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Detroit chamber PAC backs Whitmer for governor

October 17, 2018

Crain’s Detroit 

By: Chad Livengood

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s political action committee is splitting its ticket this year in election endorsements at the top of the November ballot.

The chamber PAC’s board of directors on Wednesday endorsed Democrat Gretchen Whitmer for governor over Republican Bill Schuette, while siding with Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard to succeed Schuette as attorney general over Democrat Dana Nessel.

In endorsing Whitmer, the chamber PAC cited Whitmer’s support for the group’s priorities in regional transit, infrastructure funding and construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge as well as her past votes as a state senator for Detroit’s bankruptcy “grand bargain” and expansion of the Medicaid program for the working poor.

“Gretchen has a better record on those and a better plan,” said Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Whitmer’s commitment to seeing through construction of the Gordie Howe bridge was stronger than Schuette’s publicly stated support for both the Gordie Howe project as well as the Moroun family’s desire to construct a replacement span for the aging Ambassador Bridge, Williams said.

“That’s certainly an acceptable opinion,” Williams said of Schuette’s support for multiple new bridges over the Detroit River. “But for us, getting the Gordie Howe bridge is going to require laser focus getting that done.”

Whitmer’s support of a citywide education commission in Detroit to manage public and charter schools in the city was another factor in the chamber’s endorsement, Williams said.

The chamber PAC’s endorsement of Whitmer is the first time the regional business organization has backed a Democrat for governor since 1990, when the group endorsed then-Gov. Jim Blanchard’s re-election over Republican John Engler, Williams said.

The Detroit chamber’s endorsement of Whitmer for governor makes it one of the only major business groups in Michigan to buck Schuette’s campaign to occupy the governor’s office next year.

To date, Schuette has racked up endorsements from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Manufacturers Association, the Michigan Restaurant Association, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

In the August primary, the chamber’s PAC endorsed Whitmer over her two primary opponents and backed Lt. Gov. Brian Calley over Schuette. Since soundly defeating Calley in the primary, Schuette has not been able to win the endorsement of outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who has been closely aligned with the Detroit Regional Chamber during his eight years in office.

“This endorsement was about Senator Whitmer, not about the attorney general,” Williams said in a conference call with reporters. “Certainly, (Schuette) has served this state honorably for 34, 35 years and is certainly qualified to be governor of this state.”

The Detroit Chamber’s PAC previously endorsed Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s re-election before Detroit businessman John E. James won the August primary.

“Her leadership and willingness to work across the aisle in Washington has helped move Michigan in a positive direction,” Williams said in a statement.

The Detroit chamber PAC did not endorse in the secretary of state’s race between Democrat Jocelyn Benson and Republican Mary Treder Lang after the PAC’s board could not reach a consensus.

The PAC’s bylaws requires a two-thirds supermajority among board members to issue an endorsement, Williams said.

In competitive congressional races, the chamber’s PAC also is not endorsing in the hotly contested 11th Congressional District race between Vesco Oil Co. co-owner Lena Epstein and Haley Stevens, a former chief of staff to President Barack Obama’s auto bailout task force.

“This two-thirds threshold we put in place is a high bar to clear — as I learned today,” Williams told reporters. “It’s not always neat and tidy.”

In the 8th Congressional District, the Detroit chamber’s PAC endorsed U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop’s re-election against Democratic challenger Elissa Slotkin.

The contentious Bishop-Slotkin race is now the most expensive congressional race in Michigan history, with spending topping $16.5 million and three more weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

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