As a staple of Hillsdale politics gears up to leave office, he leaves behind a lasting legacy of service to the Hillsdale community.
Eric Leutheuser, a Hillsdale College class of ’82 graduate, will finish his final term as state representative at the end of the year. Leutheuser has spent nearly six years in the office of the Michigan House of Representatives’ 58th District, which includes Hillsdale and Branch counties.
As a third-term state representative, Leutheuser has reached the term limit for serving in the state house.
While his post-term plans are uncertain, he plans to stay involved in politics.
“I got in my first time just because I was open to service, and so I’m going to continue to be open to it and be prepared for it,” Leutheuser said. “I will definitely stay interested in politics.”
Leutheuser said he will remember his time as a representative fondly, largely because of how much he has enjoyed serving the people around the Hillsdale area.
“Whoever represents this area is going to be lucky because it’s a great district. I was lucky to represent it,” he said.
Leutheuser is a lifelong resident of Hillsdale. He has been involved in his community as an officer of the Hillsdale County Community Foundation, the Hillsdale City Planning Commission, the Economic Development Commission, and the Rotary Club of Hillsdale.
Before winning the election to his first term back in 2014, Leutheuser owned a Buick GMC dealership in Hillsdale. Like many other freshmen state representatives, this was the first time he had ever held any sort of political office.
“I was interested in politics growing up,” Leutheuser said. “But I didn’t see a career in it. My degree was in political economy, but I didn’t see how to make a career out of it.”
Then, a seat opened up in the 58th district. Because of term limits, Leutheuser explained, many districts have wide-open primary races every six years. When this happened in his own district in 2014, the time seemed right for him to serve.
The 2014 Republican primary was a competitive one, Leutheuser said.
“It was a 7‑way primary, and primaries are not fun for anybody,” he said. “You’re competing with your friends, with people you by and large agree with. But they’re part of the process, and they become the main contest in a seat like ours which is predominately Republican.”
Leutheuser ended up winning the 2014 Republican primary with 34.5% of the total votes. He has handily won every election he has run in since then, even winning his last election in 2018 by a 42.2% margin. This was the greatest margin of victory for any Republican statehouse candidate in Michigan that year.
Throughout his tenure as a representative, Leutheuser won several key legislative victories he is proud of. He counted his first policy work back in 2015 among these achievements.
He picked up work from his predecessor on a bill that helped provide protections for faith-based adoption agencies, many of which he said were being litigated out of existence by overzealous liberal attorney generals. The policy Leutheuser helped pass ensured faith-based adoption agencies could not be forced to compromise their religious beliefs.
Leutheuser said he considers this policy work all the more prevalent now following the election or Michigan’s current attorney general, Dana Nessel.
Another key legislative victory that Leutheuser worked on in anticipation of a hostile attorney general was a bill granting the legislature standing to sue on its own behalf. The legislature passed this bill last term, and without it, its current lawsuit against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would not be possible.
Among these legislative victories, the one that Leutheuser said he considers his biggest is reforming Michigan’s complicated auto insurance requirements. He believed it was the issue his constituents from the 58th district were most concerned about. He ran on the issue in 2014, pledging to make it a top priority if elected.
In May 2019, Leutheuser was able to follow through on his promise to his constituents, helping pass no-fault auto insurance reform legislation. While many of his legislative victories could be very fleeting, Leutheuser said, the auto insurance law has a lot of staying power because of its fiscal consequences.
Leutheuser attributed much of the success in his office to how Hillsdale College prepared him to practice politics.
“Just being aware of the foundational principles that we teach helps you sift out whether something is on good footing or not,” Leutheuser said.
Because of his esteem for his alma mater, Leutheuser said he hopes that Hillsdale graduates continue to hold his office in the near future.
“There should be some Hillsdale students that are always in the pipeline,” he said.
Leutheuser expressed his enthusiasm about Andrew Fink ’06 recently winning the Republican primary for his house seat. Fink echoed Leutheuser’s sentiments regarding the value of his Hillsdale education in preparing him for political office.
“The liberal arts education is an education in human nature,” Fink said. “In a republic, when you’re dealing with citizens, each of whom is entitled to dignity and respect, understanding what people are like and what is important to people in your area is what the entire job is about.”
Fink also brought up several of Leutheuser’s qualities he said made him such an effective representative for the area, stressing, in particular, the concern he showed for his constituents. Fink said he hopes to emulate this if he wins the election in November.
“I think Eric sets a really good example for upholding the decorum of public office, acting responsibly and professionally at all times and showing a lot of respect to his constituents,” Fink said. “He treats them as equal citizens, not assuming he knows more about everything than they do, wanting their input — he does a great job with that.”
Ben Kauffman ’14 is a former legislative aide for Leutheuser, also said he admired how Leutheuser approached his position. Kauffman worked as Leutheuser’s policy director since 2017 before moving to Senator Mike Shirkey’s office in February of this year. Kauffman praised his former boss for how he treated others.
“He is truly a man of integrity,” Kauffman said. “He is the same person at a coffee hour that you meet back in the office. He’s just an authentic person.”
Kauffman also mentioned how Leutheuser’s concern for people extended to his staff. He said Leutheuser always considered how he could help the people he hired and set them up for long-term success.
“He cared for his staff,” Kauffman said. “He cared to see that they were getting legislative experience, that they were growing as staffers and young professionals.”
Leutheuser also earned the praise of many of his colleagues, including Republican Rep. Aaron Miller of Michigan’s 59th District. Like Leutheuser, Miller was also elected to his first term in 2014 and has worked in the office right next to Leutheuser in the Anderson House Office Building in Lansing for all six years of his legislative career.
“I have an immense amount of respect for Rep. Leutheuser,” Miller said. “I think he’s a very measured, wise, well-spoken man with very high character. That translates into being a good public servant, and he has been that for the last six years.”
Miller said he and Leutheuser have always been good neighbors. They have gotten to know each other’s staff very well, worked on many issues together, and even hosted birthday parties with each other.
“We came in together, we’ve got a lot of history together, and we’ve seen a lot of legislative battles together,” Miller said. “Even when we didn’t see eye-to-eye, our relationship never took a hit over it. We never let that damage our relationship.”
As the chairman of the Michigan House Republican caucus, Leutheuser has been what Miller described as a kind of father figure and leader for the Republican state representatives in Michigan. Miller said they will miss Leutheuser’s leadership and character in the statehouse, but also said he was glad to have been a witness to it the past six years.
“He will definitely be missed,” Miller said. “Having been his co-worker, I can say that his representation will be missed in Lansing. He will leave big shoes to fill.”