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Meet the 8 primary candidates running for 64th District state representative

Voters on both sides of the political aisle will have a choice to make in next August’s primary election for the next state representative in Michigan’s 64th District.

Each contest is crowded with newcomers and familiar faces aiming to vie for the seat left by the outgoing state Rep. Andrew Beeler, a Port Huron Republican who announced earlier this year that he wasn’t seeking re-election.

On the Republican side, former state representative Gary Eisen and current St. Clair County Commissioner Jorja Baldwin will be up against newcomers Joe Pavlov, Ryan Maxon, and Dan Geiersbach, while John Anter, Mathew Castillo, and Ken Heuvelman are running as Democrats.

The 64th District includes the cities of Port Huron and Marysville, and Burtchville, Clyde, Fort Gratiot, Grant, Kimball, Port Huron, and St. Clair townships in St. Clair County, as well as Worth Township in Sanilac County.

Redistricted in 2020, its borders include remnants of the former 81st and 83rd districts — now representing much of St. Clair County’s population center, where historically Democratic pockets and a broader political diversity helped inspire some candidates to try and swing the region to the left.

Others said they saw Beeler’s departure as a good opportunity to run, touting intent to pursue solutions for both common and personal issues ranging from local choice and schools to health care.

The other three districts encompassing part of the Thumb include the 63rd, 65th, and 98th. Those latter two had no listed primary contests, as of the April filing deadline, whereas the 63rd saw Cottrellville’s Michael Zoran contesting current state Rep. Jay DeBoyer, of Clay Township, for the Republican nod.

Republican candidates

For two terms, Eisen represented the 81st District in Michigan’s House of Representatives. However, 2022’s redistricting put him newly in contention with Beeler, then representing the 83rd, that November.

This year, the St. Clair Township resident said he heard from former colleagues who encouraged him to run again.

“Basically, the statement was Lansing’s a mess, and this isn’t the time for rookies or kids to be in Lansing,” he said during an interview April 25. “They could use someone with some experience and could get back to work on day one. I don’t need any indoctrination. I know all of the players. I know who to stay away from. I would just start where I left off.”

There were even a handful of bills left waiting, Eisen said, including for road funding, a carbon neutral tax credit, and allowing individuals to go to any county to file a state concealed pistol license. He hoped to reapproach those issues, adding, he felt cheated out of the third term — a period when legislators are more seasoned and able to “do a little butt-kicking.”

Eisen, who runs his own welding shop, instructs CPL classes, and teaches taekwondo, said he’d also support completion of Line 5, the continued spreading of awareness in skilled trades to students, and pro-life issues.

“But it’s not so much what I want,” he said. “It’s what I think the constituents want in the St. Clair County area, and what I want should come way down the line.”

Eisen also pointed to local control issues; as did Baldwin.

Local control has become elevated in the public discourse in the last year as state lawmakers moved to empower the Michigan Public Service Commission in zoning authority for large-scale solar and wind energy developments.

“If you look at the two things that impact this district, the most greatly over the last five years have to do with taking away local choice, and one of those is short-term rentals. And the other is the siting for renewables and (developments for) renewable energy,” said Baldwin, who’s 12 years in elected office, including county commissioner and previously as supervisor of Fort Gratiot. Previously, she’d worked in zoning administration and other capacities, racking up over two decades in local government.

“And I believe I have the skillset to maybe make an impact on those things,” she said. “So, if local control is being discussed at a state level now on just these two issues, how many more are waiting in the pipeline or how many more could come up that we’re not even aware of?”

Baldwin also said homeschooling was another focus, citing both experience with temporary custody of a relative who was homeschooled and a recent push to the county board to support parents homeschooling their kids.

She called those day-to-day issues and the kind that occur to people “when you’re pulling into your driveway or making decisions for your family.”

Still, more hot-button concerns like immigration, job creation, or less government, Baldwin said, were examples of things in the more conservative purview she’d expect to come into focus, as well. In addition to local government work, she owns the District 43 shoe store in downtown Port Huron.

For Joe Pavlov, a retired high school teacher, involvement with his church and organizations such as Right to Life of St. Clair County and the county GOP, as well as service with the local Knights of Columbus and past coordination of a local volleyball tournament were all major touchpoints that helped build experience for political office.

When asked about the state versus local level, he said, “I’ve always believed in the life issue, and I’m a life member of the National Rifle Association. And just seeing the way things are going with taxes and talking with businesspeople, the regulations, and the taxes and restrictions, it’s like I needed to move up to another level where I could be a little bit more effective in writing bills and voting on laws.”

Pavlov said he was concerned about how women were being treated in this country, and how illegal immigration may affect Michigan.

But like other candidates, he said he’d go boldly where constituents led him “because it’s not going to be what Joe Pavlov wants.”

 “I firmly believe that in order for evil to triumph, (it) requires only good people to sit back and do nothing,” Pavlov said. “I can’t say I was doing nothing. But at the level I was, I wasn’t effective, and I want to be more effective in uniting people, bringing them together and coming up with legislation that will make our district better.”

