Ingham County seat, but the heavy Democratic influence in Delhi Township and south Lansing have thwarted them since 2002 with Dianne Byrum, Barb Byrum, Tom Cochran and current officeholder Kara Hope.

Back in the 1990s, the Republicans won with Paul DeWeese and Dan Gustafson, but unless the 2021 redraw takes out south Lansing and adds more rural area, this isn’t a realistic possibility for the R’s.

71st District - Most of Eaton County outside of Charlotte

In the GOP primary, former Eaton County Commissioner Christine Barnes is angling toward a rematch with Rep. Angela Witwer in this politically competitive seat, but she has her work cut out for her with first-time candidate Gina Johnsen, the director of the Michigan Capitol House of Prayer.

Barnes, 51, of Mulliken, is a National Rifle Association instructor who served on the county’s planning, zoning and EATRAN boards at various points. Originally from Delta Township, Barnes has lived most of her life in Eaton County.

Barnes was born in RAF Lakenheath, England — “a proud Air Force brat.” She has a background in finance and accounting. After starting out as an Accountemp employee, she ultimately became a chief financial officer. She’s served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate. She’s a member of the local Kiwanis, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Meals on Wheels and Sunfield Fire Auxiliary.

Johnsen worked with the Patrick Colbeck gubernatorial campaign in 2018, first as a prayer team leader and then coordinator for the campaign’s 2,400 volunteers. Colbeck immediately endorsed her state House bid, saying, “She has my unequivocal endorsement in her run. She will be a bold, Godly servant on behalf of the citizens of Michigan.”

For 17 years, the Wellesley College graduate worked with Otsuka Pharmaceuticals as a program manager. Prior to that, she worked 14 years as a neuroscience specialist. After working briefly in the Senate as a policy director, she was a marketing director for Applegate Insulation.

Johnsen jumped out of the gate last year by dropping $39,000 of her own money into the race, which she’s used to boost her name ID.

Politically, the former seat of Tom Barrett, Rick Jones, and Deb Shaughnessy is slowly pulling away from Republicans as Delta Township continues its suburban Lansing growth of educated white-collar workers. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won this district by 10 points last year after President Donald Trump eked out a 2-point win in 2016.

Republicans claim they plan to make taking out Witwer a focus, but the freshman was the state’s top House fundraiser in 2019, kept her voting record defensible and stayed as pragmatic as is possible in these hyper-partisan days. Would Gina Johnsen be too conservative for this district? Does Barnes have fire in her belly two years after a personally taxing campaign?

We’ll see as we move closer to November.

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