Political newcomer Howell challenges incumbent Hall in race for the 63rd House District

From The Battle Creek Enquirer 

By: Elena Durnbaugh

Democrat and political newcomer Luke Howell knows he’s fighting an uphill battle.

He’s running against Republican incumbent Matt Hall for the 63rd District House seat.

Hall, who was elected to the position in 2018, is an attorney with a background serving as the western Michigan liaison for the Office of the Attorney General of Michigan. He’s been involved in the political world for the last decade.

In the legislature, he’s found his niche as a Republican watchdog chairing the House Oversight Committee, created earlier this year to review the governor’s handling of COVID-19.

“If no one is holding them accountable, then what would be there to drive change and to improve?” he said.

Howell works as an HVAC technician and a plumber and, although he has always been engaged in politics, has no significant political experience of his own.

“I’m trying to fight a better fight to open up access and to make it easier for people like me to run,” Howell said. “Some people may understand it and some people may not, but I believe that we need to open up our democracy to more people.”

Accountability and transparency

Hall sees confronting the administration to hold it accountable on behalf of people in the 63rd District as an essential part of his role as a state representative.

“What I’ve tried to do is I’ve tried to take those things that I’m hearing from people across our communities, take those things to Lansing, and confront the people in the Whitmer administration who are making those decisions,” he said. “What I’ve learned, sometimes what they think is going on, is not what’s really going on.”

For Hall, pushing for more accountability and transparency from Michigan’s executive offices is essential, especially because of the uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

“What you’re facing right now is an unprecedented situation where a governor has taken control of state government and is basically unilaterally governing,” he said. “I guess I would say that the normal legislative process exists because… the more voices there are from communities all over Michigan, the more we can prevent unintended consequences…In this situation, we don’t have that, and that’s why we need more scrutiny to look into these decisions.”

The Republican-led legislature has challenged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of executive power during the state of emergency due to the pandemic. The state Court of Appeals upheld the governor’s authority in August, and the case is currently being heard by the Michigan Supreme Court.

In August, Hall promoted an Unlock Michigan petition signing with other Calhoun County Republicans on his personal Facebook page. The Unlock Michigan committee is seeking collecting signatures to repeal a 1945 emergency powers law Whitmer is using to address COVID-19. The committee is now being investigated by Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office for tactics used to collect signatures.

Hall feels the governor’s response to COVID-19 was not tailored enough for individuals regions and that local health departments should have more say instead of “one-size fits all mandates” at the state level.

“How can we make these decisions in the future that are allowing businesses, and other activities that are safe, to be open?” he said. “How do we make sure we have a healthy economy but also healthy Michigan?”

He was also critical of how the state has handled COVID-19 in nursing homes and the unemployment process in the state.

As part of the Oversight Committee, he said, he’s been focused on increasing transparency and improving the Unemployment Insurance Agency.

“I saw how this department did not answer the call for thousands of our neighbors, and that’s why I’ve stayed on them, and I’m working to get these problems solved,” Hall said.

Howell said he is frustrated with partisan politics and sees Hall as a part of that system.

“You don’t need a red voice or a blue voice, you need a voice that represents you,” he said. “We need to be able to figure out very, very tough times together. Not separately and not pointing the fingers at each other.”

He said he sees the work of Hall’s oversight committee as unfair criticism of the governor’s administration as it has worked through unprecedented circumstances due to COVID-19.

“When you have a governor taking strong action in a time when we didn’t have enough details. We didn’t have enough unity from the top. We didn’t have a strong national game plan,” he said. “And then you have somebody in the state instead of… working across the aisle, it’s finger-pointing.”

A new voice

Howell lives in Richmond and is the single father to two girls, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old. He said he’s not a stranger to worrying about how to make ends meet or figuring out how to pay medical bills, and he’d like to see the voice of people like him represented in Lansing.

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