Four candidates are trying to break through to Republican voters in District 43 of the Michigan House and win their support: Nevin Cooper-Keel, Phillip Joseph, Lindsay Kronemeyer and Rachelle Smit.
Most of the candidates are running on a strongly anti-establishment message, telling voters they will bring true conservative values to Lansing and repeating claims that the 2020 election was "stolen" or fraudulent.
Smit, the elected clerk in Martin Township, said she was inspired to run for office after seeing what she described as "countless irregularities" in the 2020 presidential election count.
Although a majority-Republican committee in the Michigan Senate investigated fraud claims in the administration of Michigan's elections and found no evidence of fraud, Smit calls for a "forensic audit" of Michigan's 2020 election. She also wants to prioritize election reforms such as mandating voter ID and banning ballot drop-boxes.
Candidate Phillip Joseph, an Orangeville Township resident, also calls the 2020 election "stolen" in blog posts and said in an interview that he supports similar election reforms to Smit.
"No matter where you stand on the issue of the 2020 election, voter confidence is down, and we need to do something to fix that," Joseph said. "I am not in favor of same-day voter registration, drop boxes should be illegal, and I would like to see photo ID being required. But at the same time, I want to make it clear that I would like voting to be easy and accessible for people."
Joseph said he's a lifelong Republican but felt Republican politicians he voted for haven't delivered. "I'm upset with the party, because I don't feel they've been representing us well."
Joseph calls himself "a normal guy running to represent normal people," and said voters he talks to are frustrated with the political establishment on the right and the left. "They want honesty. They want simplicity. And I just want people to be able to live their lives free of government intrusion."
"The government is more the problem than the solution in many cases," he said.
Smit, who owns a second-generation dairy farm with her husband, said she's also focused on anti-abortion legislation, increasing parental control over children's education and helping farmers prosper through de-regulation of the agriculture industry.
"We do not need to co-parent with the government," Smit wrote on her campaign website, citing "Critical Race Theory and Woke Ideology" as causes of failure in the Michigan public education system. "Parents should have a choice where their children are being educated."
On the issue of education, mom and member of a charter school's school board Lindsay Kronemeyer, who describes herself as a "common sense conservative," said she's focused on three areas: transparency, accountability and flexibility.
Parents should be able to see what's being taught to their children in schools, Kronemeyer said, and schools should be held accountable for the literacy rates they are delivering.
Kronemeyer also said there should be a greater focus on financial literacy and the skilled trades in school.
"We have an aging workforce in construction and manufacturing," Kronemeyer said. "If we can't build and make our own things in this country, we're going to be in a world of hurt."
Kronemeyer supports the same election reforms as her opponents, including photo ID requirements, saying that "We all know there has been voter fraud over the years" and citizens need to regain confidence in the voting system.
The Republican candidates' focus on claims of fraud in the 2020 election was an issue that pushed Democrat Mark Ludwig into the race, and it is the reason he is trying to appeal to Republican voters to "Rehab the Red" and change parties this year.
"I am quite distressed about the fundamental break from reality so many people in this country have had, following Donald Trump down this absolute rabbit hole of madness," Ludwig said. "And I felt compelled to say that this was a pack of lies coming out of the Republican Party."
Ludwig, of Fennville, admits that election reforms may be needed to restore voter trust in elections after so much talk of fraud and said he'll work with Republicans on legislation.
He said he's reaching out to Republican voters who "see there's a whole bunch of lying going on," and recognizes that voting for him, as a pro-choice Democrat passionate about the issue of climate change, "might be a tough pill to swallow."
"But as Democrats go, I'm pretty moderate. I've got a lot of guns," he quipped. "I'm willing to listen to anyone's point of view, and I'm much more concerned that we get our 'small-d democratic' fundamentals solid. Everything else is secondary."
Cooper-Keel wrote on Facebook that he is running on the issues of parental rights, rooting out corruption and taking away the power of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to issue shut down or mask orders.
"Our state has had massive violations of law by our state government against its people and we need to send somebody there that's ready to do the job of restraining the government," he wrote, explaining that he filed because he did not believe the other three candidates were "qualified" for the job. "One thing you can 100 percent count on me to do is strip the health department of any emergency shut down authority without prior legislative approval."
Cooper-Keel, who did not reply to several emailed requests for an interview, unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township, in District 80 in a 2020 primary, a campaign he said was inspired by the 2020 stay-home orders of the early pandemic.
Cooper-Keel runs Atwater Bail Bonds in Allegan and was the Monterey Township supervisor for several years.
He has launched lawsuits against Allegan County judges regarding how his divorce proceedings were handled and recently sued Allegan County 48th Circuit Court Judge Roberts Kengis and the state of Michigan in federal court, claiming his freedom of speech was violated when the court's official Facebook page deleted comments he made.
The primary election is Aug. 2 and the general election is Nov. 8.
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: GOP fields four candidates in Michigan House District 43 primary