26 Feb Surprise! House seat race opens up
KATHY WIEJACZKA of Empire announces her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the 101st District State Representative’s seat at the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night. Kathy Wiejaczka finds herself in an unexpected position.
The Empire Democrat and registered nurse is the only declared candidate for the 101st House seat now occupied by Republican Curt VanderWall.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Wiejaczka said. “And with no one running for the open seat, I have a bit of a head start. I have well over 100 people signed up to help.”
VanderWall was the heir apparent for the Republicans in the 101st race. Last year, he replaced Rep. Ray Franz of Onekama, who was term limited.
However, in a bit of a surprise move, VanderWall has filed for his party’s nomination for the 35th Senate seat — the same seat for which Franz has been campaigning for more than a year.
“I was surprised and disappointed when I heard,” Franz said, adding that VanderWall had called him to let him know.
VanderWall, who lives in Ludington, announced his candidacy last week in the Mason County Press.
“I feel that it is time for new, fresh ideas,” he said in a phone interview yesterday. “I have energy, oomph and I’m ready to go.”
Franz said he is disappointed personally because he backed — both financially and with his contacts — VanderWall’s 2016 election.
He bristles at published comments from VanderWall that stated he believes the party needs somebody who is “‘young and aggressive’ who can maneuver the district.”
Franz countered, “As Ronald Reagan said, ‘I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.’”
Franz is 70. VanderWall, who has been in office for 13 months, is 56.
The one-term representative’s candidacy brings to three the number of Republicans seeking the 35th Senate seat, leaving the 101st seat “open.”
In addition to Franz and VanderWall, two-term state Rep. Bruce Rendon of Lake City has filed for the Senate seat, which represents 12 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula.
There will be no incumbent running for the 101st House seat, which is concerning for Franz and the House leadership in Lansing.
“It jeopardizes leadership in the House, especially in an anti-president year,” Franz said. “Whoever runs (for the Republican nomination will be behind the 8-ball.”
VanderWall said he’s not concerned that the Republicans will lose the 101st seat.
“Someone will announce next week and I’m confident they will do an excellent job,” VanderWall said.
The 101st House seat is comprised of Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Mason counties. The sprawling Senate seat covers 12 counties, which adds to the campaign load for candidates.
VanderWall said he’ll continue his six-day work week leaving Sunday for church and family.
“People know how I act and how I am,” he said.
Franz, who has attended more than 200 township, county and village meetings in the past 16 to 18 months, will continue to campaign throughout the Senate district.
Who will local Republican organizations get behind?
Jennifer Smeltzer, chair of the Republican Women of Leelanau County (RWLC) and Franz’ campaign manager, said her group will not be taking sides.
“Our group doesn’t endorse candidates,” she said. “Obviously, I have a personal favorite.”
Meanwhile, Wiejaczka, 66, has been traveling throughout the four-county 101st to share her priorities, which are health care and education.
“Our health care system is broken. I’ve seen too many patients who suffer and harmed because they can’t afford to see a doctor,” she said.
A 36-year resident of Empire, Wiejaczka has worked as a pediatric/ OB-GYN nurse, hospital nursing manager and as a nurse for the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s “new campus” for students with emotional impairment or severe behavioral concern who require more controlled, structured environment in which to learn. She is currently an online instructor in nursing at Ferris State University.
“I’ve been an strong advocate for patients in these settings, and I’m at a place where I can be an advocate for an entire community,” Wiejazcka said. “That’s why I’m running for office.”