When state Rep. Kevin Hertel’s father was the Michigan House speaker, the Legislature broke through deadlock to pass a striking number of bills. Now running for the state Senate, Hertel believes that spirit of bipartisanship can live on in Lansing.

Election Day is Nov. 8. Michigan will be voting on a number of candidates—including for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and Michigan Supreme Court, plus three important statewide proposals about term limits, voting rights and reproductive freedom. 

Term-limited State Rep. Kevin Hertel is trying to jump to the state Senate next year after serving three terms representing St. Clair Shores as a Democrat in the 18th House District. If elected in November, he’ll be the second Hertel to serve in the Senate after his brother, Curtis Hertel, Jr., who is currently serving his final term. Their father, Curtis Hertel, Sr., was also the Michigan House speaker from 1993 to 1994.

Hertel says he wants to build on progress already made during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s first term as governor—including record funding for public schools, and investments in roads and infrastructure.

3 Things to Know About Kevin Hertel

  1. He fought for victims wrongly accused of unemployment fraud.

Between 2013 and 2015, the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency falsely accused nearly 50,000 people in the state of unemployment fraud, forcing them to repay the state for alleged wrongdoing—including a base amount, as well as additional penalties of up to 400% of the supposed overpayment. 

Hertel was at the center of cleaning up the state’s mess.

“They went after them for repayment. They garnished wages,” Hertel said. “I’ve heard stories of divorces that occurred because of the harm that was done to them.”

When the dust cleared on the investigation in 2017, it was found that the state had wrongly charged residents about $21 million, and the state was ordered to refund that money. Throughout the long and tedious process, Hertel served as a key legislative advocate for the victims.

Then in his first term, Hertel and former Rep. Joe Graves (R-Linden) pitched a package of bills that reduced penalties for accidental claims and defended those wrongfully accused of fraud.

Those packages have helped restore justice to those impacted, Hertel told The ‘Gander. 

“We sat down and over a six-month period put together a bill package that actually addressed the issue and made sure that it wouldn’t happen here in the state again,” he said.

Victims in the past several years led a class action lawsuit demanding more, arguing that the refunds didn’t cover all of the consequences of the systemic error—which had more than 11,000 families declare bankruptcy and garnished wages from individuals. UPDATE: On Oct. 20, 2022, the state reached a $20 million settlement in the class-action lawsuit brought forward by victims.

Hertel has supported the victims throughout the process.

“Since that day, I have worked and fought to make sure those people that were affected are made whole,” Hertel said.

  1. He’s proud to work across the aisle.

Hertel was one of few Democrats in the Legislature to vote in favor of a Republican package to suspend the state’s gas tax—as opposed to a temporary pause in the state’s sales tax on gax that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer countered with. 

“My belief was that the state has the money,” Hertel said. “We have the surplus.”

Hertel credits his sense of bipartisanship to his father. When Curtis Hertel, Sr. was House speaker in the early 90s, the Legislature was fractured—with 55 Republicans and 55 Democrats. Pundits at the time were skeptical that much of anything would get done amid constant partisan disputes.

Hertel, Sr., built bridges across the aisle, however, and the Legislature ended up passing a staggering number of bills. A book now serves as a reminder of that remarkable legislative session.

“I think that’s indicative of when you sit down and you do the work with people, you can actually get things done if you’re willing to do it,” Hertel said. “I learned a lot from watching my father and that experience.”

Now, Hertel sees the Legislature at a similar impasse—deeply divided and hotly contested. He’s hopeful that a similar, bipartisan spirit of collaborative progress can prevail.

“I always tell people, ‘Give me a problem and I’ll find a way to solve it,’” Hertel said. “I think we need more problem-solvers in Lansing, to be honest, less people that just want to fight.”

  1. He passed a Lansing success story to protect kids.

Hertel’s favorite memory from serving in the state House came earlier this year. 

In 2013, an infant in Hertel’s district named Wyatt was severely injured and almost killed by his father’s girlfriend. The injury shook the one-year-old child so badly that he had a brain hemorrhage. The girlfriend who was convicted in the case had a prior record of abuse. 

“Wyatt’s doing well today. He was nonverbal when I met him six, seven years ago,” Hertel said.

In 2014, Erica Hammel, Wyatt’s mother, started lobbying for the creation of a public registry of convicted child abusers—in hopes that parents could discover whether any adults in their children’s lives posed a documented threat, so that they could prevent similar, near-death encounters—or worse.

Since coming into the Legislature in 2017, Hertel has sponsored a version of “Wyatt’s Law” that would do just that every session—only to have it stall in a committee under Republican control.

That changed this year, when Wyatt’s Law passed both chambers, still controlled by Republicans, and received Whitmer’s signature in May.

“After fighting for so long, it was incredible to actually get this done,” Hertel said. “To see a look on a mother’s face who has been through so much… Standing with them after we were able to get that bill through the House and to the governor’s desk is something that I’ll never forget.”