Moderate vs. idealist in race for Grand Traverse County's state house seat

Oct 30, 2014

The race for Grand Traverse County’s state house seat is open for the first time since 2008.

So far the campaign has been a relatively polite affair, but the two candidates are appealing to voters in totally different ways.

A Pragmatist

This is about as heated as this race has gotten so far:

At a candidate forum earlier this month, Democrat Besty Coffia mentioned that she’s been knocking on doors constantly for the last year.

Her opponent, Larry Inman, responded with this:

“I want to make it clear that I’ve spent the last 22 years knocking on doors. Not one year.”

Inman has been a Grand Traverse County commissioner for more than 20 years. In that time he says he’s learned how to work well with others who have different views.

“It gets right down to everybody taking the time to compromise and get things done,” Inman says.

Inman says he’s someone who can help end the gridlock in Lansing –someone who can work towards compromise with Democrats. He emerged as a moderate from a crowded primary field in August, when he beat six other Republicans.

He’s distanced himself from more conservative Republicans in the state with his positions on some key issues.

For example, take his plan to pay for road repairs. Inman says he would consider raising the gas tax.

“Some of the people [in Lansing] have signed these no tax pledges so they’re frozen on any ability to raise the gas tax,” Inman says. “And I think that if there’s one tax that we need to probably raise, it’s the gas tax.”

Coffia and Inman at a candidate forum in October.

An Idealist

Inman’s opponent in November, Betsy Coffia, wants to change the landscape of Lansing totally – not just its current state of gridlock. 

She’s stressed that she’s a different kind of candidate – with a different focus.

“Politics should be about people, everyday people,” Coffia says. “And we’re losing that. We’re in a state of crisis with the level of money in politics and how much it is influencing.”

Coffia says reducing the amount of money in politics is one of her main goals.

She’s running for the second time in the district. Coffia ran and lost in 2012 to Wayne Schmidt – who’s reached his term limits this time around. But Coffia’s sticking to the message that she says inspired her to run two years ago: that the state – and the country – are in political crisis.

“We’re rapidly approaching a situation where unless you can afford to self-finance and spend more than most people in this area make in a year on your campaign, or unless you are beholden to big special interests who can line your coffers with hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s difficult to even be heard,” Coffia says.

Larry Inman has put $75,000 from his own pocket into the race and has raised nearly twice as much as Coffia. She’s managed to raise more than $60,000 with a fundraising strategy that’s probably costing her thousands of dollars.

All of Coffia’s campaign funds come from donations from individual Michigan residents. That means no money from political action committees, or even from the state Democratic Party.

Coffia even criticized state Democrats earlier this week for putting out an attack ad against her opponent – Larry Inman. Coffia has urged the state Democratic Party to remove the TV ad, but the Democrats says they stand by the ad “100 percent.”

A Republican District

Coffia had a bit of a head start in the race because Larry Inman was handicapped for a while – literally.

Inman severely injured his ankle in May. And while he says he initially put off surgery – in the end his doctors said he had to get it done before election day. So he’s knocking on doors with a black walking boot on his leg.

That handicap probably won’t make a difference for Betsy Coffia in the end. The 104th district has been a safe district for Republicans for a while.

No Democrat has won the house seat going back at least 20 years.