Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, a Democrat, said this morning that he is shunning his party’s candidate to replace ousted county clerk Karen Spranger and instead is backing the Republican running for the seat.

At a forum held at Macomb Community College’s center campus in Clinton Township, Hackel railed against Democratic nominee Fred Miller several times. When an audience member asked who she should vote for in the clerk’s race, he urged her to vote for Republican Lisa Sinclair and added that he will do the same.

Hackel mocked Miller, claiming that in his campaign ads the candidate presents himself as “the most ethical guy in the world.” The county executive went further, suggesting that Miller as clerk would use voter information in nefarious ways for political gain.

“To have all those records and information, oh, that’s a powerful thing,” he said. “That opens the door to data mining. That … is like the fox in charge of the chicken coop.”

Miller says: ‘outrageous statement’

Reached for comment, Miller said Hackel’s predictions about future misuse of voting records was an “outrageous statement” and the idea of a county clerk engaging in such activities is “unthinkable.”

At the same time, Miller seemed eager to avoid a feud with the county executive as Election Day is just two weeks away. The Democratic candidate called Hackel “a great ambassador for Macomb County” and added this: “I am working hard toward the Nov. 6 election and, if I have the good fortune to get elected as clerk, I look forward to working with anyone to put the needs of the people first.”

Sinclair and Miller

Hackel has butted heads with Miller, a former state representative and county commissioner, for many years. They each represent opposing factions within the Macomb County Democratic Party.

Still, as the former county sheriff with nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience, Hackel is taking a bold approach by backing a candidate with a record of troubles with the law.

Sinclair was arrested in 2003 for drunken driving when she crashed her vehicle into a car stopped at a red light. In 2011, she was arrested in Marysville after a drunken, profanity-laced tirade aimed at police while at a gas station. Eight lesser traffic-related incidents, including driving with expired plates and illegally parking in a handicapped space, were cited from 1999-2017.

Sinclair, of Harrison Township, a registered nurse and a campaign novice, has said that she has mended her ways and is seeking a fresh start.

Hackel acknowledged Sinclair’s lack of experience in county government but he said a seasoned, (mostly-female) clerk’s office staff will guide her in learning the ropes, if she is elected.

Hackel history of shunning the party line

The county executive has a history of shunning certain Democrats and embracing some Republicans, including Gov. Rick Snyder, which has sparked criticism within his party at the state and local level. But, as the Macomb Township Democrat said repeatedly during the MCC gathering, he is not interested in placing a priority on party loyalty.

The upcoming November vote for clerk is a special election to fill the seat for the next two years. Spranger, an eccentric, controversial figure during her 15-month reign was removed from office by a court order that concluded Spranger was not a legal resident of the county, after she claimed to live in a debris-filled, ramshackle house in Warren.

As for Miller, the Mount Clemens Democrat is attempting a political comeback after his embarrassing loss in 2016 to Spranger, the Republican nominee who was a political gadfly with no government experience, no job and no home.

(One interesting sidelight: Hackel faces re-election next month in a standoff with Spranger’s 2016 campaign manager, the GOP nominee for executive, Joe Hunt.)

In August, Miller won a bruising Democratic primary against Hackel’s endorsed candidate, state Sen. Steve Bieda of Warren. That race further opened up a divide among Macomb Dems.

Hackel’s remarks today came during an MCC class for seniors on current politics, part of the college’s Society of Active Retirees (SOAR) program. But his vitriol for Miller had already reached a boiling point two years ago when Miller overreached in the 2016 race, devising a scheme intended to make him the only Democrat on the ballot for the clerk’s office. The executive called it an attempt to “rig” the election.

Last May, during a similar SOAR class at MCC, Hackel said: “There is one name on (the primary election) ballot you shouldn’t vote for, and that’s the guy (Miller) who set us up for 15 months of pain and agony under Karen Spranger.”

With a primary election for clerk that shaped up as 11 Republicans and six Democrats, Hackel soon followed up with an anybody-but-Miller message sent to his supporters in June.

Today, he made it abundantly clear that that message still stands.