Newcomers Geiersbach and Maxon cited life experiences as big components to their motivation to run for office for the first time.

Geiersbach, who works in construction, was driven initially by dealing with the family court system as a single father, believing courts “discriminate against fathers” — something, he said, he’s heard from other people.

Later, concerned that Michigan wasn’t among the U.S. states with a presumption of shared custody, he alleged he couldn’t get ahold of Beeler’s office on the issue in the past.

“And that’s my other big motivation for running,” Geiersbach said. “So many people I talked to feel like they don’t have a voice in politics anymore, that they’re not represented, that nothing’s going to change because the people that get in office aren’t the common man there.”

When asked, Geiersbach pointed to things like supporting constitutional carry, as well as addressing school safety concerns and what kids are learning in the classroom. Also, he said, the cost of living.

“I’ve been in my apartment for eight years simply for the fact that I can’t afford to move,” he said. “Everything cost of living-wise goes up, but none of our wages go up, and it’s getting harder and harder for the average person to even survive.”

Maxon, a local real estate agent, said he believed his educational background could prove to be an asset in office, having graduated in December from Central Michigan with a bachelor’s in political science.

He wanted to help local families and people running small businesses, particularly in the lingering wake of COVID recovery, and though still early in the campaign season, he said he’s connecting with local residents who tell him there’s too many regulations and that their taxes were too high.

Maxon admitted he was “kind of sick of the partisanship” in politics and wanted legislating to “get back to the basics of just being humans.”

“I think I am the youngest candidate so far,” he said of the GOP side. “I think helping teachers have more say in what their students learn is a big thing. I know some teachers, and they say there’s too many state regulations for them to do their job. That’s important.”

“My big thing is economic,” Maxon added. “I want economic growth. I want to help small business. I want to make it easier for people to start businesses. I think that’s huge for the area.”

Democratic candidates

Born and raised in Port Huron, Mathew Castillo said he’s never served in office but saw his experience outside that of “a career politician” as an asset.

He attended St. Clair County Community College, graduated from the University of Michigan, and moved to California but eventually returned to the area after his brother was paralyzed in a car accident.

“After doing that, I started helping out (with) Paralyzed Veterans of America, and some of the handicapped people he knew and just getting involved in the community in that aspect,” Castillo said. “And then, one thing leads to another and you start helping. I thought, well, gosh, if I can help people on a small scale, I’d love to be able to help them on a larger scale.”

A bartender and waiter at Chili’s for 17 years, Castillo said he’s also been in management, owned his own cleaning company, and grew “attuned to” how to help people over time — or at least, help them find help where he couldn’t assist himself.

Overall, he didn’t see himself as appealing only to Democrats. And like some Republican counterparts, he said some of the issues affecting the county drew some focus such as a massive solar farm proposed in the district, adding, “Everybody that I know that lives in that direction didn’t want it, and you have to listen to them.”

Castillo also pointed to better school lunch options for kids like his 14-year-old son and introducing finance classes to kids in education as other things he’d like to pursue. “A lot of kids today don’t know how to invest,” he said, “don’t know how to save.”

Anter, also a longtime Port Huron native, currently serves on the city’s planning commission and has sought a City Council appointment to fill a vacancy prior, though he hadn’t run for office prior.

“I’ve thought about it before, and then, with the open seat and the redistricting, I think it’s a lot more likely for a Democrat to be able to win that seat,” he said. “And I want to try to do my part to keep the community great.”

Now, helping the community could mean pursuing good jobs and clean water, Anter said.

“Affordable health care, what we could do to help people,” he said. “Some people are struggling with health care now, so whatever we could do to have health care affordable and good jobs in the area.”

Anter’s family has long-had small businesses in the region, and he said he understood how important that aspect was to the district’s constituents. “And the labor aspect because I’m an electrician. I’ve been out in the field working on things, buildings, the infrastructure for the last 30-plus years.”

He too hoped to gain the support of Republican friends “because they know I’m common sense and no BS, I do the right thing, and I think things out.”

Heuvelman, a local substance-use disorder program coordinator, holds an appointed seat on the St. Clair County Board of Health, the health department’s advisory board, and chairs the St. Clair County Community Services Coordinating Body’s substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery workgroup.

As he’s grown professionally, he said he’s found a voice — something he said he hoped to utilize at the state level to lend a voice to “a population that is often cast aside” and those also in long-term substance use recovery but working successfully despite being stigmatized.

“What really sparked it was there was a project I was working on for an overdose fatally review team, and I spent probably about two years in the background working to bring this to our community,” Heuvelman said. “It’s something we’re launching in June, and then, to see the St. Clair (County) representatives vote against that initiative based on party (lines) was one of those (things) that made me realize I didn’t have representation.”

Heuvelman also recalled bringing an overdose response team to the Port Huron Police Department and distributing naloxone.

He said he wanted to take that push for better substance use and mental health treatment to Lansing and close “significant gaps” for better behavioral health care and treatment access at large.

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or [email protected].