By Sheldon Krause
Posted: June 27, 2022 11:16 AM
Another all-out battle for an open House seat that covers most of East Lansing and Meridian Township is brewing between candidates for the Democratic nomination in this likely Democratic, who have been in-district blanketing mailboxes and knocking doors early.
Much of the district is now represented by Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Okemos) but redistricting moved her to the new 73rd House District, and the new 75th House District contains East Lansing and Meridian Township north of Grand River Avenue – plus Bath Township and other areas in southeast Clinton County and a small part of southwest Shiawassee County.
The August Democratic primary features a current and former Ingham County commissioner, along with an attorney who is a former assistant attorney general. There's little philosophical daylight among the candidates in one of the more liberal districts in the state though the candidates do have differences on how to handle the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline 200 miles to the north on the floor of the Straits of Mackinac.
Penelope Tsernoglou of East Lansing, who served three terms on the commission previously, is facing off against Emily Stivers of Haslett, who was elected to the commission's District 11 position in 2018, and Don Keskey, an East Lansing attorney who has kept a relatively low profile in the race.
Ms. Tsernoglou ran against Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Okemos) in 2018 in the then-69th District. Ms. Brixie received 47.5% of the vote in the Democratic primary, while Ms. Tsernoglou received 36.6%.
Now, Ms. Stivers has received Ms. Brixie's endorsement in the race that covers much of the same area that was previously in her district.
Organized labor has been quiet, largely declining to endorse though Ms. Stivers did receive the backing of the Laborers' International Union of North America. However, both Ms. Stivers and Ms. Tsernoglou have been snapping up endorsements from a bevy of local officials.
The three candidates share largely similar policy goals: the need for further changes to auto insurance after 2019 policies caused many accident survivors to lose their care; a concern with denial of the 2020 election that has taken over the Republican party; and more resources for government services like public education and infrastructure improvement.
One issue where the Democrats differ is the topic of Line 5, the oil pipeline at the center of years-long debates about environmental safety and energy security.
Ms. Tsernoglou said simply that she is "100% on the side of shutting down Line 5."
"I think we need to protect our Great Lakes – it's just too important not to do that," she said, adding that she encourages the production of green energy in the state, which she says would also help create more jobs.
Ms. Stivers also supports the decommissioning of Line 5 but said that "shutting it down too quickly without alternate sources of energy set up and in place would be a mistake."
She stressed the need for renewable energy alternatives and that the pipe should be shut down "as quickly as is smart and realistic given the potential for the environmental distaste from other sources of energy"
Mr. Keskey said that "a shutdown of the pipeline, I don't think is really the right answer from both Michigan's economic future or to protect the environment." Mr. Keskey said he strongly favors protecting natural water resources and also advocated for increased renewable energy usage and the building of a tunnel around the pipe to prevent possible damage from outside sources.
Mr. Keskey said that "there's a balance there" between providing the Upper Peninsula with the resources it needs and reducing climate and environmental risks in the state.
Each of the candidates touted their connections to the East Lansing community as another method of separating them from the field.
Ms. Tsernoglou said that she stands out because of her lengthy record of involvement with community organizations involved in Michigan politics and within the 75th District.
She runs Practical Political Consulting, the voter list firm which she says gives her a unique perspective on voting rights issues. Ms. Tsernoglou also previously worked as a public defender, which she says gives he a strong background on criminal justice reform.
When asked about her legislative priorities if elected, Ms. Tsernoglou said "voting rights, gun safety legislation, reproductive freedom, public education, health care, environmental protection – I know that seems like a lot, but these are all things that are very much needed."
Ms. Stivers, when asked about why she would be the best fit for the position, talked about her experience serving in this current political climate.
She said that she's active in the community, as evidenced by her attending school board meetings during the pandemic "speaking in support of our educators and school boards." Ms. Stivers also said that other personal factors such as having kids in the public school system and being a member of the LGBTQ+ community set her apart from the crowd.
Ms. Stivers said that "education and mental health care stand out to me as some of the main reasons why I'm running." She said that she worked in Flint schools during the water crisis, which led to her serving on the board of the Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham Counties.
"All three candidates support core Democratic values, but I have more experience on the legislative issues that we actually can move the needle on even without a Democratic majority in the state Legislature," she said.
Mr. Keskey touted his decades of legal experience and involvement in East Lansing when asked why he would be right for the Legislature. He said he's practiced law for 47 years, including 25 as an assistant attorney general under Frank Kelley.
Mr. Keskey said that his experience in the legal field – including arguing cases before the Michigan Court of Appeals, Michigan Supreme Court, federal Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court – coupled with his involvement in the East Lansing community make him "the most qualified to stand up for this district."
When asked about his legislative priorities, Mr. Keskey said that he'd like to improve infrastructure, including road quality and access to high-speed internet, as well as fighting inflation for Michigan residents.
Ms. Tsernoglou has a considerable list of endorsements, including former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, former House Democratic Leader Christine Greig, current Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, Lansing Mayor Andy Schorr and 18 current and former Ingham commissioners, including four Republican commissioners.
Ms. Stivers received endorsements from five current and former Ingham commissioners and four former East Lansing mayors, including Mark Meadows, a previous holder of the 69th District seat. Another former holder of the seat, former Rep. Lynn Jondahl, also has endorsed. Other notable local officials backing Ms. Stivers: Meridian Township Supervisor Patricia Herring Jackson plus several other township officials, East Lansing Councilmember Jessy Gregg, Bath Township Supervisor Marie Howe and Williamstown Township Supervisor Wanda Bloomquist.
Both Ms. Tsernoglou and Ms. Stivers have been conducting significant outreach efforts in the district. Ms. Tsernoglou said that she's personally knocked over 7,000 doors in her district and sent out seven mailers, while Ms. Stivers has knocked over 7,500 doors and sent three mailers. Mr. Keskey took out a full-page ad promoting his candidacy in this week's issue of the Lansing City Pulse, and his first mailing his mailboxes late last week.
– By Sheldon Krause