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MI primary races, votes to watch in Berrien and Cass counties

It’s primary day in Michigan – we’re following four significant races and votes in Berrien and Cass counties.

In the city of Niles, a heated race for mayor is underway as three candidates look to take over for Mayor Mike McCauslin, who has held the title since 1999 but has decided not to run for reelection.

Robert Durm is what you may call the establishment candidate. He’s spent the last 21 years on the Niles City Council and has been mayor pro-tem – essentially the mayor’s understudy – for the last eight years.

“I think what separates me most from the other candidates is my experience, by far,” Durm said. “I think understanding the role of the mayor and the city of Niles and understanding the role of the city in general, working with the city council members; I’ve got 21 years’ experience and neither one of my other candidates have any experience.”

He added, “Experience is, you know, it’s the difference maker, I think. There’s no substitute for experience.”

Nick Shelton, 30, is the youngest in the trio.

He works for his family's business, Shelton’s Farm Market in Niles, and is hoping his business experience and lack of political experience will bring a fresh perspective to the city’s government.

“I think the mayor needs to be a salesman for our city,” Shelton said. “He needs to be the one who pitches Niles to people who are looking for a new place to live or people who are looking to start a business.”

Shelton added, “He needs to be the face and somebody who can sell that and, as a local business man, somebody who lives and works in Niles, I think I’m one of the only candidates who can actually do that.”

Rex Carpenter is another political newbie who touts his experience of running the Wednesday night car show in downtown Niles as his advantage.

He wants to “trim some of the fat” in the city government and thinks voters will find him relatable.

“I’m not a political person,” Carpenter said. “I don’t have any background in this and, yes, it’s gonna take a long time for me to learn and understand all the little finite rules and everything, but, because I didn’t grow up as a politician, I don’t have to behold to anyone.”

He added, “I think with me being the everyday man, I can do a lot for the city.”

In Buchanan and Niles Township, two important millage renewal votes were scheduled for Tuesday.

The Buchanan millage renewal helps fund the Buchanan school system, while the Niles Township vote will determine whether or not residents want to continue paying for the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department to patrol their community.

And then in Cass County, the election in the spotlight is for Cass County sheriff.

Current sheriff, Joseph Underwood, will retire in December after serving as chief since 1993.

Three Republicans are vying for his spot – Cass County Undersheriff Richard Behnke, Cass County Deputy Sheriff Tim Cochran and Berrien County Deputy Sheriff James Terry Ellis.

Combined, the three men have more than 90 years of law enforcement experience under their belts.

In phone interviews, Behnke and Ellis explained why voters should choose them. Cochran did not return requests for an interview.

“I want to be in a leadership position that I can actually make a difference somewhere,” Ellis said. “And I live in Cass County, so logically, I’m about Cass County and I want to make a difference in Cass County; make it a safer place to live.”

He added, “If you like the way things are going right now, vote for one of the other guys. If you want to see some change, vote for me.”

Behnke said the following: “The Cass County Sheriff’s Office has a great reputation. I’ve been part of the administrative structure for that administration for 25 years, as far as being a sergeant, a 911 director and undersheriff. We are respected throughout not only the law enforcement community but our home community as well, and I can continue on that path of greatness.”

The winner of the primary race for sheriff will become the GOP nominee for sheriff in the general election. Because no Democrats or third party candidates are running for sheriff, the primary winner will run unopposed. 

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