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Grand Traverse County voters could swing the Michigan House, plus other key primary races Up North

Max Johnston
Interlochen Public Radio

Michigan’s primary is Tuesday, August 4. Voters across the state will head to the polls or mail in their ballots on state and national office and local proposals.

The 104th District

Grand Traverse County's 104th state house seat is up for grabs after State Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) leaves the post at the end of his final term this year. Democrat Dan O’Neil will run unopposed in the Democratic primary while John Roth and Heather Cerone fight for the Republican slot.

Roth is a long-time county resident who's been involved in local politics for years. Roth previously ran for county commission, held a spot on the county parks and recreation board and was the county GOP chair.

“We know the next two years the Governor is still going to be probably in office, we’re gonna have to work through that,” Roth said “There’s places that we can work together there’s no doubt about it.”

Roth says his biggest priorities are bringing year-round jobs to the region, more affordable housing and getting equitable funding for public schools.

Heather Cerone describes herself as a single mom and strong advocate for conservative issues. She previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry and for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group.

“I’m probably the hardcore conservative and the proven leader,” Cerone said.

Cerone says she’ll prioritize broader issues, like protecting the second amendment and keeping taxes low.

Both Roth and Cerone stress the importance of re-opening the economy and curtailing some of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders, which Cerone called “draconian.”

The 104th seat is likely to be hotly contested this November, as many Democrats believe they can flip the traditionally republican seat. In 2018, Dan O’Neil came within 349 votes of unseating Larry Inman in one of the most expensive races in the state.

Sources on both sides of the aisle say the majority in the state house could come down to the 104th, and the race will likely attract big donors like last time around.

1st Congressional District


Michigan's 1st Congressional District

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R) represents northern Michigan’s 1st Congressional district which covers over 25,000 square miles. Two democrats are fighting for the chance to challenge him in November.

Democratic candidate Linda O’Dell worked as a research analyst and trader on Wall Street, and says that experience will be key to guiding the state post-pandemic.

“I do believe that that experience and business and advocacy is perfect for the House of Representatives right now,” O’Dell said. “We need oversight, especially with all the continued stimulus support that we will have in this pandemic.”

Democrat Dana Ferguson is a lifelong resident of the U.P. and touts his blue-collar background and union endorsements as keys to unseating Bergman.

“I know the struggles, I’ve watched friends and family leave [the district] because of lack of opportunity,” Ferguson said.

Both Democratic candidates say infrastructure and health care access are the biggest issues in the district. Specifically, both say they'll try to protect the Affordable Care Act and the U.S. Postal Service. 

The 101st District

Incumbent State Rep. Jack O’Malley (R) is running against Carolyn Cater in the Republican primary for the 101st State House seat, while Beth McGill-Rizer and Cary Urka will face off on the Democratic ticket.

O’Malley is wrapping up his first term in the state house, and touts re-opening the economy as a top priority.

“We have to decide, do we live in total fear? Or do we say ‘you know what? Let’s get at it’” O’Malley told supporters in May.

His Republican opponent Carolyn Cater says the 101st District should have never shut down, and says Gov. Whitmer has mishandled the coronavirus pandemic.

“This governor has really messed up our state budget for the following years, hoping for a bailout from Washington that’s not coming. We know that Big Tax Jack won’t call her out on her shenanigans,” Cater wrote on her website.

Beth McGill-Rizer has been involved in local Democratic politics for years. She also touts infrastructure spending as a big issue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we have to have people work from home, if we have to educate our children on a computer, we need to be able to provide the adequate service to do that,” she said.

Her Democratic opponent Cary Urka is a strawberry farmer who says he’s running because the Democratic party has abandoned centrists like himself.

“People that voted for decades Democrat all of a sudden voted for Trump,” Urka said. “I’m a blue-collar redneck and they have lost this vote.” 

How do we vote?

In-person voting will still be available in most districts, but the Michigan Secretary of State is pushing absentee ballots as a safe alternative during the pandemic.

“All absentee ballot requests should now be made in person at the clerk’s office, and with the possibility of postal delays ahead of the primary, voters should prepare to both request and vote their ballot in the same visit. Ballots can be requested, filled out and immediately returned to the clerk now through 4 p.m. on August 3. Those still needing to register and then request and fill out a ballot can do so at their clerk’s office now through 8 p.m. on August 4,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a press release.

As of July 26 nearly 2 million Michiganders have applied for an absentee ballot, over double the amount from the before the 2016 election.

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.