2018-11-08 / Local News

O’Malley,Vanderwall prevail here and across legislative districts

Only county candidate defeated
By Alan Campbell
of the Enterprise staff

The 101st state House seat, considered a toss-up or “leans Republican” in past elections, on Tuesday moved solidly into the Republican column.

State House Representative-elect Jack O’Malley will join Curt VanderWall, the current 101st representative who chose to run for the 35th State Senate seat, in the state Legislature.

Both won easily, with O’Malley, a radio host, capturing 57.7 percent of the vote in the 101st district that includes Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Mason counties. Perhaps surprisingly to some, O’Malley won in all four counties including Leelanau. His opponent was Kathy Wiejaczka of Empire, who was proud of running what she described as a “positive” race.

“We can hold our head high,” said Wiejaczka, a retired nurse who like her opponent had never previously run for elected office. “Our campaign was about love, hope and service. And we could not have done that without the support of and hard work from hundreds of volunteers in Leelanau County.”

She said she knocked on more than 3,500 doors along the campaign trail, building relationships that at times turned emotional.

“I can’t tell you how many people cried on my shoulders. I am sad for the many people who told me, ‘You have to win this’ ... that’s why I’m sad. That’s the nurse in me,” Wiejaczka said.

Public service, she said, will remain a part of her life.

“We’ll see what doors open up. I love people and I love helping people, and this was a natural segue for a nurse,” she said.

The election outcome, she continued, resulted from negative campaigning.

“The media just lays hate and fear-mongering. That’s the fake news. I don’t watch TV and I’ll never watch it again. We pulled the plug six months ago. The truth is we are a kind, loving people, and it doesn’t matter what letter is behind their name,” Wiejaczka said.

O’Malley said he was also the butt of accusatory accusations in campaign ads, especially in the last week. His win, though, resulted from staying positive, working hard on the campaign trail and a commitment to listening to opinions from Democrats as well as Republicans, he said.

“Considering it was a massive turnout statewide, there were a lot of folks across the aisle who voted for me. I’m honored by that. Even though I have my political beliefs, I’m a thoughtful guy and I listen to people,” he said.

That desire to hear many voices may play well with his new role as a state legislator who will be working with Democrat Gretchen Wilmer, who was elected governor, he added.

O’Malley, like Wiejaczka, thanked supporters from Leelanau County. “There were a ton of them. The ag community was there, the Leelanau County GOP stood behind me. And just the people, because when I knocked on doors people said they were going to vote for me,” he said.

O’Malley tallied 7,248 votes in the county — nearly 52 percent — compared to 6,800 for Wiejaczka. He solidified the win in his home county of Benzie, winning 5,596-4,081.

The gamble taken by State Rep. Curt VanderWall earlier this year to switch legislative chambers started to pay off when he defeated two former state House representatives in the Republican Primary. He captured nearly 63 percent of the votes cast in the General Election for the 35th State Senate district, which includes 12 rural counties all located south and east of Leelanau.

The official count was 72,730 votes for VanderWall compared to 39,989 for his Democratic opponent, Mike Talliard from Benzie County. VanderWall won in Leelanau by a slimmer margin, 7,257-6,379. Libertarian candidate Tomothy Coon collected 261 votes in Leelanau and 3,305 throughout the expansive district.

“We couldn’t have done it without folks like those in Leelanau County who were out there helping me. The folks who knocked on doors, put up signs and said a good word about me. I’m honored and humbled at the same time,” VanderWall said.

He’s off to Lansing tomorrow to meet fellow new state Senate members, after which he expects a push to approve auto insurance reform in the lame duck session.

“We can’t keep pushing families into a bigger debt load on top of their already expensive cost of living,” VanderWall said.

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