By Timothy Rath
First Chaldean-American elected to state legislature, Klint Kesto, rallies support in West Bloomfield.
Personally walking door-to-door introducing yourself might seem like tedious work for a candidate running for office, but for elected State Representative Klint Kesto (R-39th District) it marked a path to history.
When Kesto announced victory Nov. 6 in the hotly-contested race for an open seat over Democrat Pam Jackson, at Shenandoah Country Club in West Bloomfield, he said it wasn’t about him as much as the community which made him the first Chaldean-American elected to the position of House representative in Michigan.
There are more than 120,000 Chaldeans in Michigan (a colloquial term referring to Iraqi Christians, of whose ancestry dates to Historical Babylon) and growing in a time when many are leaving the state, said Chaldean-American activist and Kesto campaigner Derek Dickow, which helped add to the “perfect timing” for a man he believes embodies the values of the community.
“There have been 4-5 (Chaldean-Americans) who I know personally that have ran on the state (legislature) level, but Klint speaks for this community in a way that no one else has been able to before,” said Dickow, a West Bloomfield resident who founded a local business development consulting firm, Steward Media.
Some two decades after Kesto, 31, would spend weekday afternoons working at his family-owned pizza and sandwich shop Buscemi’s in Sterling Heights, the current assistant prosecuting attorney for Wayne County was well-received on the campaign trail.
“When Klint was growing up, he couldn’t participate in after-school activities because his family asked him to work. Work ethic is ingrained in us — our parents generation, when they (migrated to the U.S.), the one opportunity or industry that many were familiar with was being merchants,” said Dickow, 32.
“This is a building block for us, an opportunity for parents to understand that the business world is only one way to succeed in the United States.”
Kesto, a Commerce resident, was elected to represent all of Commerce Township, Wixom, Wolverine Lake and the western half of West Bloomfield. He was the only Republican elected to the State House that picked up a new seat previously held by a Democrat, after controversial redistricting redrew district boundaries.
His platform focused on anti-bureaucratic government, anti-abortion, and pro-Performance Based Teaching messages, communicated through a campaign said by Dickow to be in the top-5 of those most recent 110 state house district election when it came to dollars spent.
However, Dickow said, the failure of past Chaldean-American candidates proves that the campaign would have also failed if Kesto’s supporters had merely “written checks.” Dickow said that Kesto received support from branches of the local Catholic church and registered many new voters for the first time in their lives.
“For a long time, Chaldeans were looked at as a community that had written checks, but they wouldn’t vote … this time, we felt like we couldn’t take anything for granted,” Dickow said. “Klint put his shoes on and he knocked on door after door. He covered large ground himself. (Residents) were pleased to see him.”
Kesto promoted his pro-business platform in a release issued Nov. 7: “What I heard time and again as I made my way across the 39th District was that economic woes continue to plague our neighborhoods and we need to grow and redevelop new private sector opportunities.
“I can only hope in winning I inspire more young leaders to step up and take a chance on the American dream.”
Although Dickow did not comment on Kesto’s plans past his first, two-year term starting Jan. 1, he did say that he expected Chaldean-Americans to move beyond the State House in government: “I think that not only will people in this community benefit from Klint in government, but people in the entire state will realize that he’s a great leader.”