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Elections 2022: Three Democrats vying for State Senate in new-look 14th District

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Kelsey Heck Wood/Sue Shink/Val Cochran Toops
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From left to right: 14th District state Senate candidates Kelsey Heck Wood, Sue Shink, and Val Cochran Toops.

Three Democrats and one Republican are vying to win the state Senate seat in the new-look 14th district. Prior to redistricting, the 18th state Senate district covered the entirety of Washtenaw County. Now, there are two districts that cover the county and expand beyond its borders, those being the 14th and 15th. The 14th now includes parts of Jackson County and stretches to Ann Arbor, including the northern and western parts of Washtenaw County.

Like many primary elections, the main rivals in the race in the 14th district agree on many of the priorities: education, infrastructure, the environment, public safety, worker rights, reproductive rights, and voting rights.

Sue Shink, Kelsey Heck Wood, and Val Cochran Toops all bring a variety of experiences to the state Senate race. Shink is a lawyer by trade and the current chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. A position she will not be seeking reelection for in favor of running for the state Senate.

“I have a 20-year track record of serving the people in my community and I will take all of that experience and all the successes and the things that didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped ... a lot of lessons learned… to Lansing to better represent the people in our community in the 14th district.”

Heck Wood is a former Jackson city council member and has worked with a number of liberal advocacy groups. Most recently, she served as program director for “America Votes” before stepping down to run for the 14th district seat.

“I think the biggest things are infrastructure, education and environment. And there are a lot of ways that those things intersect with each other, particularly when we’re thinking about infrastructure and environment.”

Cochran Toops is a Jackson County native and previously worked as Vice Chair of the Jackson County Democratic Party. She also served on the Human Relations Commission for the City of Jackson. This isn’t her first circus. She has had multiple unsuccessful runs at public office, including for Jackson County Sheriff, state Senate, and state House. Toops says she would like to go to Lansing and bring greater civility to state government.

“I’d like to see more truth and honesty in government. I’d like to see some morality brought back into play. It seems like we’ve lost our way. People should be better to each other.”

Education is among the top priorities for the candidates. While they are happy to see the recent increase in funding for education under the Whitmer administration. Raising teacher pay would transform public education, according to Heck Wood.

“It’s pretty difficult to make an argument that we’re able to attract and retain the best teachers or the best talent to communities at the wages that some teachers are making now. They’re not able to teach in their neighborhoods. They’re not able to teach in the towns that they live in.”

Public safety is a topic of concern throughout the state. The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners recently adopted a 14-point plan to end gun violence with Sue Shink as its chair. To help achieve that, Shink says she supports local community programs, like Supreme Felons. It’s a group largely made up of people who have spent time in prison. They intervene with young people directly to try to keep them out of violent situations and Shink believes these kinds of programs can have a broader impact.

“That is a model that needs to be adapted for communities across the state. You know, each community is going to have a somewhat different situation, but that along with funding support for re-entering individuals as they come back from incarceration, and restorative justice efforts can make a huge difference in our state.”

In addition to public safety, public health is another top political issue and that’s where Heck Wood says her “data-driven brain” can make a difference. She considers it vital to solve problems by meeting people where they are. Wood cites her efforts to create a needle exchange program in Jackson as a good example of that. She said a fellow member of city council, who had loved ones who dealt with addiction, was skeptical of her plan.

“I was able to sit down and sort of talk through, like this is what this actually looks like, and this is why it works. And we were able to pass that program in Jackson and there has been a harm reduction center operating here since 2019.”

Another hot-button political issue is the climate crisis. Shink says she has long taken on that battle for greater environmental protections and sustainability.

“I have been responsible for getting the climate action planning in Washtenaw County going. I also participated in a statewide effort with the governor’s council on climate solution and I know that the governor has a plan and needs the legislature to be there to support its implementation.”

Cochran Toops wants to see better protections for the Great Lakes and strongly opposes the Line 5 oil pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. She says it needs to be shut down completely.

“I’m very pro-environment. I support Green New Deal. I support Sunshine Movement. I support the Anishinaabek Caucus, which is the Native American caucus.”

Heck Wood has also made the climate crisis a priority, calling it the most urgent issue facing her generation and the planet as a whole. She says her agenda would help in ways that would also improve disadvantaged communities.

“How issues like infrastructure and the environment interact and how state level resources can be brought to make some communities whole and to make better decisions as we plan out what our future looks like.”

The winner of the August 2nd primary will advance to the general election in November against Republican Tim Golding, who ran unopposed in the primary.

In the 15th District State Senate race, Democrat Jeff Irwin is unopposed in the primary. He'll face the the winner of the GOP primary between Wyckham Seelig of Ann Arbor and Scott Price of Ypsilanti.

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Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
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