Two GOP Officials Seek Portage State House Seat

Jul 24, 2014

Ballot in voting machine
Credit Wisconsin Public Radio

An opening in the 61st State House District that includes the City of Portage has created a vacuum that two Republicans hope to fill. They’re running to replace outgoing GOP Representative Margaret O’Brien who’s leaving the House to run for State Senate.

When candidates of the same party clash in a primary it’s not unusual that there’s relatively little difference between them on the issues. And that’s true of the Republicans in the 61st District race – up to a point. Phil Stinchcomb and Brandt Iden are both Kalamazoo County commissioners and both present themselves as pro-business candidates. But they differ on a few points, including how Michigan should find the money to fix its roads and bridges. That issue has emerged as a hot topic in many polls. Stinchcomb says there’s no one right answer to the road repair question – except that raising taxes isn’t it.

Phil Stinchcomb
Credit WMUK

"There's going to have to be a multiple-prong approach. My initial start would be to look from within. And if we can't do it we have to look at toll roading. I have no problem with that, going across I-94, take the federal dollars, tell them we're going to keep that and put it into a toll road, something different. We have to change what we're doing. We can't continue to do what - and throw band aids or a couple of bucks here and say they we're good because we live in a four-season state, we need to be able to adapt."

But the thought of turning I-94 into a toll road doesn’t impress Brandt Iden.

"I've talked to a number of constituents about toll roads in particular, and I don't think that toll roads, at this point in time, are the solution to the problem. I think that we can find other ways to do it before we address toll roads. And so, at this point in time - you know, I never like to talk in absolutes; I don't think it's appropriate for politics because we need to bring lots of different groups in and lots of different conversations about different avenues to explore. But at this point, in time toll roads would not be Number One on my agenda."

Brandt Iden
Credit WMUK

Iden, who owns a property management and business consulting firm, also has some differences with his opponent on expansion of the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Governor Rick Snyder, a fellow Republican, says it should include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But Iden says that could cause problems.

"There could be lawsuits that arise. There could be some other issues. Obviously, I'm a property manager and a landlord, and nowhere on my application - and I've never seen an application that asks for sexual orientation. It just doesn't. I don't think that the government should have to regulate this. Employers can put it in their handbooks and say, 'We don't discriminate, this is our operating procedure,' in their handbook. I don't know that the government has to add another added level of regulation to that by putting another protected class in the Elliott-Larsen Act."

Phil Stinchcomb, who’s a sales representative for a steel firm, agrees that the state does not need to expand its civil rights act. But when asked about the question on WMUK’s program WestSouthwest, he went further.

Stinchcomb: "My preference would be to just let people respect one another and do it your way out of love versus having government telling you that you have to operate this way. Is that reality? Probably not."

Gordon Evans: "If people don't respect each other, what's the government's responsibility?"

Stinchcomb: "Well, that's what they're doing. Government is telling people how and who they need to be able to deal with."

Gordon Evans: "If it was up to you, would that law still be on the books?"

Stinchcomb: "Probably not."

Stinchcomb and Iden also have their differences on how they’d approach the job of legislating in Lansing. Stinchcomb says he’d be independent.

"I mean, I'm not going there to be the true party guy 100-percent of the time. I'm going there to work with the people, for the people, on behalf of the people. If I can work with the other side I'm going to do that if it produces good policy. So, I mean, really that's what separates me from Brandt. You know, I've got some skin in the game; I've got a family. When I first got involved in this, I have three kids and I look at their future and I'm concerned. I'm motivated."

But Stinchcomb’s opponent Brandt Iden says his commitment to the business community makes him the better choice, as reflected by endorsements he’s received from several business groups.

"And all of these organizations have looked at both my opponent and I, and they've said Brandt has the business background, the business leadership, to be able to articulately advocate for the business community and the business community's needs. My opponent is looking at a sales tax increase, I believe, and some other avenues, and so I think that's different."

Stinchcomb has suggested that raising the state sales tax would be a better way of offsetting lost revenue for schools and local governments if voters approve a phase-out of Michigan’s personal property tax. That issue is also on the ballot August 5th.

The winner in the Republican 61st District primary will face Democrat John Fisher as well as Libertarian (and former Portage city manager) Mike Stampfler in November.

The Kalamazoo League of Women Voters has a guide to this race and others in Kalamazoo County.