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GOP’s LaFave targets Benson record in bid for Michigan secretary of state

Beau LaFave, Jocelyn Benson
State Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, says incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, has made customer service worse in Michigan. (Courtesy photos)

LANSING— The race for the Republican nomination for secretary of state has become a two-person contest, with Rep. Beau LaFave declaring his candidacy.

The Iron Mountain lawmaker, who has been in the Legislature since 2016, announced his intentions in a tweet on Monday that criticized incumbent Democrat Jocelyn Benson’s customer service record and closure of branches during the pandemic.

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“Our current Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson would continue making the 10,000,000 people of Michigan wait weeks and months to see her staff at local offices… AFTER booking an appointment online,” LaFave tweeted. 

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Benson received criticism over the summer for switching to an appointment-only system, while eliminating the walk-in option to access a branch office for transactions such as auto registration renewals. At one point last year, customers had to wait weeks or months to get an appointment at some busier branches, although many had limited amounts of same-day openings.

Benson has said she took over a system that has been underfunded for years when she was elected in 2018, and she has pushed to move more services online. Since the height of the pandemic, she has agreed to bring back walk-ins at branches.

A spokesperson, Liz Boyd, pushed back against LaFave’s characterization of Benson’s record.

"Next year, voters will have a choice:  Do they want a secretary of state who is going to protect their vote and make government work for them, or just another politician who can’t even be honest on Day One?” Boyd said in an email.  “Secretary Benson is proud to have overseen the highest turnout and most secure election in our state's history, affirmed by more than 250 audits, and for having done in 2 1/2 years what past secretaries have failed to accomplish for decades.  Motorists now have more options for doing business with the state in less time than ever before."

LaFave is the second Republican to announce his candidacy for secretary of state. His announcement could make the race a litmus test for loyalty for former President Donald Trump.

As of Monday, LaFave’s only primary opponent is Kristina Karamo, a faculty member of Wayne County Community College who filed her candidacy in March.

According to her website, Karamo is running because “election fraud is an ugly reality in Michigan.”

Karamo, who has spread election conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election results, has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

Last month, Trump issued a statement saying Karamo was “strong on crime, including the massive crime of election fraud.”

The claims of widespread fraud have all been debunked — in April, the Michigan Bureau of Election conducted 250 post-election audits and  “found no examples of fraud or intentional misconduct by election officials.” 

A Republican-led Senate investigation also found no evidence of widespread fraud. 

Karamo didn’t respond to a request for comment.

LaFave has not spread the same misinformation as Karamo regarding the election. But he told The Detroit News Monday said “the election was stolen through four years of fake news, propaganda, bad headlines and sensationalism, as well as through the Trump-Russia hoax."

It’s unclear whether not having the endorsement of Trump would give LaFave a significant disadvantage.

At the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference last month, Karamo won a straw poll for secretary of the secretary with 69 percent, although she was the only candidate then. 

But for attorney general, Matt DePerno, an attorney who has spread lies about the 2020 election results and who got Trump’s endorsement, placed third with 11 percent. 

Tom Leonard, a former Republican House speaker, got first place despite joining the race 24 hours before the conclusion of the poll.

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