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The high-stakes, big money race for ... Macomb County public works commissioner

Sep 17, 2016

A typically low-profile county office has become one of the most high-stakes political contests in Michigan this year.

It’s the race for Macomb County public works commissioner.

Republican Candice Miller is leaving her seat in Congress to challenge Democrat Anthony Marrocco, a longtime incumbent, for the post.

“This could be one of the most expensive races, if not the most expensive race, that happens on the state or local level this fall,” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Both candidates and their affiliated PACs have raised about $1 million so far, Mauger says. And both are prolific fundraisers with the ability to ramp that up in the coming weeks.

“You end up with a race for a county office that is going to draw potentially more than $2 million,” Mauger said.

A Michigan Campaign Finance Network analysis shows that both are also raising lots of money from people with ties to construction, engineering, and contracting firms — in other words, groups that do business with the public works commissioner’s office.

Mauger says that in itself is not unusual. Across Michigan, races for public works commissioner (or drain commissioner, in many counties) often bring in money from those who either do business with, or are regulated by, that office.

What’s unusual here is the amount of money. And the race has a taken on a particularly nasty, contentious tone as well.

Marrocco has put out ads accusing Miller of ethics violations, taking money from the billionaire Koch Brothers, and against clean water regulations in Congress.

Miller’s campaign says Marrocco has his own history of questionable ethics. Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, a Democrat who’s supporting Miller in this race, has come out and explicitly blasted Marrocco for engaging in “pay-to-play” relationships with county contractors.

Mauger says there’s more than a hint of irony there. “While raising all of this money, they’re going to run a race that focuses a lot on ethics, and who is the more ethical candidate,” he said.