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Curtis Hertel Jr. places public service over politics in Michigan congressional run

‘To me, this country is craving people that are problem solvers who will work and put the partisan politics aside,’ Hertel said.

By Alyssa Burr - October 20, 2023
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Former Democratic state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. is shown in Delta Township, Mich., Sept. 29, 2023. Hertel Jr., is running for Michigan's 7th Congressional District.
Former Democratic state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. is shown in Delta Township, Mich., Sept. 29, 2023. Hertel Jr., is running for Michigan's 7th Congressional District. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

At a time when Americans’ trust in the government is at an all-time low and the U.S. House of Representatives remains in limbo, Michigan congressional candidate Curtis Hertel Jr. wants to be a voice in Washington, D.C., that can move past partisan politics to get things done for the state and the country.

Hertel, a Democrat, said in a sit-down interview with the American Independent Foundation that there were times as a state senator, and most recently as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s director of legislative affairs, when he was called on by colleagues from both parties to find a path forward on some of the most divisive issues they were facing.

“To me, this country is craving people that are problem solvers who will work and put the partisan politics aside. They’re tired of the chaos,” Hertel said. “We’re going to continue to be a part of team normal and keep working to actually get things done, and I think that will speak to a lot of people in the district as well.”

Hertel, 45, announced his bid for the open seat in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District in July. Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep Elissa Slotkin is not seeking reelection and is instead running for retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s seat. The district consists of areas in mid-Michigan covering Ingham, Livingston, Clinton, Eaton, and Shiawassee counties, the state capital of Lansing, and portions of Genesee and Oakland counties.

Hertel has built his congressional campaign around the idea that he is willing to compromise — but there are certain issues he’s not willing to budge on. This includes providing people with access to good-paying jobs and what he simply puts as “freedom,” a word he uses to sum up Democratic ideals such as marriage equality and women’s rights.

This is a stark contrast to his former colleague and Republican opponent in the race, former state Sen. Tom Barrett, who has previously expressed his support for banning abortions with no exceptions.

Barrett unsuccessfully ran against Slotkin for the congressional seat in last year’s election, with Slotkin garnering 51.7% of the vote. The Slotkin-Barrett matchup was one of the most expensive U.S. House races of the 2022 midterms. 

Slotkin was quick to back Hertel following his candidacy announcement. In a post to X, formerly Twitter, she promoted Hertel as “a dedicated public servant, and the strong fighter we need to defend this seat.”

With Slotkin running for Stabenow’s seat, a victory for Hertel in 2024 would be significant if Democrats want to keep Republicans from expanding their narrow majority in the House. Slotkin first flipped what was traditionally a Republican-leaning district in 2018 and successfully defended her seat even after redistricting in 2021.

If campaign finance records are any indication of Hertel’s place in the race so far, he’s in good standing. Hertel has raised almost $750,000 for his campaign as of Sept. 30. Barrett, on the other hand, has raised about $485,000 as of Sept. 30.

It comes as no surprise that fellow Democrats, including immediate past Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, would help back Hertel’s fundraising efforts. 

But campaign finance records also reveal some GOP donors — such as Doug Roberts, who was state treasurer in Gov. John Engler’s administration, and Joe Schwarz, the U.S. representative for the 7th Congressional District from 2005-2007 — who are willing to reach across the aisle to support a Democrat.

“I think there are Republicans that are frustrated with the current state of the Republican Party as well and are tired of the chaos as well,” Hertel said. “They just want people that are good people, that will work across the aisle to get things done.”

Hertel considers himself to be a “workhorse.” He has been busy making his way through the district over the past few months, speaking with constituents and going to events. He’s been to farmers markets and fairs, walked in the Michigan State University homecoming parade, and joined a picket line with members of the United Auto Workers as they continue to strike against Detroit automakers.

Hertel comes from a family that has a history of public service in Michigan: His father, uncle and brother have served in the state Legislature, and another uncle served in the Michigan House and the U.S. House of Representatives. His father instilled within him a deep respect for public service, but Hertel said he intentionally moved from where his dad served in Wayne County because he didn’t want people to support him only because they recognized his last name.

Decades later, the 7th Congressional District and its residents are not foreign to Hertel. 

His career began in 2001 as a commissioner for Ingham County, where he worked to expand affordable health care and create a living wage ordinance. In 2008, he became Ingham County register of deeds in the midst of the nation’s foreclosure crisis, a role in which he would eventually turn over documents to the Michigan Department of Attorney General that led to the discovery of a massive case of foreclosure fraud. 

He was elected to represent the Greater Lansing area in 2015 as a state senator and served as minority vice chair of the upper chamber’s Appropriations Committee.

He joined Whitmer’s administration in 2022, where, with Democratic control of the Legislature for the first time in 40 years, he helped secure some of the Democrats’ long-sought goals.

He helped to negotiate the state’s historic $82 billion 2024 fiscal year budget, repeal pension income taxes, and expand Michigan’s version of the federal earned income tax credit. He also played a role in repealing the state’s 1931 abortion ban and adding protections for the LGBTQ+ community to the state’s civil rights law.

When he resigned as Whitmer’s legislative director right before announcing his congressional candidacy, the governor praised his work.

“I am so grateful to my friend Curtis Hertel, Jr. for his service to the State of Michigan and for everything he has done bringing Republicans and Democrats together to make a real difference in people’s lives,” Whitmer said in a statement.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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