Leelanau Heads To The Primary Polls August 2
By Emily Tyra | Aug. 1, 2022
It’s primary election day tomorrow (Tuesday, August 2).
Four House of Representatives candidates — two from each party — hope to represent Leelanau County in the newly redrawn 103rd District. Once it takes effect, the 103rd district will include all of Leelanau County, northern parts of Benzie and Grand Traverse counties, including Traverse City. (Leelanau previously was in the 101st District, along with Benzie, Manistee and Mason counties.)
Seeking the Democratic nomination are Betsy Coffia and Michael Brodsky, both of Traverse City. Republican Heather Cerone of Traverse City is challenging incumbent Jack O’Malley, of Lake Ann for the GOP nomination. The 103rd District Representative in the state legislature is a two-year-term position.
Meanwhile, nineteen candidates over seven districts are vying for a position on the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners. County commissioners are elected by district every two years.
With incumbents Debra Rushton (District 2) and Patricia Soutas-Little (District 5) opting out of the county commission race, several new challengers are seeking seats. The Leelanau Ticker refreshes readers on the entire slate of candidates appearing on Tuesday’s ballot. The county clerk has shared an interactive map of all Leelanau County polling locations — including County Commissioner Districts, pictured above — here. Stay tuned for more coverage as we head into the general election set for November 8.
DISTRICT 1 (Full interviews can be read here.)
Rick Robbins, Traverse City, Republican, incumbent
Why I’m running: I would like to serve another term to follow through on some things we’ve started. One of my goals was to bring both parties together, and we are making headway but still have far to go to be more nonpartisan and open minded on our decision-making.
What my district needs most: My district is the smallest — it’s half a township and part of it is a city — we have a lot of the infrastructure the rest of the county doesn’t have. Affordable housing is what this county needs. New Waves [development on Bugai Road] is a start.
Jamie Kramer, Traverse City, Democrat
Why I’m running: I'm tired of explaining to my children why people in politics aren't acting like adults. I'd really like to get back to a place where we are talking with one another across the aisle, setting egos aside and, perhaps even listening. I spend a lot of time contemplating death and I'm constantly reminded of how short our trip on this planet actually is and why our choices now need to be our legacy.
My district needs: Affordable housing. Some sort of septic ordinance, because you know...poop. Seriously though, we live in a freshwater haven and we are the only state in the U.S. that doesn't have a [statewide] septic ordinance?
DISTRICT 2 (Full interviews here.)
Don Gallagher, Traverse City, Democrat
Why I’m running: To protect farmers’ rights for sure, and I am big on labor and also the health, safety and welfare of Leelanau. I want to see why people can’t get along. Everything should not be so political and it's got to start that the local level.
What my district needs most: Housing, clean water and good roads, because we are the gateway to Leelanau. I live on 641 and it’s becoming a major expressway. And of course, supporting farmers. Anything that can be locally grown is good for Leelanau County.
Mark Walter, Traverse City, Republican
Why I’m running: The citizens need a representative with the above experience.
What my district needs most: Common sense fiscal decision-making.
Jim O’Rourke, Traverse City, Republican
Why I’m running: Studying the history of the Leelanau board, sometimes it’s hostile up there. When I learned incumbent Debra Rushton was not going to run, I knew I had to make a choice between running for commissioner and being an Elmwood trustee — which I dearly love, and though I will still be representing some of them. I also knew I’d have to turn in the deputy uniform. I would give it up for that office because I think I can make a difference. I use [the acronym] FIT — fair, inclusive, and transparent — every one of the board's decisions should be fair and inclusive of everyone. And nothing is behind closed doors. You make your decision for the health, safety, and welfare of the county. I can teach a monkey to check “Republican” or “Democrat.” It has no business in local government.
What my district needs most: In Bingham and Elmwood the major rant and problem to solve is growth and traffic. Every time a house is built that is another one to two vehicles traveling on either M-22 or 633.
DISTRICT 3 (Full interviews here.)
Lois Bahle, Suttons Bay, Democrat, incumbent
Why I’m running: I hope to have a grasp of the working of County government over the next few months as a result of the recall election and will be ready to continue my service after the November election.
What my district needs most: Housing is the universal need in Leelanau County. Accessible housing for young families with kids in our schools, rental homes for first time home owners and lots of rental apartments for workers in our communities and even seniors that are looking to downsize into an age in place home. We have a severe shortage of housing at every turn.
Doug Rexroat, Lake Leelanau, Republican
Why I’m running: I am running because I care about Leelanau County. I believe our responsibility and moral obligation is to give back to our community. I have no political aspirations; I am running out of a sense of duty to those who came before me and made it possible for me to raise my family in this county. My business management, finance experience, and deep history in this county equip me with the tools necessary to serve the citizens of District 3.
