State legislative races in St. Clair County shaping up to be competitive under redrawn political boundaries

·8 min read
Rep. Andrew Beeler, R-Port Huron, is interviewed Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, outside the Blue Water Bridge Plaza in Port Huron.
Rep. Andrew Beeler, R-Port Huron, is interviewed Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, outside the Blue Water Bridge Plaza in Port Huron.

The deadline for state election candidates to file is still weeks away, but Michigan’s redrawn political boundaries are already having an impact on how competitive local races could be for legislative seats later this year.

Two of St. Clair County’s sitting Republican lawmakers — Reps. Gary Eisen and Andrew Beeler — may now vie for the same primary nod within the boundaries of the state House’s new 64th District.

Two sitting elected officials from Algonac and Clay Township have also thrown their names in the running for representative in the redrawn 63rd.

And within the same shift, two other local incumbents are returning to make bids on new Senate districts.

For most of them, the new boundaries — redone by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission last year after the 2020 census — presented new opportunities to seek office.

“When the new districts were redrawn, I saw that (the 63rd) was drawn much more in a consolidated area directly around my hometown, and I realized that there was not an incumbent for either party in that race that you would be primarying against,” said St. Clair County Clerk Jay DeBoyer, a Republican who formed his committee to run for state representative March 5 and announced his campaign Tuesday.

DeBoyer said he had no complaints about his current job, but citing his experience, the passing of his father a year and a half ago, and that his kids were now adults, he added, “In those circumstances, in my current mindset … it just changed my ability to do it.”

St. Clair County Clerk Jay DeBoyer works with a group of people to canvas election results Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in the Dodge Auditorium at the St. Clair County administration building.
St. Clair County Clerk Jay DeBoyer works with a group of people to canvas election results Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in the Dodge Auditorium at the St. Clair County administration building.

The deadline to file for state office in partisan or non-partisan roles is April 19. Deadlines for candidates without party affiliation or to run as a primary write-in candidate are in July.

St. Clair County is currently represented by three House districts and entirely encompassed inside one Senate district.

The county is still represented within three districts as redrawn, though numbers and geographic lines have changed, edging most of Sanilac County out into a separate district with the rest of the northern Thumb.

Meanwhile, the 25th Senate District remains, newly looping in some of Tuscola County and leaving the southern-most edge of St. Clair County with the redrawn 12th District.

The redistricting commission approved final maps in late December. The decision included redrawn lines for representatives in the U.S. House — St. Clair County and most of the Thumb are within Michigan’s new 9th congressional district — in addition to the state legislature.

State Rep. Andrew Beeler, R-Port Huron, speaks in support of House Bill 5097 on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. The bill proposes a broad ban race or gender stereotyping in Michigan K-12 classrooms.
State Rep. Andrew Beeler, R-Port Huron, speaks in support of House Bill 5097 on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. The bill proposes a broad ban race or gender stereotyping in Michigan K-12 classrooms.

Getting more condensed in the redrawn 63rd and 64th House districts

State Rep. Pam Hornberger, R-Chesterfield, currently represents the 32nd District, which has included several St. Clair County townships and Macomb County communities, while Eisen, R-St. Clair Township, represents the 81st, which covers the rest of St. Clair County south of Port Huron.

However, the redrawn area now puts Eisen’s home community into the same new district as Beeler, R-Port Huron, and Hornberger’s is instead running for a state Senate seat this year.

That combination is opening things up for new blood and a few familiar faces on the southern and western ends of St. Clair, simultaneously putting both Eisen and Beeler on one primary ballot closer to the county’s seat.

Algonac City Councilman Jake Skarbek is also running for the same Republican seat in the Aug. 2 primary as DeBoyer. His committee was formed on March 12 but was still pending official status with the state as of Thursday.

Macomb County Republican Jacky Eubanks and Democrat Kelly Noland also have committees formed under that district.

Jake Skarbek, Algonac city councilman.
Jake Skarbek, Algonac city councilman.

The new 63rd includes Clay, China, Cottrellville, East China, and Ira townships, as well as Algonac, Marine City, and St. Clair. It cuts through St. Clair County’s Casco Township, covering the community south of Lindsay Road. It also covers a portion of eastern Macomb County.

In a message, Skarbek said he thought the 63rd was diverse between its more country, small-town and urban areas. He listed his own motivations for deciding to run — beliefs in the Second Amendment, small government, and hunting and fishing rights — but also said the “new boundaries of the district have created an opportunity to be the voice of not only the members of my community but the surrounding communities, as well.”

Skarbek unsuccessfully ran for the county board in 2020. When asked, he did not say if he intended to seek state office prior to redistricting, though adding, “My intent has always been to serve my community.”

Beeler’s committee was the only one filed with the Secretary of State under the new 64th District for the state House as of Thursday.

Those boundaries as redrawn entail all of Fort Gratiot, Marysville, and Port Huron, as well as Burtchville, Clyde, Grant, Kimball, Port Huron, and St. Clair townships in St. Clair County. It also includes Worth Township in Sanilac County.

