HILLSDALE — Whether Hillsdale and Branch County voters head to the polls for Michigan’s Aug. 4, 2020 Primary Election or vote by mail, they won’t be picking only local or federal candidates.
They’ll also be casting a vote for someone to replace third-term state Rep. Eric Leutheuser, whose current term of office expires Dec. 31, 2020.
With no incumbent candidate seeking reelection, the 58th District primary has become a hotly-contested race on the Republican side. In total, five candidates, four Republicans and one Democrat, have declared for the office.
Candidates vying for the Republican nomination have spent more than $75,000 in the run-up to the Aug. 4 election, making it one of the most expensive primary races since the current district boundaries were redrawn in 1992.
Here is a brief rundown of the five candidates who will appear on the ballot, presented in alphabetical order by last name.
Barnes, a 44-year-old public historian from Coldwater, is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket. The only Democrat in the entire field, she has a clear route to clinching the Democratic nomination for the second time in a row.
Though a presumptive longshot, given Hillsdale and Branch Counties’ electoral history, Barnes is hoping to wage an unconventional campaign as a change candidate in an extremely red-leaning District. A self-described progressive Democrat, Barnes says she wants to clean up corruption in state government and craft policies that benefit a majority of citizens.
“I believe Republican-led legislation at the state level has been a catastrophic failure for most people in Hillsdale and Branch counties,” she said. “Workers continue to be paid unfair wages, corporations continue to receive enormous subsidies in the name of economic development, public schools continue to be critically underfunded, proposed cuts to Medicaid continue to put our most vulnerable citizens at risk and our legislators continue to take money from special interest groups in exchange for favors.”
Barnes’s platform includes increasing access to quality healthcare, addressing racial and economic inequities in the 58th District and increasing funding for public schools. She supports raising the state’s minimum wage and expanding Medicaid via the Healthy Michigan Plan (Affordable Care Act) as a placeholder for an eventual universal medical care system.
Barnes, who has spent her entire career working for non-profit organizations, says her research experience and coalition-building skills enable her to consider multiple viewpoints and implement workable solutions for challenging problems. She says those traits make her well-suited for the office of state representative.
“I believe that I am the only candidate who is concerned with people in this district who struggle — those making less than a living wage and those who have health issues and remain underinsured,” she said.
Barnes has been endorsed by the Branch County Democratic Party and Hillsdale County Democratic Party.
The Democratic nominee two years ago, Barnes was defeated by incumbent Republican state Rep. Eric Leutheuser in the November 2018 general election.
Barnes possesses a Master of Arts in museum studies from State University of New York’s Cooperstown Graduate Program and a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Western Michigan University.
Fink, a 35-year-old attorney from Hillsdale and father of five, announced his candidacy last November at a Hillsdale County Republican Party meeting. A former U.S. Marine Judge Advocate, he is the only candidate running with a military service background.
A Hillsdale College graduate and practicing attorney since 2014, Fink moved back to Hillsdale from Ypsilanti in 2017 to open a branch of his family’s law firm, Fink and Fink, PLLC. He was also recently Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s district director in Hillsdale County. Fink says the current political climate prompted him to run out of a sense of duty.
“I’m running because the national liberal movement — Bernie Sanders’ socialism, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, and Nancy Pelosi’s distrust of American citizens — are here in Michigan, too,” he said. “As the father of five children, a Marine Corps veteran, and a constitutional law attorney, I believe it’s my duty to defend our Constitution and American way of life against those who would throw it all away.”
Fink’s platform includes advocating for fiscally-responsible small government, defending the rights of parents to have choices about their kids’ education, and supporting Second Amendment and pro-life causes. He has also taken a strong stance on reigning in the executive branch’s power in Michigan.
Having worked at all levels of government, ranging from the local to federal level, Fink says his experience handling a wide scope of legal issues sets him apart from other candidates.
“I have the experience and abilities to be a conservative leader in the legislature from day one,” he said. “Being a Marine officer, constitutional law attorney who has sued Governor Whitmer for her shut down orders, recipient of a scholarship from the National Rifle Association to study politics at Hillsdale College, and a board member of the Michigan Lawyers chapter of the Federalist Society, I am more ready to get in the fight on day one to help restore our economy, ensure public safety, and stop our overreaching governor in her tracks.”
Since his campaign’s launch, Fink has raised more than $44,000 — more than any other Democratic or Republican candidate.
Fink is the only candidate in the race endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan. He has also received endorsements from state Sen. Mike Shirkey, former state Rep. Ken Kurtz, the Police Officers Association of Michigan, Citizens for Traditional Values and local business owners Bob Galloway and Dave Haylett among others.
