This Michigan lawmaker built his career on compromise. But he isn’t budging on this issue.

By Kyle Kaminski

April 11, 2024

Former state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. is running for Congress this year. And when it comes to reproductive rights, he said there’s a “big difference” between him and his opponent.

MICHIGAN—Former state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. says he built his political career, in part, on bipartisanship and his willingness to compromise to get meaningful legislation passed into law.

And as Hertel runs for a seat representing Michigan in the US House this year, his desire to work across the aisle with Republicans lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation has emerged as a central focus of his congressional campaign—and one of Hertel’s top personal priorities.

It’s a point that’s emphasized in bold text plastered at the top of his campaign website: “Curtis Hertel is a relentless advocate for Mid-Michigan who believes that the only way to accomplish our shared goals is to listen and work with others to find solutions that help everyone.”

In an interview this week with The ‘Gander, Hertel reiterated his people-focused take on politics. But when it comes to at least one critical issue facing Michiganders, he simply refuses to budge.

“I believe we need to be able to compromise and work on things—but not when they’re part of the core values of who we are,” Hertel told The ‘Gander. “Sometimes there are things that don’t change, and I don’t think that abortion rights are something that we can compromise on. … There are some things that are part of your soul that you believe in and that are core values.”

Here’s the deal:

Hertel, 46, served as a state senator representing Lansing and East Lansing from from 2015 to 2022 before he was term-limited from office. He also briefly served as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s legislative affairs director before stepping down from the role last summer to run for Congress.

This year, Hertel is (so far) the only Democratic candidate who is running to represent Michigan’s 7th House District, which includes Ingham, Livingston, Clinton, and Shiawassee counties, as well as parts of Eaton, Oakland, and Genesee counties. The district is currently represented by US Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who is running for an open seat in the US Senate.

On the Republican side, former state Sen. Tom Barrett—who lost to Slotkin by about 5 percentage points in 2022—is the only GOP candidate to make a run for the seat this year.

Whoever the 700,000 Michiganders living in the 7th District end up sending to the US House of Representatives will likely play a decisive role in determining the political control of Congress in 2025, and ultimately the future direction of the country. Republican lawmakers currently hold a slim, 218-213 majority in the House; Democrats will need to hold the seat in their effort to retake the majority.

Analysts are already painting the congressional race as one of the most competitive (and likely most expensive) political matchups in the country. The 7th District is currently one of only two Congressional districts in Michigan—and one of only 22 across the country—that The Cook Political Report identifies as a “toss-up” race, meaning a lot can happen ahead of Election Day, and that it’s essentially anybody’s guess whether a Democrat or a Republican will be elected.

‘Places Where Government Needs to Stay Out’

Hertel comes from a family of officeholders.

His father, a brother, and two uncles served in the Legislature, and a third uncle was in the US House. His wife, Elizabeth, is director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. In an interview with the Associated Press, he defined his family’s legacy as a “strong belief in Democratic ideals but also a willingness to work across the aisle to make things better.”

But with the 2024 presidential election on the horizon and Republicans doubling down on their opposition to reproductive freedom, Hertel said there’s simply no room for compromise on the issue—especially after all the progress that Michiganders have made to protect their rights.

“Reproductive rights aren’t only women’s issues. They’re family issues,” Hertel said. “There are some places where the government needs to stay out—and that’s a big important one for me.”

As Whitmer’s legislative affairs director when she signed the repeal of Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban, Hertel said he played a key role in drumming up the votes to get the bill over the finish line—including by convincing a few conservative Republicans to support the legislation, too.

While in the Senate, Hertel also sponsored legislation to repeal a law that forced Michigan women to pay extra costs to have abortion care covered by their health insurance plans. That legislation was reintroduced and signed into law during his time as legislative affairs director.

“My job for the governor was to work with the legislature and try to implement policies that would help Michigan’s people and would actually make people’s lives better,” Hertel told The ‘Gander. “And a big part of that was making sure that we were protecting people’s rights. … I’m really proud of the protections that we put in place and certainly, these attacks are not ending.”

‘The Donald Trump Playbook’

Barrett, 42, has served one term in both the state Senate and House and previously served as a liaison between the state Department of Treasury and former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

When it comes to reproductive rights, Barrett has developed a reputation for his staunch anti-abortion beliefs—including once labeling himself “100% PRO-LIFE—NO EXCEPTIONS,” and by defending the state-level abortion ban that Hertel helped repeal last year.

“I’ve had a long legislative record of being a pro-life candidate, a pro-life legislator—elected and re-elected on that position,” Barrett told the Detroit News in May 2022, while bragging about state legislation he introduced to restrict abortion. “I’ve been what I consider to be a leader on this issue, and I’m not going to shy away from it because I know I’m right. And I take it very seriously.”

Barrett went on to shy away from those beliefs ahead of the election in 2022, reportedly taking down a section of his campaign website that had detailed his rigid anti-abortion views. Last month, he said he doesn’t think abortion rights will be a big factor in this year’s election.

Hertel said voters should expect Barrett to continue running from his own track record.

“He wants to hide and obfuscate from that. He wants to say it’s settled law, or whatever else. He’s going to try to follow the Donald Trump playbook. But at the end of the day, we know exactly who he is. He told us. He showed us. And we have a responsibility to stop it.”

Trump has repeatedly bragged about his role in the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion for nearly five decades. And since the repeal, Republicans have repeatedly sought to pass a nationwide abortion ban.

Hertel said Trump’s latest assertion that abortion should be left up to state governments is disingenuous. He also believes Trump would sign a national abortion ban if he’s elected—and that Barrett (among other Republican lawmakers) would help make it a reality.

“There’s a big difference between us,” Hertel said.

A group of Trump-aligned conservative organizations and activists have crafted an expansive blueprint—known as Project 2025—that lays out how they intend to leverage virtually every arm, tool, and agency of the federal government to attack abortion access, including by banning and criminalizing access to abortion medication without actually passing any new laws at all.

The Heritage Foundation, the right-wing think-tank responsible for spearheading Project 2025, has also been a staunch anti-IVF voice for years. And while Trump now claims that he “strongly supports” IVF, his administration worked with far-right conservatives who likened IVF to murder.

Hertel said that his family relied on fertility treatment for the birth of his son—and he will do everything in his power to protect access to both assisted reproductive technology and abortion.

“I don’t think any of us will be fooled by that. We know exactly who they are. We know exactly what they’ve done,” Hertel said. “They’ve given us the playbook and told us what they would do. We just need to believe them and make sure that they’re never empowered again.”

This year’s primary election is on Tuesday, Aug. 6. The general election is Nov. 5.

READ MORE: Michiganders protected abortion. Republicans are plotting a reversal.

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.


  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.


Local News

Related Stories
Share This