Aug. 2 Michigan Primary Could Put Three Additional Out Gay Candidates On Nov. 8 Ballot

Tim Sneller

Tim Sneller has a gravelly voice and a thick black moustache. He's also got 31 years of legislative staffer experience in the Michigan legislature. Never, however, did he imagine seeing two openly gay men take their places on the floor of the Michigan House in his lifetime.
"I've been here since 1983, when Jon Hoadley and Jeremy Moss came in," he pauses. "I thought I would never see that. It was a breath of fresh air."
The 60-year-old has been an out gay man for "as long as I have been out," and is seeking a win in the Democratic primary on Aug. 2. Voters will decide between Sneller and another Democrat.
That primary could result in pushing the Michigan House of Representatives contingent of openly gay men serving as elected officials from two to five.

Brian Stone

Sneller, along with political newcomer Brian Stone, 29, and political operative Jeff Chicoine, 31, are all vying for the Democratic nominations in their districts.

Jeff Chicoine

Stone is running to represent the city of Dearborn in the 15th District. Chicoine wants to represent the people of the House 14th District which includes Wynadotte, Riverview, Melvindale and Lincoln Park. Sneller is running to represent the cities of Burton and Grand Blanc, as well as two neighboring townships. Sneller's district is the 50th.
Openly gay state Reps. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) are expected to handily win re-election to the state house. After being elected, the two men started the Equality Caucus and they are eager to welcome more out LGBT lawmakers to the fold.
Stone, a Navy veteran, is facing a six-way primary. The Aug. 2 winner is widely expected to win election in November in the heavily Democratic seat.
Chicoine is in a four-way primary and if he wins, it is widely expected he will go on to win the November ballot as well.
Chicoine worked for former Congressman John Dingell as well as his wife and current Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. He has an undergraduate degree in international relations from Eastern Michigan University and a Master's Degree from the University of Sydney Australia in Asian Studies. He said he deliberately walked into the race after trying to determine if any other viable candidates existed.
"I think lots of good things are happening in Downriver," he said. "But that is not necessarily being told in Lansing. I want to tell that story."
He called his journey a "hometown story."
And despite a perception that the Downriver voters are "conservative on social issues," he said he has not seen that.
"I have never run across anyone who said they would not vote for me because of (being gay)," he said. And those that did disagree, he said they were "helpful and thoughtful."
"You learn a lot from them, if you listen," he said.
The perception of the district versus the reality is one he hopes to take to Lansing, noting that demographics in the area have shifted.

Dems Focused on Taking Back State House

Democrats are also focusing the races for Chicoine, Stone and Sneller as part of their plan to take back control of the State House. There are 110 seats in the House, and currently Democrats control 44 of those seats to the GOP's 63. Two of the seats in the legislature are currently unoccupied. A Democraticly run House could run interference with a GOP dominated Senate (which currently has a two-thirds majority controlling that body), delaying or stopping legislative initiatives that undercut progressive ideas and policy positions.
Sneller said he has witnessed the degradation of the legislature as a result of the term limits amendment adopted by voters in the 90s.
"You watch these legislators come in and they have no clue," he said. "They have their own agendas… I will be ready to hit the ground running."
He said term limits have forced him to "train" lawmakers when they arrive in Lansing, and "fold 'em up" when their terms expire.
"That's part of the reason the legislature is not very effective in my opinion," he said.
For his part, Stone rose to prominence when he led a charge to address unfair tuition policies at state universities. He had come back from his service in the Navy and the University of Dearborn charged him out-of-state tuition rates. He fought back and won what he calls "veteran's equality."
That experience introduced him to political leaders and he said he thought he could make a difference as a lawmaker.
And being out was a key part of that decision.
"Part of that is my own experience growing up in high school and facing a lot of challenges, and not seeing any public officials out there speaking positively about people like me," he said.
All three men, plus Hoadley and Moss the incumbent out lawmakers, are white and cisgender male identified. That is a concern raised during a fundraiser for Hoadley's political leadership PAC – AZO PAC – two weeks ago in downtown Plymouth.
That PAC expects to raise about $50,000 before the August primary ballot and wants to use it to support progressive candidates across the state.
Sneller said he supports those efforts.
"I think it's time we broaden the umbrella for everyone," he said.
And that broaden should include mentoring, said Chicoine.
"We don't do a very good job of identifying the strengths of young people and offer them the experience and the support they need to grow," he said. "We need to do that."

Online Resources

In 2016, we have five LGBT Michiganders running in house districts across our state. They are:

State Rep. Jeremy Moss (35th – City of Southfield, Southfield Township and City of Lathrup Village)

State Rep. Jon Hoadley (60th – Kalamazoo, parts of Kalamazoo Township and City of Portage)

Jeff Chicoine (14th – Cities of Lincoln Park, Melvindale, Riverview and Wyandotte)

Brian Stone (15th – City of Dearborn)

Tim Sneller (50th – Cities of Burton and Grand Blanc; Townships of Grand Blanc and Mundy)


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