What my district needs most: Affordable housing in Leelanau County is at a critical stage. We need to find ways to work with our townships, stakeholders, and businesses to address this pressing need. We need real innovative and collaborative solutions for our community. Keeping property taxes low is critical to this endeavor.
DISTRICT 4 (Full interviews here.)
Ty Wessell, Northport, Democrat, incumbent, board chairman
Why I’m running for reelection: It has been a privilege to be a Commissioner for the past 4 terms. I believe my colleagues would say that I have been instrumental in responsible budgeting, early childhood programming, community partnerships, water quality efforts, attainable housing, broadband expansion, constituent services, and support for young families and seniors. I want to continue to work on these important issues while maintaining a balanced budget. I believe my past performance as County Commissioner serves as evidence that I can provide the leadership necessary to preserve and protect all of what makes Leelanau County so very special and move us forward toward meeting the challenges of the future. I truly enjoy the work of the County Commission.
What my district needs most: We need broadband, improved cellular services, support for small businesses, and attainable housing. We also need programs and services that support young children, struggling families, senior citizens and responsible efforts to protect the environment and maintain our many natural resources. Finally, my district expects and needs collaboration between all units of government, non-profits, schools, business owners and residents; strong fiscal oversight; and maintenance of the relatively low tax rate.
Mike McMillan, Northport, Republican
Why I’m running: Learning first hand from my fiber project experience with a local Internet Service Provider (ISP), I believe we can only address our many needs through public-private partnerships. If our priorities are attainable housing, telemedicine access for our seniors or retaining our younger generation with non-college careers, it can’t be accomplished by government alone. I have the experiences to bridge competing priorities.
What my district needs most: I have the advantage of being the “new guy”, so I see end-to-end fiber for every household as the building block to maintain the momentum we are experiencing in Northport and Omena. Fast, expandable internet can attract new business opportunities, support existing businesses, address work from home or learn from home and with our maturing residents, telemedicine will become essential in building a caring community.
DISTRICT 5 (Full interviews here.)
Kama Ross, Cedar, Democrat
Why I’m running: I am a conservationist at heart, and I want to help conserve and restore a sense of common purpose, and inspire others within the community to better address our most daunting concerns. I want to be a part of helping all Leelanau County residents continue to thrive. As your District Forester, I had the extreme pleasure and privilege of being invited to landowners’ properties to listen to their goals and concerns one-on-one, hike their beautiful forests and fields that they were so proud to share and then help them answer questions they had about being a good land steward. It was wonderful work and I’d like to model that way of problem-solving as a county commissioner — to be a part of a bright, resilient and sustainable future for all.
What my district needs most: District 5 needs to elect a new commissioner that takes their role as an active community member very seriously. I will center my efforts on relationships and building person-to person connections as I share my message of service. A resilient community begins with offering yourself to serve those around you.
Michael Allen Taylor, Cedar, Republican
Why I’m running: Partisanship has no place in local government. The current dynamic in Leelanau County makes a good case for nonpartisan local elections. I am an independent thinker. My voting decisions will be based on what I believe are clearly stated goals of the county and the best interest of my constituents.
What my district needs most: Skilled workers are needed to provide services for an ever-growing retiree and seasonal population. Attracting and retaining the best employees and their families requires livable wages, attainable housing, great schools, reliable childcare, outstanding health care, dependable public safety (sheriff and fire/rescue).
Alan Campbell, Lake Leelanau, Republican
Why I’m running: First off, I’m not trying to change the world. I’m a believer in efficient governance, and if the residents of Leland and Centerville elect me, I hope to contribute toward that outcome. I’ve watched and opined — appreciative and critical — on the workings of local governments in Leelanau County. Now I would like to contribute by becoming a public servant.
What my district needs most: There’s the usual list of challenges ranging from affordable housing to childcare, which can become lightning rods for controversy. Frankly, given the extreme differences in financial means inherent to the district, there are no sure-fire or simple answers to the complex social problems faced every day by residents. Perhaps it’s time to put down our political differences — especially on national issues beyond the control of local government — while we find ways to work in a positive direction.
DISTRICT 6 (Full interviews here.)
Gwenne Allgaier, Maple City, Democrat, incumbent
Why I’m running for reelection: It is important to me to continue to be a voice for the people in Empire, Glen Arbor and Cleveland Townships to work to extend broadband throughout our area, to extend work on water quality — including effective septic policies, to create affordable housing and to be a voice for using our tax dollars effectively to improve our lives here in Leelanau.
What my district needs most: Broadband! Clean water protections! Affordable housing!
