Question 1): The five Republican candidates campaigning this year to be Michigan’s next governor have failed to disclose any information about their income, tax payments and charitable contributions over the last year, much less anything in the past, despite transparency pledges they have made on the campaign trail. As Craig Mauger of The Detroit News has noted, chiropractor Garrett Soldano of Mattawan and businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township said they wouldn’t release their returns. Soldano said he wanted “full financial disclosure” from all five candidates, saying that would provide more information about candidates’ investments than a tax return. Rinke panned tax returns as “irrelevant,” and Soldano, who originally led the charge for personal transparency and “full financial disclosure,” now is refusing to release his until everyone else does. Ryan Kelley and Ralph Rebandt both “planned to release their tax returns,” but have never followed through. Tudor Dixon so far has failed to address the issue altogether. Meanwhile, Gretchen Whitmer believes she has established a record as the first governor in state history to voluntarily disclose tax returns and personal financial information annually, and she posted them again in response to a request by the News two weeks ago. What about this? Does anybody care? It obviously matters to the news media, but should it be important to the electorate? Could it make a difference in the Nov. 8 general election that Whitmer has complied with traditional expectations on this sensitive issue whereas the same can’t be said about her potential Republican opponent?
Answer 1): The failure to release personal financial information by this year’s GOP gubernatorial candidates is what you might expect from the unique nature of 2022’s Republican primary field, which features five first-time candidates for public office of any sort. This quintet is totally ‘off the wall’ in terms of historical measures of people running for governor. If it seems surprising to some that none of these candidates has stepped up to the plate, it shouldn’t be. What did we expect from this crew? Not only do they not recognize the prominence of financial disclosure as part and parcel of modern campaigns, they seem almost defiant in their attitude that this is their own personal business and nobody else’s. They seemingly don’t recognize that refusal to divulge their own personal financial information will undercut any arguments the nominee — whoever it is — might want to make against Whitmer about government transparency. Their excuse will be, “There’s no connection between the two,” but, oh yes!, there will be — the news media and Democrats will make sure of it. Better to cough up the info now. Unless one or more of them has something serious to hide, the media will quickly lose interest; the candidates will find any follow-up questions are unlikely to materialize and they can pursue the issues they would prefer to talk about.
Question 2): The editorial mavens at The Detroit Free Press held their collective noses and last week endorsed Oakland Co. businessman Kevin Rinke for the Republican nomination for governor on the grounds that he is “the least of five evils,” all of whom the Freep dismissed as incompetent right-wing zealot amateurs. Is this a big deal? Do newspaper endorsements matter any more?
Answer 2): They should, but they don’t, especially the Free Press’s, because that newspaper is now seen, particularly by Michigan Republicans of all stripes, as ‘in the tank’ with the Democrats and progressive political ideology. In fact, Rinke may fear an endorsement from the DFP is the Kiss of Death if he among five candidates is the one who received it. It may well be used against him by his opponents. It is difficult to believe it will be any advantage; the test will be whether you see him tout it in any of his TV ads.
Question 3): Gretchen Whitmer, evidently smarting from incessant accusations that she is excessively partisan and can’t work with the Republican-controlled Legislature, has taken to noting that the most recent bills she has signed into law have now reached the 900-mark in being “bi-partisan” pieces of legislation. No governor has come up with this peculiar statistic before. What are we to make of it?
Answer 3): Whitmer has been back-peddling from Left Field since the start of 2021, when she abandoned her Andrew Cuomo/Gavin Newsome approach to governance and started appealing to the broad middle of the electorate, where she knows elections in Michigan are won. It’s working, with pollster Richard Czuba noting that 61% of Independents now give her a positive job rating. But, if the Republicans were smart, they would demand a definition of “bi-partisan.” Does that mean each of the 900 bills had at least one Democratic co-sponsor? And how significant is that? Did it mean that, even if the bill had only Republicans sponsoring it, at least one Democrat in each chamber voted for it? Any more than that? How many more? And are 900 such bills the all-time record of bipartisanship as it relates to the number and percentage of bills presented to her altogether? How does it compare with other governors and legislatures of both parties? Let’s get into the details! Also, what about vetoes? That may be a record, too. Certainly, Whitmer’s record number of line-item vetoes of appropriations bills in 2019 was a record. And what about her defiant shuffling of appropriations between departments, unprecedented in its scope and questionable legality, all decried by members of both parties in the Legislature? These are the questions that should be asked by the news media and the various GOP campaigns, but aren’t.
Question 4): Are there any surprises in the new maps drawn up for the U.S. House of Representatives, state Senate, and state House of Representatives that have not been noted to a significant degree by the news media and political observers?
Answer 4): Early this year, there was major attention devoted by the news media and African-Americans, particularly in Detroit, to the fact that the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) had hacked up traditionally majority-minority districts in Motown, extending them out to Democratic-leaning suburbs in a way that was bound to reduce the number and percentage of black lawmakers at all levels, particularly in the state Senate. These maps were challenged in court, and part of one of the challenges is still alive in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which seems to be waiting till November to find out whether the claims of violations of the Voting Rights Act by the MICRC are proved true by the election results. If they are, we can expect the federal court to order some ‘adjustments’ to the maps going forward to 2024 and beyond. The news media has gone silent on this issue because they can’t write and do research on a different subject at the same time — they’re now focused on what matters most to their economic bottom line: coverage of the scores of political races in new districts all across the state.
Another, unrelated development is that Republicans appear poised to achieve near-parity in Genesee County, the state’s fifth largest in population as well as, for the past seven decades, one of the most Democratic counties in Michigan. How could this happen? Isn’t Flint the heart of Genesee County? Well, yes, and the new 70th state House district, which is made up almost entirely of Flint, is 85% Democratic. That’s because, as MIRS newsletter reports, the city successfully lobbied the MICRC to keep the city all within one district, unlike in Lansing and Ann Arbor, which the commission ‘cracked’ as in Detroit to create more “safe” or “likely” Democratic seats. But such a ploy can have unexpected consequences, and this one means that there is only ONE state House district in the rest of Genesee County, outside of Flint, that looks likely to be won by a Democrat — the 69th. Five others — the 67th, 68th, 71st, 72nd and 97th — should fall to the Republicans, with a little help from adjacent territory in Lapeer, Saginaw, Oakland, Livingston and Shiawassee Counties. Those new districts represent more than two-thirds of the land mass of Genesee County. This is one example of the rise of the new Trump-influenced GOP in areas not so far “outstate’ as people seem to think. These changing political winds explain why U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) is in trouble in his re-election bid in the new 8th Congressional District. Likewise, why John Cherry II is likely to be the only Democrat representing any piece of Genesee Co. in the state Senate come next January.