Saginaw County judge candidates betting big on expensive campaigns

SAGINAW, MI — Depleted candidate bank accounts, courthouse co-worker contributions and even candy bar sales define a competitive and expensive 10th Circuit Court judges race in Saginaw County, officials have revealed. State campaign finance documents.

In the August primary elections, Megan Cottington Heath and Brittany Dicken emerged as the top two vote recipients from a field of five candidates. Only two other ballots in the county received more voter turnout than their race. Now the pair will face off 1-on-1 in the general election on Tuesday, November 8the winner to replace outgoing judge James T. Borchard, who handles family law cases.

For voters in Saginaw County, Cottington-Heath vs. Dicken remains one of the most visible election matchups featuring local candidates. Campaign advertising for the nonpartisan contest appeared on cable television, billboards, online marketing, and direct mail.

State campaign finance documents filed by the candidates on Friday, Oct. 28 showed the race’s expenses totaled nearly $180,000.

Of the two candidates, the Cottington-Heath campaign was the more expensive last week, at $125,125.72, the documents show. Dicken’s campaign spent $54,700.56 during the same period.

Both dollar figures were relatively expensive compared to other local candidates. In contrast, State House Rep. Amos O’Neal’s campaign spent $37,516.74 on his contested election to the 94th State House District seat representing Saginaw and Saginaw Township.

“All We Have”

Cottington-Heath and Dicken put a lot of their skin into the game.

Cottington-Heath contributed $103,452 of his own money, or 76.6% of the $134,962 his campaign raised in total, according to state records. Dicken contributed $21,678.76 from his own finances, or 30.4% of the total $71,175 raised for his campaign.

The winner will earn a circuit court seat that will earn the freshman judge an annual salary of $148,469 beginning in 2023, according to Saginaw County records.

Both candidates said their offer for the bench was roughly higher than the potential salary.

Dicken said she “built my whole career to run for the job one day.” The 35-year-old licensed attorney has previously interned for Borchard and served as a paralegal for him. Dicken then joined the Friend of the Court, serving as staff attorney, Circuit Court adjudicator and agency manager until her departure in November 2021.

“It’s something my husband prepared for,” Dicken said of the $21,678.76 contribution to his own campaign. “I see it as an investment in the community. I really want to help people in this community.

In state campaign documents, Cottington-Heath’s financial contributions are listed under his wife’s name. The $102,951 investment was a family commitment, said the 38-year-old family law attorney who continued to practice through the election cycle.

“We put everything we have into the campaign,” Cottington-Heath said. “I just felt like this race was so important for so many reasons. I always wanted to be a family law judge – because of my parents’ bad divorce – and I really think the community needs new faces on the fourth floor (of the Saginaw County Courthouse).

When she and Dicken faced each other and three other candidates in the August primary, Dicken received 9,950 votes while Cottington-Heath received 7,505 votes. Overcoming that gap of nearly 2,500 votes played a part in Cottington-Heath’s decision to invest six figures in its own campaign coffers, she said.

“It’s expensive to run a campaign where you have to send more mail or you have to knock (on more doors),” she said.

Another reason for the big investment: She said she fought “optics” that favored her opponent, including judges endorsing Dicken and their prominence in campaign ads.

Court support

In mailings and television ads, Dicken’s campaign featured an image of the candidate standing next to a group of her courthouse endorsers. The photo features Patrick McGraw, Chief Judge of the County Probate Court; retired judge Fred Borchard; and 10th Circuit Court judges Janet Boes and Andre Borrello, who also recorded a video endorsing Dicken.

Brittany Dicken (center) stands with Saginaw County Judges (left to right) Patrick McGraw, Janet Boes, Andre Borrello and Fred Borchard. Dicken is a candidate for the Borchard Circuit Court seat and was endorsed by the judges featured here.

Devil campaign website listed 14 current or former Saginaw County judges who endorsed it. The lineup includes the man she hopes to replace, James Borchard, whose statements of state support showed extended to the $1,000 he donated to her campaign.

“Every circuit and probate court judge is urging you to vote Brittany Dicken,” said a voiceover in a 30-second ad that aired on prime-time cable TV shows in the area. “She is the only candidate for circuit judge with the support of law enforcement.”

While several judges also endorsed Cottington-Heath – and contributed money to her campaign – she criticized the level of visibility of the judges publicly supporting her opponent. Cottington-Heath said their prominence in Dicken’s campaign was “bordering on ethical” and could have cost Cottington-Heath the endorsements of members of the legal community unwilling to provide political checks and balances on the judges’ efforts. that they might one day engage in court cases.

“It’s frustrating because they feel like they’re putting their thumbs up on the scale to get a candidate they want,” Cottington-Heath said. “I represent someone who is going to be in there – and I expect to be there – Monday through Friday, 8 (am) to 5 (pm), and doing things very differently than they do. now.”

Dicken said his work performance over the years earned him those accolades.

“I’m so grateful for the support I have in the community and from the bench here in Saginaw, and that’s the support I’ve earned over a 9-year career on the courts,” said she declared. “I worked every day with these people in court. I have built a relationship with them, and their decision to support me in this campaign is not easy. It’s because I’ve proven myself.

Dicken said she worked hard coordinating her campaign and knocking on doors, morning to night, while raising a now 6-month-old daughter who was born weeks after she announced her candidacy.

“Someone asked me the other day, ‘How do you decide which days are campaign days and which are days off,'” Dicken said. “And I said, ‘Are there days off?’ I have so much respect for anyone who puts their name on a ballot, especially now, after personally going through the electoral process.You don’t want to leave anything on the table.

Political currency

Cottington-Heath said she didn’t want to leave anything on the table when reporting her campaign expenses.

State records showed she even recorded the amount of money – $1,656.39 – spent on 18 wholesale purchases of Heath bars. Cottington-Heath is handing out the handy-named candy to potential voters to build awareness of her name.

The most expensive item in Cottington-Heath’s campaign spending record was $16,050 spent on mailing materials. There were other purchases related to direct mail as well as expenses for video productions, media advertising, consultant fees, robocalls, signage and campaign supplies.

State documents showed current or former Saginaw County court judges who had contributed financially to the Cottington-Heath campaign included District Judge AT Frank (who provided $200) and Kyle Higgs-Tarrant ( $500), a former district judge.

Among the local public figures who offered financial support to Cottington-Heath were Saginaw County Clerk Vanessa Guerra ($90); Saginaw Councilman Bill Ostash ($25); Bridgeport Township Administrator Brandell Adams ($50); former Saginaw County Commissioner Cheryl Hadsall ($100); and Judith Lincoln ($150), a former member of the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners and Saginaw Township Community Schools Board.

State records showed Dicken’s financial contributors included the four judges featured on his campaign materials as well as Saginaw County Probate Judge Barbara Meter ($145) and Saginaw County District Judge Mr. Randall Jurrens ($100).

Other public figures who financially supported Dicken’s campaign were Michael Zehnder ($2,100), general manager of the Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth; Dr. Samuel J. Shaheen ($500); Herb Spence III ($250), general manager of Spence Brothers Construction; JoAnn Crary, president of Saginaw Future Inc. ($100); Saginaw County Commissioner Jack Tany ($100); and Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel ($50).

The most expensive item in Dicken’s campaign expense record was $16,875.11 for mailings to Winning Strategies, a political consulting firm used by the candidate on multiple occasions. Other purchases included digital advertisements, signage, mailings, fundraisers and sponsorship fees. Dicken also listed candy purchased for the parades, totaling $276.58.

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