Aug. 26, 2022 | This Week in Government: Hernandez Chosen as Dixon’s Running Mate; Debate on Debate BeginsAugust 26, 2022
Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.
GOP: Hernandez Balances Dixon with Legislature, Grassroots
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon announced that she had selected former Rep. Shane Hernandez of Port Huron as her running mate in the 2022 general election, hoping the selection will sit well with grassroots activists and the legislators with whom she’ll have to work closely should she be elected over incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The candidate announced her pick Friday afternoon after submitting Hernandez’s name to Michigan Republican Party leadership, due at 5 p.m. She beat that deadline by about an hour.
In a statement, Dixon said Hernandez “will help to improve our schools, create safer communities, and improve our economy.”
“Like me, Shane is concerned about the impact rising prices are having on our families,” the candidate said. “Shane and I will put front-and-center the issues families care about: rising costs created by the Democrats’ inflation, dangerous communities exacerbated by Gretchen Whitmer’s siding with the ‘spirit’ of defund the police, and a perpetually weak economy that Gretchen Whitmer is simply incapable of doing anything about. I am confident delegates will embrace Shane and united, we will defeat Gretchen Whitmer in November.”
In a statement also circulated by Dixon’s campaign, Hernandez said he was honored to be her pick for lieutenant governor and was ready “to address the problems created by Gretchen Whitmer.”
“Her vision is the right one for Michigan and I believe we will defeat Whitmer and begin to repair the damage she’s caused to our families, students, and business owners,” he added.
Should he be selected by convention delegates and eventually elected along with Dixon, the party would have two verifiable firsts – the first Republican woman elected as governor and the first Latino lieutenant governor ever.
Hernandez was the chair of the House Appropriations Committee Track during his time in office, in which he served two terms from 2017-20 before running in 2020 for the U.S. House of Representatives. He lost the Republican primary to now-U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Township).
Hernandez did not respond to a request for further comment on his selection to be offered up for nomination as lieutenant governor.
One Republican source, speaking on background, said Hernandez’s name was on a shortlist from the beginning. Others got serious consideration, this source said, but ultimately Hernandez’s strength on policy won out. Among the other names that got bandied about at various points were former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, Rep. Julie Alexander of Hanover, and Macomb County Clerk Tony Forlini.
Now that a name has been submitted to the party, it is up to the delegates to decide at the upcoming Aug. 27 convention. That may or may not be a fight on the convention floor, depending on whether the delegates back Dixon’s choice of Hernandez.
On Friday, Republican Garrett Soldano, who lost the Republican primary for governor to Dixon, said he is considering offering himself as an alternative to Hernandez.
“I appreciate all the support and messages I have received regarding a possible run for Lieutenant Governor at convention next week,” he said in a Facebook post. “I will take these next few days and talk it over with Jennifer and the kids and stay in prayer. I will continue to do my best and do what is right for our state, but more importantly, for the PEOPLE in our state. God bless you, God bless the State of Michigan, and God bless the United States.”
GOP Party Chair Ron Weiser declined to comment on the selection when asked Friday by Gongwer News Service. Party spokesperson Gustavo Portela did not respond to a request for comment but told Axios that the cycle would be historic for Michigan Republicans.
“This is a historic cycle for Michigan Republicans nominating their first female gubernatorial candidate, a potential first lieutenant governor candidate if confirmed and three Black candidates for congress,” he said.
Per the party’s convention rules, the winner of the gubernatorial nomination is permitted to submit the name of a candidate for the office of lieutenant governor no later than 5 p.m. Friday. From there, the chosen individual files an affidavit of candidacy with a filing fee equal to 3% of the annual salary of the office of the lieutenant governor at the same time.
If Hernandez doesn’t receive an affirmative vote from the convention floor delegates, Dixon can have the choice of either addressing the convention’s delegates on why they should choose her pick or submit a new candidate for consideration. If the second nomination fails, or if the new candidate also fails to receive an affirmative vote, nominations can be sent from the floor, as well as Dixon, giving her a third and final shot to get Hernandez over the finish line with delegates.
The candidate who receives a majority of the votes is declared elected by the convention. If there are more than two candidates nominated and none of them receive a majority of votes on the first ballot, the two candidates receiving the largest number of votes shall duke it out in a run-off second ballot.
Although the delegates typically concur with the gubernatorial nominee’s choice for lieutenant governor, there have been times when the party’s grassroots activists have gone against the grain and put forward an opposing candidate.
