GOP candidates’ outrage on transgender athletes is latest hit in attack on public education, reporter says

The Republicans vying for the gubernatorial nomination are having a hard time differentiating themselves, though Ryan Kelley’s arrest over his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has given him an edge, says Gongwer reporter Ben Solis.

Most of the Republican candidates are using parental rights as a platform. The idea is that somehow parents don’t have enough of a say in their child’s education in public schools. This has spurred arguments and outrage over issues such as masking, racial equity education and transgender athletes in public schools.

Reporter Ben Solis detailed this latest battle in the culture wars in an article for Gongwer. He says Republicans feel like an attack on public schools is an effective wedge issue in their efforts to retake the governorship.

Listen: The gubernatorial campaign has been push for greater parental rights, Gongwer’s Ben Solis says.


“It seems that the GOP feels that as public education moves in a certain way, they’re getting left behind. They have less say over what’s in their child’s curriculum, the after-school programs that they’re going to. Recently this comment from Attorney General Dana Nessel calling for a drag queen in every school — which was a joke —which was not taken that way by the GOP, it’s kind of set off some of these concerns.”

Gongwer reporter Ben Solis

It’s coming at a time of a renewed push to try to funnel money from public schools into charter schools and private schools like the push coming from the billionaire DeVos family.

“It’s just another hit in the line of trying to attack public education,” Solis says. “Attorney General Dana Nessel pointed out that this is just another attack in the long line of those against public education, that she very much sees this as intertwined. … Some people have asked, especially on social media, is this transgender attack astroturfed? Is it manufactured? Are we really seeing this concern from from regular people? Or is this some kind of party machination? And it appears to be the latter.”

Tudor Dixon has been at the forefront of this latest attack, Solis says, and whether it sways voters remains to be seen.

“But I will say that on the very day that the attorney general made her comment about drag queens in schools, Garrett Soldano had already cut an ad attacking them,” Solis says.

Based on what the candidates are focusing on to their overall rhetoric, there hasn’t been a lot to differentiate the candidates heading into the gubernatorial primary, until recently.

“Before Ryan Kelley was arrested, one of the main lines that we were seeing was, how can we tell Garrett Soldano and Ryan Kelley apart? Well now we can simply because of the Jan. 6 arrest,” Solis says. “It’s tough to say who will really rise to the top with the Republican primary voters, because quite honestly, they’re checking all the boxes that they need to check for that voter bloc.”

As far as how it will affect the election, Solis says it’s difficult to say right now. “I know that some of the statistics on how people feel about gay and lesbian people is a much larger statistic of people feeling comfortable with that group of people. I’m not sure that the same can be said about the transgender community. So it’ll be really interesting to see how many Republican voters are moved by this.”

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  • Russ McNamara
    Russ McNamara is the host of All Things Considered for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news to the station’s loyal listeners. He's been an avid listener of WDET since he moved to metro Detroit in 2002.