Detroit Chamber backs Whitmer for governor

October 17, 2018

The Detroit News

By: Jonathan Oosting

The Detroit Regional Chamber is recommending voters split their tickets on Nov. 6 with new endorsements that include Democrat Gretchen Whitmer for governor and Republican Tom Leonard for attorney general.

The business group announced Wednesday it is also backing Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow for re-election, Republican-nominated Michigan Supreme Court justices Beth Clement and Kurtis Wilder, and incumbent U.S. House members from both sides of the aisle.

The gubernatorial endorsement is a notable pickup for Whitmer in her race against Republican Bill Schuette, who is backed by most other major business advocacy organizations, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Rapids Chamber and Business Leaders for Michigan.

They are competing to take on term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican whom the chamber endorsed in 2010 and 2014.

But it’s Whitmer, the Democrat, who is “best suited to carry forward the positive trajectory established the last eight years and better reflects the Chamber’s key priorities,” Brad Williams, vice president of government relations, said in a statement.

“While it is rare for an elected official to be fully aligned with the Chamber’s pro-growth and pro-smart investment policies, Whitmer’s strong support for regional transit, funding for critical infrastructure, and her past support for the Detroit Grand Bargain, Healthy Michigan, and the Gordie Howe International Bridge make her the candidate that best aligns with the Chamber’s agenda.”

If elected, Whitmer said she’s “ready to partner with the Detroit Chamber and everyone else who wants to make Michigan the place people move to for opportunity again.”

The endorsements announced Wednesday were decided by the Detroit chamber’s political action committee and required a two-thirds vote among board members.

The PAC did not endorse in the 11th Congressional District race between Democrat Haley Stevens and Republican Lena Epstein, who are competing to replace retiring Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham.

Board members also didn’t reach consensus on a preferred candidate in the Secretary of State race between Democrat Jocelyn Benson and Republican Mary Treder Lang.

In endorsing Leonard over Democrat Dana Nessel in the attorney general’s race, the chamber said the state House speaker and former Genesee County assistant prosecutor has “consistently exercised the judgment needed to hold wrongdoers accountable, create an environment hospitable to growth, and represent the people’s interest.”

The chamber did not endorse in the Republican primary to take on Stabenow and is again backing her in her general election match-up against Farmington Hills businessman John James, who was endorsed this month by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Stabenow “has been a tremendous champion for Michigan in Congress,” Williams said.

In one of the state’s most closely watched congressional campaigns, the Detroit chamber endorsed incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester over Democratic challenger Elissa Slotkin of Holly.

The chamber also endorsed re-election bids by incumbent Republican Reps. Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga, John Moolenaar, Fred Upton, Tim Walberg and Paul Mitchell, along with Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell Brenda Lawrence and 9th District favorite Andy Levin, a Democrat running to replace his retiring father Rep. Sander Levin.

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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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