In 2010, the convention’s delegates were poised to nominate Bill Cooper over then-Republican nominee Rick Snyder’s pick, Brian Calley, but convention managers muscled Calley through. In 2014 when then-Lt. Gov. Brian Calley faced a convention fight over his nomination when the grassroots and tea party factions of the MIGOP attempted to install Wes Nakagiri as the running mate of then-Gov. Rick Snyder. In that instance, the Snyder-Calley forces were ready and assured they had their people in place to win the county convention races to elect state convention delegates, and Calley won comfortably.
The activists failed to oust Calley, but the memory of those fights still looms for many in the party even though there was no such fight in 2018 when Bill Schuette picked Lisa Posthumus Lyons as his running mate and the convention assented without a battle.
Whether that’s the case with Hernandez is an open question, but his record appears strong on issues that resonate with the Michigan GOP base, like election integrity, the Second Amendment, and abortion. He also came up in the ranks of the Republican Party as a grassroots activist and worked to pass a budget during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which some said Friday helps him check off all the respective grassroots boxes – including Rep. Matt Hall of Comstock Township.
“We all recognize that one of the important things for her is having someone with legislative experience on the ticket, somebody who could preside over the Senate, somebody similar to the role Brian Calley played for Gov. Snyder; somebody who knows how to make deals with the Legislature and navigate the legislative process,” Hall said in an interview. “I think when you look at people who have legislative experience and you look at the makeup of the state convention delegates – which has understandably moved more conservative in response to a lot of those things that Gov. Whitmer has done – and you look at Shane, I think he’s about the only person who could balance legislative experience with being responsive to the grassroots.”
Hall added that Hernandez was hailed as one of the more conservative members of the House when he was in office and routinely ranked high on lists detailing the conservative credentials of state lawmakers. He was also one of the candidates elected during the tea party wave and was effective in his caucus, Hall said.
Hernandez was among legislators who called for a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 election results, was strong on conservative gun policy, and was either the sponsor or co-sponsor on several abortion-related bills, including a fetal heartbeat bill and a partial-birth abortion ban that were both introduced in 2017 but went nowhere in the House.
Hall also said that Hernandez was strong on cutting taxes, an advocate for fewer regulations, and was against corporate welfare.
“He can relate to these delegates, and he has a pretty good record on the issues that matter to them,” he said. “But he’s able to do it in a way where he still has the respect of legislators. Even ones like me. We didn’t always vote the same way on everything, but he was always somebody that could do it and have the respect of everyone whether you voted with him or not.”
John Sellek of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs told Gongwer that the number one goal of choosing a running mate is to avoid “unforced errors” and that Dixon’s selection bodes well in that regard.
“This appears to be a solid pick of someone both with deep knowledge of the state budget and the GOP street cred of having come up from the grassroots of the party,” Selleck said. “Dixon can now finish getting ready for the convention and begin the general election campaign.”
Former gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley said he was considering putting his name forward at convention, as was Ralph Rebandt, but Kelley announced Friday that he would no longer seek or accept the nomination for lieutenant governor via delegates at convention.
He did, however, make insinuations that he would consider political office or even a go at party leadership after he was done working to defeat the abortion and elections ballot proposals in play, should they be approved for the Nov. 8 ballot.
Michigan Democratic Party Lavora Barnes said in a statement that she believes Hernandez is “cut from the same dangerous cloth as DeVos sellout Tudor Dixon.”
“Backed by the same special interests that helped drag Dixon through the primary, Hernandez has made banning abortion without exceptions a priority throughout his career,” Barnes said. “Michigan working families deserve leadership that works for them, but Dixon and Hernandez will be catering to the special interests as they work hand-in-hand to dismantle public education, slash funding for infrastructure and law enforcement, and drag Michigan backwards.”
See You in September? Or October? Debate on Debates Begins
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon appear to agree on having multiple televised debates but disagree on the timing. Whitmer struck first in the quadrennial debate on debates when she announced in an email at 8 a.m. Wednesday, she accepted invitations for a debate on Oct. 13 hosted by WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids and a debate on Oct. 25 in the Detroit area hosted by WXYZ-TV, WXMI-TV, and WSYM-TV. Both debates would run from 7-8 p.m. and be televised statewide.
About two hours later, Dixon responded with a tweet saying, “debates must start BEFORE voting begins not after as Whitmer is demanding.”
Absentee ballots begin going out 45 days before Election Day, or Sept. 24.
A couple of hours after the tweet, Dixon’s campaign issued a statement responding to Whitmer. It said the campaign accepted WOOD-TV’s “originally proposed date of Sept. 20 and has offered Sept. 22, 27, and 29 as alternatives.” Further, the Dixon campaign said in a statement it accepted WXYZ-TV’s proposed dates of either Oct. 17 or Oct. 24.
“Tudor Dixon rejects Whitmer’s attempt to push debates back until well after voting starts because Whitmer owes it to the many Michiganders she has hurt to face them sooner rather than later,” the Dixon campaign said in a statement.