Garrick Collins, Maple City, Republican
Why I'm running: Leelanau county is my family’s home. I have become frustrated with politics and politicians over the last decade and even more so over the last five years. I have sat back and enjoyed a life that has been truly blessed, but I have realized that in order to fix problems you must be engaged and involved. I feel the leadership in this county are more concerned with what is occurring in Lansing and Washington D.C. than what is occurring in their own backyard. I want to be the commissioner that does the job required and does not get involved in broader political issues that do not directly affect the county.
What my district needs most: There are many local issues that need to be addressed. However, LOCAL is the focus for me moving forward. There are many state and national organizations and political groups that address larger issues and focus their efforts of those concerns, and we need to let them handle those issues, while we here at the county level, focus on what we CAN do and accomplish locally in Leelanau County.
DISTRICT 7 (Full interviews here.)
Melinda Lautner, Cedar, Republican, incumbent
Why I’m running: I am running for re-election because I feel that I bring balance, and thoughtful perspective to the board. My agricultural background has taught me how to work hard. I bring that work ethic to every meeting. I am not afraid to make the tough decisions. My voting record proves that, and I can find solutions that are outside the box, which has saved the county thousands of dollars.
What my district needs most: My district needs and wants most to have a safe community and an affordable county to live in. They want and deserve a financially and an environmentally healthy county. The largest demand has been for access to fast and reliable internet service which is why I am supporting Leelanau’s plan for bringing internet coverage to all of our county in the next couple of years.
Mary O’Neill, Cedar, Democrat
Why I’m running: I have grown increasingly frustrated by and disappointed in local leadership and have decided that after 26 years of Melinda Lautner as county commissioner for District 7, it’s time for a change. This county is rapidly changing. With the national and international focus on our beaches and beauty, we should be bracing ourselves for a tsunami of uber-wealthy non-local entities purchasing properties as investments. In fact, it is already happening. We need to be working with local townships to create policies to make our county less attractive to the investment world through zoning and short-term rental ordinances.
What my district needs most: Like all of Leelanau, we are facing an affordable housing crisis for local families. I will support existing affordable housing initiatives as well look for creative solutions to help increase housing options. We must look at what other communities like ours are doing to help keep their local, year-round residents in affordable homes.
Allison Zimpfer, Maple City, Democrat
Why I’m running: I am proudly running alongside three other Democratic primary candidates and will eagerly and strongly support whomever is chosen to run against Melinda Lautner. I am running because District 7 is changing; we require new leadership to support and respond to the needs and demands of our neighbors. I believe that when my neighbors do well, everyone benefits. When our district does well we contribute to a vibrant and livable county. And a Leelanau County wherein people’s experiences are listened to and their basic needs are ensured is one where it is possible to thrive.
What my district needs most: Affordable housing and livable wages.
Julie Kradel, Cedar, Democrat
Why I’m running: My involvement in local politics began three-years ago with the Solon Township land-use issue. Like many Solon and Kasson Township residents, I am frustrated by the representation at the local levels, County Commissioner and Township. Leelanau County is changing, it is time for elected persons to reflect that change. Growth is coming, it is important to make a plan, not put your head in the sand pretending that it’s not going to happen. I want to help be that change, not holding us to the limits of ‘tradition’ or ‘that's how it’s always been done.’
What my district needs most: Coordinating the growth that is needed for affordable housing, while also considering the impact on the wildlife and landscape of Leelanau County. In this volatile political landscape, I believe that it’s more important than ever for us to work together to keep the agricultural beauty and integrity of Leelanau County while moving forward into the new landscape of growth.
Nancy Joan Flanagan, Cedar, Democratic
Why I’m running: I’ve been a property owner in Cedar since 1987, although we didn’t move here full-time until 2010. So I’ve been observing local politics for 35 years—the tension between those who don’t want to see anything change, and those who understand that change is coming, and the best strategies are to get out ahead of it, for the benefit of EVERYONE who lives in District 7. When we moved here, my husband and I were both running businesses that depended on fast, reliable internet—which was completely unavailable to us. Figuring out why opportunities to increase broadband access were denied by the County Commission got me interested in politics.
What my district needs most: Goals! A Commissioner’s first responsibility is seeing the big picture, and setting goals and plans. Clean water. Our entire economy depends on water access. A septic ordinance is the first building block for protecting our most valuable resource. Affordable housing—and not just temporary workforce housing. We need a mix of year-round rentals and ownership. This is important for District 7, where property can be less expensive than lakeside communities. Well-priced housing will also draw young families, supporting our public schools and building present and future businesses, as well as increasing age diversity—a real issue for Leelanau County. Childcare options and early childhood programming, for the same reasons. Climate-focused policies: Renewable energy options—clean and green. Continued support for recycling (including educating, monitoring, and landscaping, where necessary). An open, nonpartisan forum where District 7 residents can speak to their Commissioner about the issues that impact them most.
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