2016-11-10 / Front Page

GOP county strength grows

Will hold 5-2 majority
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


BOTH WINNERS, Leelanau County Commissioner Melinda Lautner of District No. 7 and her husband, Jim Lautner, Solon Township Supervisor, were reelected to their posts Tuesday. BOTH WINNERS, Leelanau County Commissioner Melinda Lautner of District No. 7 and her husband, Jim Lautner, Solon Township Supervisor, were reelected to their posts Tuesday. Does whoever serves as the chairman of the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners have a target on his or her back?

That theory was posited Wednesday morning by former County Board Chairman Tom Van Pelt, a Northport Republican who lost his seat as the District No. 4 commissioner to Democrat Ty Wessell two years ago and failed to win it back this week.

Six years earlier, Van Pelt unseated fellow Republican and County Board Chairman Mary Tonneberger before being elected by fellow commissioners to serve as their chairman in 2010.

Current board chairman and District No. 6 Commissioner Carolyn “Peachy” Rentenbach said Wednesday morning that Van Pelt’s theory may have some merit. A two-term Democrat, Rentenbach lost her seat on the board in this week’s election to political newcomer Casey Noonan, a Republican.

Noonan won by just two percentage points in a 1,165 to 1,119 race to represent Empire, Glen Arbor and Cleveland townships on the county board.

“I’m not coming at this with any particular agenda,” Noonan said Wednesday morning as he was on his way to drop his child off at his grandmother’s house before returning to his cattle farm to begin a hard day’s work.

“I’m just hoping to contribute to making the future brighter for Leelanau County,” Noonan said.

“That’s all I wanted, too,” said Rentenbach. “I was also a political newcomer when I got elected, and it’s been a wonderful ride,” she said.

Rentenbach’s loss will further strengthen the Republican majority on the seven-member County Board from four to five.

Political insiders are speculating that when the new County Board is seated after Jan. 1, 2017, Wessell may be considered as a candidate for chairman, but that the current vice chairman, District No. 3 Commissioner Will Bunek, will more likely get the nod from fellow Republicans.

Bunek won his re-election bid by nearly eight percentage points against challenger Dean Robb this week. He called Robb a “worthy opponent.”

Robb, a Democrat, could not be reached for comment.

Besides Wessell, the only other Democrat to hang onto a seat on the County Board was District No.5 Commissioner Patricia Soutas-Little — by just a little over one percentage point.

In fact, Dale Schaub beat Soutas- Little by eight votes in Centerville Township, but lost to her in Leland Township by just 24 votes. The combined total was 1,083 to 1,067 in favor of Soutas-Little.

“I’d like to congratulate Mrs. Soutas- Little,” Schaub said Wednesday morning after he was done retrieving all his campaign signs.

“You will still see me coming to County Board meetings and offering public comment occasionally,” he added.

Leelanau County’s longest-serving commissioner, Melinda Lautner, handily won her re-election bid against John O’Neill who previously challenged her for the District No. 7 seat representing Solon and Kasson townships.

O’Neill conceded defeat Tuesday evening and said he was satisfied that he had at least influenced Lautner through his campaign to change her stance on making “2-percent” tribal casino revenue sharing funds available for the Leelanau Christian Neighbors charity, and providing more support for the county’s affordable housing programs.

“Uh, John O’Neill has never influenced me on anything,” Lautner said. “It was Judge Nelson who convinced me the court would administer the 2-percent funds the way we wanted it to be done; and I’ve always been an advocate for township zoning that will make it easier to build starter homes and other more affordable housing.”

Long considered the board’s most conservative Republican, Lautner has won re-election to her post every two years since 1996.

District No. 2 Commissioner Debra Rushton has also gained a reputation as a staunch conservative since being elected four years ago. She handily won her re-election bid this week against Democrat Dana Getsinger by more than 19 percentage points.

Getsinger said Tuesday evening that she appreciated the opportunity and the experience of running for office, but never expected to win, given the overwhelming Republican majority in northern Elmwood and southern Bingham townships.

The only County Board seat that went unchallenged this year was the District No. 1 seat representing southern Elmwood Township held by Tony Ansorge, a Republican with a reputation as a “moderate.” He was appointed to the position earlier this year following the resignation of Jean Watkoski who stepped down on Dec. 31, 2015. Watkoski said she had become tired of the growing partisan bickering in county politics.

On Election Night, more than 100 Leelanau Democrats gathered at the Village Inn in Suttons Bay to socialize, monitor election results online and watch TV coverage on MSNBC. Representatives of two TV local stations and one newspaper also appeared to cover the gathering.

Meanwhile, about 20 Leelanau Republicans gathered at the Leland Lodge on Tuesday night to socialize as election results came in online, and on the Fox News channel. Management of the Leland Lodge broke up the gathering around 10 p.m., saying that lodge guests on the second floor directly above were complaining of noise, according to a party official.

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