Whitmer’s campaign countered the two debates it agreed were in keeping with recent precedent.
Michigan major party gubernatorial candidates have not debated earlier than October since 1994.
In 2018, Whitmer and the Republican nominee, Bill Schuette, debated twice on television, on Oct. 12 and 24.
In 2014, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer nearly had no debates and ended up with only one, on Oct. 12.
In 2010, there were nearly no debates before Snyder and the Democratic nominee, Virg Bernero, but they ultimately held one on Oct. 10.
In 2006, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican challenger Dick DeVos debated four times: Oct. 2, Oct. 10, Oct. 12, and Oct. 16, with three of those televised and the one on the 12th held at the Detroit Economic Club.
In 2002, Granholm and Republican nominee Dick Posthumus debated twice, on Oct. 7 and Oct. 15, with only the debate on Oct. 7 televised. The other aired on WJR-AM.
In 1998, there were no debates between Republican Gov. John Engler and Democratic challenger Geoffrey Fieger.
In 1994, Engler and Democratic challenger Howard Wolpe debated three times: Sept. 26, Oct. 10, and Oct. 19.
The big change, however, from the past was in Nov. 2018, Michigan voters passed Proposal 18-3 that opened up absentee ballot voting to anyone, and appears to have prompted a large percentage of voters who once went to the polling precincts to vote in person to instead vote absentee.
Whitmer’s campaign dismissed the idea of debating earlier than October.
“For more than a decade, Michigan has held one to two statewide televised gubernatorial debates in October,” Whitmer spokesperson Maeve Coyle said. “Gov. Whitmer looks forward to continuing that tradition with debates on Oct. 13 and Oct. 25 so Michiganders have an opportunity to see the clear contrast between the candidates as they make their decisions in this crucial election. The campaign believes it’s important for voters to hear directly from candidates, which is why Gov. Whitmer has been holding regular community events to meet with Michiganders across the state for months.”
The Dixon campaign, in its statement, said it was “extending an invitation to the Whitmer campaign to negotiate mutually agreeable dates directly.” It further said it was “interested in accepting” a debate invitation from WJBK-TV as well as one from WWMT-TV, WEYI-TV, and WPBN-TV that would cover the Flint-Saginaw-Bay City and Traverse City-Cadillac markets.
Whitmer: 700K Michigan Borrowers to See Debt Eliminated, Cut in Half
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer praised President Joe Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan on Wednesday, saying 1.4 million residents will see some effect and 700,000 will have their debt cut in half or eliminated completely.
Biden announced Wednesday that single borrowers making up to $125,000 per year and joint filers making up to $250,000 per year will see $10,000 of their federal student loans eliminated. Those who received Pell Grants will see $20,000 of debt eliminated.
The administration also announced changes to the income-driven repayment plan to reduce monthly payments and cover unpaid interest so that a borrower’s loan balance doesn’t grow even as they make payments. The final part of the proposal deals with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program allowing those who have worked in the appropriate areas to receive credit toward loan forgiveness.
Republicans criticized the proposal, while Democrats, in general, were pleased. Student loan forgiveness has long been a talking point for Democrats and was a campaign promise from Biden.
The pause on payments and interest on federal student loans – which was first approved under former President Donald Trump in 2020 – also was extended until Dec. 31.
“The decision to cancel $10,000 in student loan debt and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients will make a real difference for 1.4 million Michiganders that have student loans, putting money back in their pockets,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Nearly 700,000 Michiganders will have their debt cut in half or eliminated entirely, lifting a huge burden off their backs. People can use these savings to buy a home, start a business, get married, or start a family. I will work with anyone to keep lowering the cost of higher education and offering more paths for Michiganders to earn a higher education tuition-free, without going into debt in the first place.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon called on Whitmer to oppose the plan.
“Joe Biden isn’t canceling anything. He’s shifting the cost of lawyers’ and doctors’ degrees onto foundry workers and farmers with 4 years of college or less,” she posted on Twitter. “Whitmer must join me in opposition on behalf of millions of hardworking Michiganders who pay the price and get no benefit.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) called the plan a scheme from Biden to “buy back voters.”
“First of all, it is highly questionable that President Biden even has the constitutional authority to make this decision,” Huizenga said in a statement. “Frankly, this is an insult to the students who worked their way through school as well as the parents or spouses who took a second job to make sure the bills were paid. This reckless act is estimated to cost taxpayers $300 billion and will make inflation even worse for families already struggling to make ends meet. Lastly, this action does not solve the cost of college problem plaguing hardworking families in Michigan and across the nation. In fact, this so-called ‘forgiveness’ by President Biden has the potential to send the cost of college even higher, thereby putting a college education out of reach for future generations.”