Fink possesses a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hillsdale College.
The 40-year-old mayor of Hillsdale announced his bid for office last October, becoming the first Republican candidate to do so. The first-term mayor, who assumed office in Nov. 2017, is the only candidate in the race currently holding an elected office.
As an elected official whose day-job is in workforce development, Stockford has argued he has more to offer than any other candidate when it comes to understanding local issues and the concerns of 58th District residents, billing himself as both pragmatic and effective in representing his constituents.
“I’m running for office because our area deserves a representative that understands the unique interests of this district,” Stockford said. “The 58th isn’t like any other district, and as the mayor of one of the two major cities and a businessman who’s worked with most of the major industries in the district, I have a unique insight into the needs of the people of this area.”
Stockford’s platform involves increasing revenue sharing for local governments, reforming Michigan’s grant system, and seeing that rural communities aren’t left out when it comes to road and infrastructure repair. He is also a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, has endorsed constitutional carry legislation, and identifies as pro-life.
Stockford says his experience as a city councilor and mayor, as well as his blue-collar background, sets himself apart from his opponents.
“My experience in local government and in workforce development gives me the best mix of business and politics of any candidate,” he said. “I’ve also worked a plethora of blue-collar jobs, as a carpet installer and a factory worker, and I think if you’re going to make decisions that affect the people of this district, you should walk a mile in their shoes.”
Stockford has no support from PACs, but has received personal endorsements from several prominent figures including Charles Steele, Hillsdale College’s Chairman of Economics, Business and Accounting, Hillsdale College politics professor Mickey Craig and Union City Village Manager and Police Chief Chris Matthis among others.
Welden, 68, a retired farmer from Jonesville, became the fourth Republican candidate to jump into the 58th District race when he formally declared his bid for office in May. Despite his late entry into the race, his campaign raised $21,895 in the three months since its launch, the second-highest haul of any candidate.
The only candidate from either party with a background in agriculture, Welden, who served as the principal and owner of Welden Farms in Jonesville for 35 years, has made his knowledge of farming and nearly two decades of experience in township and county government the centerpiece of his campaign, billing himself as a trusted neighbor and dedicated public servant.
“I’m running to represent the residents and their priorities,” Welden said. “I believe I am capable of doing this well.”
Welden’s platform involves giving agriculture a larger voice in Lansing and using his leadership experience to fight for a better quality of life for Branch and Hillsdale County residents. A lifelong NRA member, Welden supports the Second Amendment. He also identifies as pro-life.
A Jonesville High School alumnus hailing from a multi-generation farming family, Welden says he believes he’s the best candidate for the job because of his local roots and deep-seeded passion for service.
Welden has been endorsed by the Michigan Corn Growers’ Association’s Friends of Corn PAC and the Michigan Association of Counties’ MACPAC, but has not taken any contributions from any political action committees.
Welden possesses an Associate’s degree from Michigan State University.
Wiseley, a real estate agent from Osseo and Indiana University law school graduate, was the third Republican to enter the race, announcing his candidacy last December. At 28 years old, he is the youngest candidate seeking the 58th District seat.
The recent law school graduate, who has never held a public office, but worked for the Hillsdale County Prosecutor’s Office, says that his inaugural campaign is less about experience and more about the ideological lens he says he will apply to decision-making if elected. Wiseley has used his political-outsider status as one of his main selling points in appealing to voters.
“The 58th District is a heavy red district, and I think the people here deserve not just a Republican, but a conservative one that actually reflects their values,” he said. “I’m tired of moderate, establishment Republicans not fighting for the best interests of our district, but instead serving the interests of the lobbyists and kowtowing to the Left … I’m running to give our district someone willing to take that hard stand and actually fight for tough issues such as: protecting life, defending gun rights, and opposing corporate welfare to support the hard-working people of this district and our great small businesses.”
Wiseley’s platform includes reducing taxes and cutting regulations on a state level, as well as fighting for a balanced state budget. The pro-Second Amendment candidate says he will oppose any red flag laws and advocate for constitutional carry legislation. He also opposes taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.
“I’m a principled conservative who shares the commonsense values of my hometown community,” he said. “Voters always say they want a conservative fighter and I’ve put the work in to give them that choice.”
Wiseley has been endorsed by Michigan Trump Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty, two conservative grassroots organizations.
Wiseley possesses a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University-Bloomington’s Maurer School of law and completed his undergraduate studies at Indiana Institute of Technology (Indiana Tech).