Macomb County government has a new look in 2021

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published January 22, 2021

 Regarding the new-look Macomb County Board of Commissioners, a couple commissioners indicated it is the first time in the county’s history that the board has a Republican majority.

Regarding the new-look Macomb County Board of Commissioners, a couple commissioners indicated it is the first time in the county’s history that the board has a Republican majority.

File photo by Deb Jacques

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MACOMB COUNTY — Prior to the November general election, three of the five Macomb County offices up for grabs were held by Democrat party members.

The Macomb County Board of Commissioners was also a Democratic majority.

But on Nov. 3, the positions of prosecutor and clerk/register of deeds shifted from Democrat to Republican, leaving the position of sheriff as the lone Democrat-held seat.

Now, Peter Lucido is prosecutor and Anthony Forlini is clerk, while Larry Rocca, Candice Miller and Anthony Wickersham remain in their roles of treasurer, public works commissioner and sheriff, respectively.

For the BOC, a couple commissioners indicated that it is the first time in the county’s history that the board has a Republican majority.

So what does that mean for the people of Macomb County? Maybe not much, according to officials and experts.

Lucido, the former state senator from Shelby Township, at his swearing-in ceremony said that, to his knowledge, it’s been at least 80 years since a Republican held the office of Macomb County Prosecutor.

Lucido said he doesn’t think prosecutor should have been a partisan position.

He mentioned the other individuals who hold the four other elected county positions.

“I would never expect them to be a partisan position because we as a group of elected individuals, in such a high position, don’t we serve everybody?” he asked. “To have a partisanship, we didn’t make the rules, we played by them. The Constitution says these are partisan positions, but every judge on the bench is a nonpartisan. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republian, Independent, Democrat. Come on in, we’re going to serve you.”

For clerk, Forlini edged out then incumbent Democrat Fred Miller by less than 2%, or less than 9,000 votes. In 2016, Republican Karen Spranger defeated Miller. Spranger was removed from office in March 2018.

Prior to Spranger, Democrat Carmella Sabaugh was clerk from 1993-2016.

In November, Rocca defeated Democrat challenger Lorie Barnwell by about 7%.

Prior to Rocca being elected in 2016, Democrat Ted Wahby worked as treasurer from 1995-2015.

Candice Miller secured nearly 110,000 votes than Toni Moceri.   

For the BOC, before the election, eight of the 13 spots were held by Democrats. Now, seven seats are Republican. Of the 13-member board, eight are newcomers.

Macomb County Commissioner Joe Sabatini, of Macomb Township, said the presidential election definitely had something to do with Macomb County moving slightly more red.

Sabatini, a Republican, took office in January, and represents District 13, Macomb Township.

“There’s a transition that’s going on and this is the first time in history that Republicans control the board,” he said. “We’re charting new ground here. There seems to be a shift, and we’ll have to wait and see what that transpires in the future.”

Sabatini mentioned that whether commissioners are Republican or Democrat, they’re looking at everything relative to who they represent in their community.

“We have a divided country now, but I will be working with my Democratic counterparts because you have to get things done collectively,” he said.

Commissioner Harold Haugh, a Roseville Democrat, said the two-party system has worked in America for hundreds of years.

“I’m certainly supportive of it, and if someone wants to form a third-party and move in that direction, that’s their prerogative,” he said.

Haugh represents District 11, which encompasses Fraser and Roseville.

Haugh, who has been a commissioner since 2019 and is the former Roseville mayor, noted that he has worked with many of the new commissioners in prior capacities.

“They are credible, hard-working people,” he said. “Our priorities remain the same.”

He said that, for the most part, the commission is nonpartisan, and he doesn’t think there’s ever been a vote on an issue that has fallen on clear party lines.

When asked why he thinks voters went with more Republicans at the county level, Haugh said it was a very contentious election period.

“There was a huge amount of straight-party voting in the election,” he said. “I think that was indicative of the feelings of the people in Macomb County.”

Unlike the August primary election, where voters could only vote for one party, the general election offered folks the chance to split their ticket, by voting for individual candidates from any party.

Wayne State University Professor Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson said she looks at  county government in her Michigan politics class. She has been a political science professor at the university since 1991.

When it comes to county government, she said for the position of public works commissioner, she would want one with a civil engineering background, regardless of party identification.

Sarbaugh-Thompson believes placing a political party next to one’s name on a voting ballot helps voters decide.

“On a ballot as long as Michigan’s, how do you figure out who you want for different positions, when you’ve never heard of these people?” Sarbaugh-Thompson said. “Many voters pick things based on party cues. It at least gives you a ballpark feel at the angle a particular candidate would come at an issue.”

She added there was plenty of straight-ticket voting in November.

“In Macomb County, it was pretty evenly divided, but the Republican voters were around 51%, giving you a majority,” Sarbaugh-Thompson said. “You typically think of Democrats doing more straight-ticket voting, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore.”

Sarbaugh-Thompson explained a difference in how a Democrat and Republican would govern differently as prosecutor.

“A Democrat is more inclined to do things like bail reform, and maybe an idea that first-time juvenile offenders would have some sort of alternative like restorative justice, intervention, or de-escalation,” she said.

Whereas, she said a Republican prosecutor would be more likely, at the real extreme, to charge juveniles as adults and more inclined to take a harder line with first offenders.

Examining Macomb County, Haugh said he thinks too much is made of what political party one affiliates with.  

“All the individuals, both Democrat and Republican, have worked together,” Haugh said. “We’ve been on budgetary committees and have balanced the budget every year. The cooperation with the Executive’s Office I think will dramatically improve with Don Brown being our chairman.”

Other than when he served on Roseville City Council, Haugh believes the BOC is the most nonpartisan group he’s ever worked with.

In his role, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said the reduced number of Democrats in the top positions doesn’t mean anything.

“I work with anybody who gets elected by the people. I don’t care if it’s an ‘R’ or a ‘D.’” he said. “I have great relationships with all these folks and even those that were there prior. My job is to figure out how to work with the people that are there.”

He said it’s not about figuring out how to deal with a Democrat or Republican.

Hackel believes the two-part system creates a lot of division in America and that, since he has been executive, he wants to be the example of not caring about political parties.

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