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With half of Michigan's Republican governor candidates off the ballot, who is left?

The remaining Republican candidates in the Michigan governor’s race all hold extreme views on abortion, guns, education, and the 2020 presidential election.

By Adrian Cole - June 02, 2022
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Michigan Republicans
Candidates left to right are North Shores commentator Tudor Dixon, Metro Detroit businessman Kevin Rinke, Allendale real estate broker Ryan Kelley, Oakland County businessman Perry Johnson, MSP Captain Michael Brown, Oakland County Pastor Ralph Rebandt, Mattawan chiropractor Garrett Soldano and Grand Haven financial advisor Michael Markey. The Livingston County Republican Party's 2022 Lincoln Day Dinner features the First Official GOP Gubernatorial Debate at Crystal Gardens Event and Banquet Center in Howell, Thursday night, May 12, 2022. Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Bryon Center businesswoman Donna Brandenburg are absent from this debate. (Todd McInturf, The Detroit News)2022.

Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers deadlocked late last week on whether to allow five gubernatorial candidates onto the primary ballot for August, following the discovery of widespread fraud on their nominating petitions. By Tuesday, three candidates, James Craig, Perry Johnson, and Michael Markey, Jr., filed lawsuits to get back on the ballot. On Wednesday, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Johnson’s case in a unanimous decision. 

“This is a complete circus of a race now,” Michigan pollster Richard Czuba told the Detroit News. “Nobody knows any of these candidates. We don’t know where this is going to go. We just don’t.”

While the fate of the remaining disqualified candidates is in the courts, there are now five candidates competing in the Republican primary on August 2. The winner will go on to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.

Largely unknown to most of the electorate, all of them hold far-right views on issues key to many Republican races this election season: they have all echoed former President Donald Trump’s false claim that he won the 2020 presidential election, they oppose abortion and support Michigan’s 1931 ban on the procedure, and they all oppose gun safety legislation — even in the aftermath of school shootings in Oxford, Michigan, last year and more recently in Uvalde, Texas.

At a candidates’ debate in Traverse City on Saturday night, all candidates doubled down on their pro-gun positions while focusing on school security ideas such as single points of entry, metal detectors, and armed officers.

Tudor Dixon

Dixon, a conservative media commentator, is one of the potential Republican nominees for governor who could face off against Whitmer in the fall. She has shared her extreme views on education, abortion, and gun safety.

On her campaign website, Dixon has baselessly claimed that some school districts are “grooming children to be brainwashed foot soldiers for radically liberal elites,” singling out three school districts. Dick DeVos — a conservative Michigan businessman and the husband of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — endorsed Dixon last week.

Last year, Dixon claimed that Planned Parenthood promoted sex education in schools as a “business model” to generate increased demand for abortions, and tweeted an image of herself with the caption, “Gun control means using both hands.”

While former President Donald Trump has not officially endorsed anyone in the Michigan gubernatorial race yet, he called Dixon “a fantastic, brilliant candidate” at a rally in Washington Township in April.

Kevin Rinke

Rinke, a political newcomer, is running largely on a pro-business platform. After working for his father’s auto dealership, he went on to run other businesses and has suggested that it should be “mandatory” to have firsthand experience in the private sector in order to govern a state

Rinke supports so-called “constitutional carry” — the ability to carry a concealed firearm without a permit — and has pledged to uphold Michigan’s extreme 1931 abortion ban. But perhaps the most notable part of his platform is his pledge to abolish the individual state income tax. At the moment that is set at 4.5%. If this were eliminated, it would rob the state of nearly $12 billion in revenue. He does not appear to have a plan to make up the shortfall.

Ralph Rebandt

Rebandt is a pastor and chaplain for several police departments in Michigan who has called for a criminal investigation into Whitmer COVID-19 policies.

At the candidates’ debate on Saturday night, Rebandt said the prevalence of gun violence and mass shootings could be blamed on the need for more religion in the United States. “Unless we bring God back into the classroom, the courthouse, unless we bring him back into culture, we’re going to see it erode,” Rebandt said.

Rebandt has said that if elected governor, he would work to abolish funding for the state’s 15 public universities, and he would “dismantle the state’s department of education.” While he would want to personally appoint the next secretary of education, he would not want to extend that privilege to his successor.

His “Lighthouse Initiative” mission statement quotes extensively from Rev. Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest and the founder of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life. In 2016, shortly before the general election, Pavone placed an aborted fetus on an altar and gave a pro-Trump speech in front of it which he live-streamed on Facebook.

Garrett Soldano

Soldano, a Mattawan chiropractor, is one of the most extreme of the candidates when it comes to election denial. He claimed that Trump was still his president during the May 12 debate.

Soldano is perhaps best-known for his organizing of protests against Whitmer’s COVID-19 safety policies, which propelled him to seek the nomination. Two Facebook pages he started ended up being removed by the social media company because the language and comments on them repeatedly breached their community standards. He is also known for pushing a conspiracy theory about the alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer in 2020.

Like the other Republican candidates in the race, Soldano opposes gun safety laws. Last year, shortly after a mass shooting in Oxford, Michigan, Soldano held a contest to win an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Ryan D. Kelley

Like Soldano, Kelley, a real estate agent from Allendale, joined the race in protest over Whitmer’s COVID-19 policies. He orchestrated several anti-government rallies in Lansing and in Grand Rapids. He also attended the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop The Steal” rally in Washington, DC, that preceded the violent riots at the U.S. Capitol. Kelley was caught on video during the riot, yelling, “This is it, baby! This is — This is war!”

Kelley argued in a video posted to Reddit that the United States is not a democracy, but “a constitutional republic,” and that democracy “turns into socialism, which turns into communism in every instance.”

This line of argument misinterprets the Founding Fathers’ guiding philosophy, according to George Thomas, the Burnet C. Wohlford Professor of American Political Institutions at Claremont McKenna College.

The insistence that we’re a republic, not a democracy, is a complete distortion of the founders’ thinking,” Thomas told the American Independent Foundation. “While the founders rejected a simplistic version of direct democracy, they didn’t justify minority rule. And that’s what so many Republicans who insist we are a republic, not a democracy, seem intent on doing. Worse, when the likes of Ryan Kelley make this point, they often do so while justifying overturning a free and fair election.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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