Beeler’s current 83rd District includes all of Sanilac, Port Huron, Fort Gratiot and Burtchville. On Wednesday, he joked the 64th was more condensed and would “certainly be less driving for me.”

It was also less agricultural.

“It’s kind of an interesting makeup,” Beeler said. “A little bit of the same where you have that mix of rural and suburban, but I think, largely, campaigning doesn’t really change representing those demographics. The principles remain. Get out there, talk to the people, know people, and hear their concerns.”

State Rep. Gary Eisen, R-St. Clair Township, speaks in support of House Resolution 227 on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in the Michigan House chamber.
State Rep. Gary Eisen, R-St. Clair Township, speaks in support of House Resolution 227 on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in the Michigan House chamber.

Eisen said he planned to file next week for the 64th. In a message, he said, “I waited to file to make sure we had a good candidate to run in the 63rd. I did not want to move. So, it seems I will be running against Rep. Beeler.”

Candidates on tap for still-rural 65th and 98th House districts

The redrawn 65th District gets the rest of western St. Clair County, as well as a northeastern part of Macomb County with the cities of Richmond and Memphis, which are split between the two, and eastern Lapeer County.

In St. Clair, that’s Casco north of Lindsay, and all of Brockway, Columbus, Emmett, Greenwood, Lynn, Mussey, Riley, and Wales townships, Capac and Yale.

Macomb County Republicans Frank Wasung and Jaime Greene have committees formed under the district. St. Clair County Republican Michael Pratt, who was among a slew of primary candidates who lost to Eisen in 2018, is joining them.

In an email late Thursday, he said the new boundaries and the lack of an incumbent were a draw to him, as well. But he said that “things that the legislature didn’t do is more of it.”

Outside of Worth Township, the rest of Sanilac County is the new 98th District, which also covers all of Huron County, northern Lapeer, and eastern Tuscola.

Greg Alexander.
Greg Alexander.

Previously Sanilac County drain commissioner, Greg Alexander is running for state representative once again and is the only one to have filed so far, according to the state.

He was the next highest Republican primary vote-getter after Beeler in August 2020, but he thought the new boundaries helped strengthen his case this election cycle.

“There’s no legislator in this area. I’ve run before. I have strong agricultural views,” Alexander said in an interview Wednesday. “I have my own orchard farm, so it’s always important to be involved in that. That’s obviously what makes this area tick. When they redrew the lines, they included even more (of) an agricultural area. That’s a good thing.”

State Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, testifies before the House Families, Children, and Seniors Committee on April 24, 2019.
State Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, testifies before the House Families, Children, and Seniors Committee on April 24, 2019.

New Senate boundaries yielding different outlooks for local lawmakers

Hornberger first formed a committee to run for state Senate in early 2021 for a special election to replace former Sen. Peter Lucido, losing the Republican nomination among seven primary candidates.

That was under the 8th Senate District.

Now, the state representative in her third term is running for the Senate primary in the 12th District.

According to secretary of state records, she's joining Michael Williams and state Rep. Kevin Hertel, a St. Clair Shores Democrat also serving his third term. Williams had previously filed in January to run for the state House under the 63rd but said he shifted focus to the Senate race specifically to challenge Hornberger.

The new boundaries encompass Algonac and Clay and Ira townships in St. Clair County, following communities south around the western coast of Lake St. Clair to include parts of eastern Macomb County and a northern corner of Wayne.

Hornberger admitted that geographic makeup “should be interesting” to see playout for the candidate who wins a seat in office.

“It’s a beautiful district,” she said Thursday. “I have a big part of the Macomb section.”

The part of Macomb she already represents and Ira Township is included.

Dan Lauwers loads a campaign sign into the back of his truck Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018 in North Street. Lauwers, who previously termed-out of his role in the state House's 81st District, was elected as 25th District state senator during Tuesday's mid-terms.
Dan Lauwers loads a campaign sign into the back of his truck Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018 in North Street. Lauwers, who previously termed-out of his role in the state House's 81st District, was elected as 25th District state senator during Tuesday's mid-terms.

State Sen. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, would still represent the redrawn 25th District and is the only individual whose committee is listed.

But that’s not the only reason that he said he was counting himself lucky so far.

Its geography is only changing slightly, and its number will remain the same as it is currently. Like some of the new House districts, it’s also more farmer-friendly.

“I gained some more farm ground in Tuscola, and that means my sister can vote for me now,” Lauwers said. “Kind of picked up a little more family, and being a farmer myself, picking up more farm ground is right up my alley.”

The 25th, as Lauwers currently represents it, covers the entirety of Huron, Sanilac, and St. Clair counties and part of northern Macomb. The new district, though, loses the three St. Clair communities now in the 12th.

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or jssmith@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.

This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: Local state legislative races shaping up to be competitive under redrawn districts