Guidance Issued by PSC on Pursuing Federal Infrastructure Funds
The Public Service Commission Track directed the state’s regulated electric and natural gas utilities on Tuesday to file comments outlining how they are or might consider taking advantage of federal infrastructure funds available to them.
Tuesday’s order was regarding the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding, which totals $550 billion.
Funding under the federal law allows infrastructure funding for areas including electric generation, electric vehicle infrastructure buildout, cybersecurity, and grid reliability.
The order outlines comments received and points to major areas of interest that utilities and stakeholders could work together on to improve state infrastructure through programs under federal law, the commission said in a release.
These include grid flexibility, renewable energy projects in areas such as hydrogen and battery storage projects, electrification of transportation, electric vehicle infrastructure, energy efficiency, and cybersecurity.
The commission pointed out that some federal monies could be used to meet the state goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan.
Commissioners pointed to the recent release of the Department of Transportation’s plan to use its $110 million in federal funding from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program to develop a network of fast chargers across the state (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Aug. 5, 2022).
They also noted further opportunities for utilities through the recently signed federal Inflation Reduction Act, which provided billions in funding for energy security and addressing climate change.
The order keeps the case docket open until the commission chooses to close it, allowing for utilities to provide progress updates on funding or assistance opportunities by Jun. 30 and Dec. 31 of each year. Utilities also can file requests for pilot programs, accounting treatment, or other matters relevant to the federal infrastructure act.
Utilities impacted by the order are Alpena Power Company; Consumers Energy Company; Detroit Thermal LLC; DTE Electric Company; DTE Gas Company; Indiana Michigan Power Company; Northern States Power Company; Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corporation; Upper Peninsula Power Company; Michigan Gas Utilities Corporation and SEMCO Energy Gas Corporation.
Canvassers Certify Primary Election Results
DELTA TOWNSHIP – State Elections Director Jonathan Brater praised the work of local clerks and election workers ahead of the unanimous certification of the Aug. 2 primary election results, saying they performed well in a difficult environment. Board of State Canvassers Track members voted 3-0 to certify the election results and that those nominated to advance to the Nov. 8 general election are qualified to appear on the ballot. Board Chair Tony Daunt was absent.
Brater said there were several reasons for it being a challenging election, a significant one being it was the first statewide election conducted after redistricting. That had the makings of possible confusion among some voters as precincts and districts changed.
He said it was also challenging for clerks and election officials due to the current political climate.
“There’s a lot of harassment and there’s a lot of baseless claims being made about our election officials and public servants,” Brater said. “With all that in consideration, especially, I think our clerks did a really excellent job of administering this election.”
The director said there were relatively few issues across the state during the election, and ensuring that precinct vote totals were balanced saw improvements as well, especially in Wayne County and Detroit.
For the Aug. 2020 primary election, 56% of precincts in Wayne County were balanced and explained, Brater said, while for Detroit, it was 26%.
For the Aug. 2022 primary election, there was dramatic improvement, he said. For both Wayne County and Detroit, 98% of precincts were balanced and explained.
“That’s a massive improvement, and then additionally, those that are off still are typically off by one or two,” Brater added.
Total voter turnout for the Aug. 2 primary was at about 2.17 million, official results show. This was down slightly from the about 2.21 million votes cast in the Aug. 7, 2018, primary election.
“In light of that, I think we’re probably looking at a high turnout for November. I’m not going to guess a number,” Brater said.
One highlight he mentioned was that Democratic Party candidate Joseph Alfonso for the 4th U.S House District, who ran a write-in campaign after being disqualified after not meeting the 1,000-signature petition threshold to make the primary ballot, was recommended to be able to appear on the general election ballot.
Alfonso, in his write-in campaign, received 10,992 votes based on official primary election results. This was more than the roughly 3,000 he had needed to equal at least 5% of the Democratic vote in the race covering the district that produced the most votes, which would be governor.
His inclusion allows Democrats to have a challenger in the 4th District in November to U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland), who is favored to hold the seat in what is a strongly GOP district.
As for potential recounts, Brater said there is expected to be at least one, that being the Republican primary in the 34th House District, where Sen. Dale Zorn of Onsted defeated Ryan Rank of Adrian by eight votes based on the official results. Rank filed to request a recount earlier this month (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Aug. 11, 2022).
One question from board members prior to the vote was whether there were any city or township issues during the election.
Brater said in Ecorse that there was an issue in which between 30 and 40 absentee ballots were not tabulated on the day of the election by mistake. The ballots were still sealed in their envelopes in a secure location in the city clerk’s office and were ultimately tabulated. Other issues included instances of voters getting the wrong ballot for the wrong precinct, he said.
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