Former top-level state officials with the Snyder, Engler, and Milliken administrations are among a group of Republicans and independents publicly endorsing Democrat Gretchen Whitmer for governor.
The group is co-chaired by former Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz, who now identifies as an independent.
“The party itself has maybe gone a bit too far to the right,” Schwarz tells WDET’s Jake Neher. “And we really need someone in the center, someone who’s a moderate, someone who has the ability to work with both sides, but someone who can make tough decisions.”
The campaign for the Republican nominee, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, says the group represents the Lansing establishment, which is upset at Schuette for filing charges against Snyder officials related to the Flint Water Crisis.
“This is Lansing establishment protecting Lansing bureaucrats,” says Republican strategist Stu Sandler, who is working with the Schuette campaign. “They’re upset with Bill Schuette because he’s willing to prosecute Lansing bureaucrats when they screw up.”
Schwarz denies those charges have anything to do with his decision to endorse Whitmer. But at least one other of the group’s co-chairs is not shying away from that claim.
Former Engler and Snyder advisor Richard McLellan has been “a pretty vocal opponent” of what he considers “over-criminalization of things that go on in government.”
“People make mistakes,” he said. “They make stupid mistakes. But you don’t go out and prosecute them. And what I think he has done is have a very chilling effect on a lot of government people. And I think it will stick with him if he happens to win for governor.”
“(Schuette’s) interactions with Governor Snyder have not been helpful to Michigan,” said McLellan. “And I’ve been a big Snyder supporter.”
According to a press release, Republicans and Independents for Whitmer will be co-chaired by former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Battle Creek), Jim Haveman, the former Director of the Michigan Department of Community Health under Governor John Engler and Governor Rick Snyder, Richard McLellan, who served as Transition Director to then Governor-Elect John Engler, and Vivian Carpenter, who served as Deputy State Treasurer under Governor Bill Milliken.
Additional members include: Trish Foster, retired Senior Managing Director and COO at CBRE-Martin, former Rep. Mel Larsen (R-Oakland County), co-author of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Mary McLellan, a retired Department of Civil Rights employee, Bill Milliken, Jr., Real Estate Broker at Milliken Realty and son of former Governor Bill Milliken, Rod Nelson, retired CEO of Mackinac Straits Health System, John Pirich, a partner at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, Dennis Smith, retired CEO of the UP Health Plan, Paul Tarr, President of PM Tarr and Associates, Gina Yob, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for 3S International LLC.
Plymouth Twp. Supervisor Kurt Heise, a former Republican state lawmaker who has had his own public disagreements with Schuette, joins Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to talk about this group and what it might signal about the state of Michigan politics.
Heise says there are still moderate and liberal-minded Republicans in Michigan, but their voices have been minimized in the GOP.
“You don’t hear from them at conventions because they’re usually drown out if they’re heard at all,” says Heise.
He says many of the dynamics at play trickle down from the very top of the Republican Party, starting at the White House.
“Trump has dominated the inner-workings of the Republican Party in Michigan,” he says.
Click on the audio player above to hear those conversations with Schwarz, McLellan, and Heise on Detroit Today.