NEGAUNEE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WLUC) - The four Democrats running for the open 109th State House District seat are laying out their differences ahead of the Aug. 8 primary election.
As Sara Cambensy, Tom Curry, Joe Derocha and Jeremy Hosking look to move onto November's general election, the Democrats all say their different political experiences set them apart.
Scroll to the bottom of this article to watch full interviews with the candidates.
Cambensy was elected to the Marquette City Commission in 2012.
"As an elected city charter commissioner and now in my second term as a city commissioner, I've had to deal with the tough issues," said Cambensy. "I've had to take the tough votes. A lot of the votes that we've seen with tax incentives, they're going on all over our state."
Curry was elected Limestone Township Supervisor in 1992. The small business owner says he focuses on what local government can do for people, not to people.
"I've had 25 years political experience," said Curry. "I have traveled 49 states. I was not born in the U.P. I was born in Illinois. I was raised in Florida. I've lived in the U.P. by choice for the last 30 years."
Derocha was elected to the Marquette County Board in 2012, and was Humboldt Township Supervisor before that.
"I've been able to work with all people. I've been a private businessman for 34 years in the community," said Derocha. "My success has been because I've been able to put people together. Was a township supervisor. Created community lunches. Lobbied Rio Tinto to come to Humboldt Township."
Hosking has never held public office but has assisted prominent leaders.
"I'm the only one who has ever worked in the legislative branch of government," said Hosking. "Whether that be the state government in Lansing for former state Representative Steve Lindberg, or most recently, serving for 6.5 years as Upper Peninsula Regional Manager for U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow at the federal level."
The candidates all say fixing the dark store tax loophole would be a top priority if they're elected to Lansing. They also outlined some other areas of concern.
Cambensy says mining and education are crucial areas.
"I work for the public schools," she said. "I'm on the front lines with our administrators and teachers that don't see enough money coming back from Lansing and it's dividing our communities."
"I really think that we've lost track of how important our iron ore range is."
Curry says he would focus on the workforce.
"One of my biggest priorities in Lansing is going to be labor and stopping the erosion of wages in the Upper Peninsula," he said. "Stabilizing our mining community up here, and bringing good, long-term jobs to the Upper Peninsula."
Derocha also says one of his priorities would be using state government tools to bring high paying jobs to the 109th District.
"Jobs, economic development and affordable health care for all Michigan residents," he said. "That's going to be primary focus, and then I'd like to finish the dark store or tax fairness as I call it."
Hosking says voters are telling him to focus on public education and medicaid expansion.
"Both of those are going to be a priority of mine when I get down there," he said. "Certainly going to advocate very strongly for teachers and the resources they need in the classroom, and of course, I'm hearing from folks about their anxiety as it relates to the possible loss of health care coverage."
The dark store tax loophole continues to cost Michigan communities millions of dollars every year.
The candidates say they would continue the late John Kivela's work on the issue. The loophole allows large retailers to reduce property taxes to the level of an empty building despite still operating.
Cambensy says she would attack the issue with individual legislators, especially in the state Senate.
"What Mr. Kivela was doing was basically saying, 'Here are the numbers. In your district, here's how much you're losing," she said. "In your district, here's how much you're losing.' And it becomes a game of, 'Are you going to be responsible and step up and solve this problem as your small businesses and individuals are paying more and paying their fair share?'"
Curry says he would push legislation that could recover money lost.
"If somebody has a covenant on a deed that makes it so they can't use a parcel or a property for a specific purpose, and the tax tribunal assigns a value to that, make that a taxable item," he said. "If they say that this lowers that property by $3 million, the person holding that property has a $3 million taxable instrument."
Derocha says he has another layer to add to what he calls a tax fairness issue.
"i'd like to add a piece to that legislation, as well," he said. "We have a huge disparity in the tax collection when it comes to sales tax in Michigan. There's no collection of sales tax for internet companies. And we have mom and pops that are brick and mortar that pay to fund schools throughout the 109th District. It's just not fair."
Hosking says Michigan should look at what neighboring states are doing.
"The Indiana legislature passed a bill really quick that basically said these stores will not be evaluated as if they were empty, and certainly we know that to be one avenue moving forward in Lansing," he said. "It's also a problem in the State of Wisconsin as well."
For now, big-box stores have successfully argued to the Michigan Tax Tribunal that the value of their store should be compared to the value of older closed and vacant stores, decreasing property tax bases for state and local governments.
What else to know
This special election will fill the remainder of Kivela's term, through the end of next year. The general election is Nov. 7.
There's only one candidate on the Republican side of the primary ballot. Rich Rossway, the Marquette Area Public Schools' Board President, is running. He's been on the school board for 17 years.
The 109th District covers Alger, Luce and Schoolcraft counties along with most of Marquette County.