Bezotte vs. Reckling in the 47th: Breaking down Michigan’s most compelling State House primary

The 47th State House district – which covers the Fowlerville, Howell and Hartland areas – has given us plenty of political drama since the seat was created nearly two decades ago.

All of the drama has come in the Republican primary, since the Republican has always won this verrrrrry Republican district.

In 2002, in Livingston County’s closest election ever, Joe Hune won the seat after a recount, beating Dave Domas by two votes and me by 150 votes, and three other guys by a whole lot more votes.

In 2014, Hank Vaupel won a very spirited primary over former Howell school board member Wendy Day and two others.

Which brings us to 2020. This year’s 47th State House Republican primary might be the most compelling one yet, which is really saying something. There are four candidates in the GOP race, but in my humble opinion, two of them – Yvonne Black and Zachary Dyba – have no chance of winning. Common wisdom says that this is a race between two very different, very viable candidates:

Bob Bezotte of Marion Township is a former Livingston County sheriff, current Livingston County commissioner and Vietnam vet.

Meghan Reckling of Handy Township is a small-business owner, chair of the Livingston County Republican Party and a former legislative staffer for State Sen. Lana Theis and former State Rep. Bill Rogers.

Bezotte is 69 and has been around seemingly forever. Reckling is 35 and is making her first run at elective office. You’ve got one candidate who’s almost twice as old as the other one, so the old-vs.-new storyline is hard to ignore here.

Will the voters go with tried-and-true Bob Bezotte, or will they opt for a new generation of Livingston leadership in Meghan Reckling?

I have absolutely no idea. I usually have a pretty good sense of which way a local election might go, but in this case, I have no idea who’s going to win this one.

Meghan Reckling

That’s why this race is so fascinating. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

A few weeks ago, the people at MIRS (a Lansing political news outlet) did a webinar in which they gave their insights and opinions on all the hot races across the state. One of the guys said that the 47th State House primary is “the most compelling primary in Michigan this year.”

Wow. We’ve got “the most compelling primary in Michigan” right in our own backyard.

As for WHY it’s so compelling, let me count the ways:

They each have huge pockets of political support. Bezotte is endorsed by the last two people to hold the 47th seat: Cindy Denby and Hank Vaupel. He’s also endorsed by Sheriff Mike Murphy (although if you listen to his endorsement ad on WHMI, it’s the most tepid endorsement I’ve ever heard) and some township-level elected officials.

Reckling, meanwhile, has nabbed some huge endorsements, including Sen. Lana Theis, former House Speaker Tom Leonard, former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, U.S. Senate candidate John James and Sheriff Murphy’s wife, Penny.

It’s also fascinating to look at who the other County Commissioners are backing (Bezotte’s current colleagues).

Reckling is endorsed by Kate Lawrence and Wes Nakagiri. Bezotte is endorsed by Doug Helzerman, William Green and Jerome Gross.

Among county officials, Reckling is endorsed by Drain Commissioner Brian Jonckheere, Treasurer Jennifer Nash and Clerk Elizabeth Hundley (her mom). Bezotte is endorsed by Sheriff Murphy and Register of Deeds Brandon Denby.

Incredibly impressive lists on both sides.

Bob Bezotte

They barely acknowledge each other. In stark contrast to the nasty prosecutor’s race between Bill Vailliencourt and Dave Reader – which has become a contest to see which guy can say the most bad things about the other guy – Reckling and Bezotte barely mention each other.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. Reckling never mentions Bezotte, but Bezotte has been talking about Reckling a bit more lately. It’s all related to a debate, and I’ll get to that in just a minute.

But I will say that both of them have been running highly positive campaigns, and that’s great to see. They both bash Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a lot, but they don’t bash each other (much). So good on them.

Bezotte’s bizarre debate behavior. This one baffles me, and to be honest, I think it’s a really, really bad look for Bob Bezotte.

A couple weeks ago, the Livingston County Republican Party sponsored a Zoom debate, and Bezotte refused to take part. Why? Because he was afraid that Reckling – as party chair – would have the questions stacked in her favor. So he refused to participate.

Well, when you hear how the debate actually went down, it looks even worse for Bezotte.

Indeed, a committee of local GOP party members, some of whom endorse Reckling, came up with a bunch of questions for the candidates. They then gave all those questions to the moderator, and let him pick the ones he’d ask.

And who was the moderator?

Sheriff Mike Murphy, who is endorsing Bezotte.

That’s right – a guy who is endorsing Bob Bezotte was picking the questions to ask Bob Bezotte and Bob Bezotte still refused to participate.

I don’t get it. What was he afraid of? He’s the former sheriff, for Pete’s sake. He’s a veteran. He arrested bad guys and put them in jail and he’s afraid of some debate questions? What gives?

Bezotte’s debate decision has become a big talking point in this race, and I’m guessing a lot of his supporters probably wish he had just taken part. This is a distraction his campaign didn’t need.

A marked difference in legislative priorities. On most of the major issues, Bezotte and Reckling are both rock-solid conservatives – pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, anti-Gretchen Whitmer. But when you ask them what their priorities will be once they get to Lansing, you hear some differences. And they both have some great ideas.

Bezotte says he’ll be an advocate for veterans, specifically mentioning helping to curb veteran suicides. Reckling, meanwhile, says that criminal justice reform will be a main focus (she’s married to a cop).

Their positions on the issues are thoughtful and well-reasoned, and I also give both of them high marks for the compassion they’re showing in their priorities. Bezotte’s focus on veteran suicide is extremely laudable. Reckling says on her website that we need fewer people in prison, not more: “We need to reform the criminal justice system to better help those who are struggling with addiction by reforming the system to include better treatment, therapies and in-patient rehabilitation programs instead of prison/jail for selected offenders.”

And so, with the absentee ballots already flowing in and the in-person voting just a couple weeks away, that’s where we stand with Michigan’s Most Compelling Primary.

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