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GOP gubernatorial candidates to debate in Traverse City

The stage of a Democratic presidential debate in 2007.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
The stage of a Democratic presidential debate in 2007.

Several GOP candidates for Governor will introduce themselves to northern Michigan voters at a debate in Traverse City on Saturday.

It comes after a major shake up in the race this week. The Michigan Bureau of Elections discovered several candidates’ petitions to qualify for the August primary contained thousands of fraudulent signatures. The Bureau determined five of the ten candidates did not have enough signatures.

The decision to remove those candidates from the ballot was upheld by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Thursday, when it deadlocked on the decision.

Disqualified candidates Michael Markey, a financial planner, and Michael Brown, a Michigan State Police captain, were slated to speak at the debate on Saturday.

When reached on Wednesday, the organizer, Heather Cerone, said only Brown had dropped out of the weekend’s debate. Brown had also announced he’d be suspending his campaign on Wednesday.

Unless the decision goes to the Michigan Supreme Court, who were leading the field, businessman Perry Johnson and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig—are out, leaving the race wide open again.

This weekend the remaining candidates will present to voters why they’d make good governors. That includes: Tudor Dixon, Ryan Kelley, Ralph Rebandt, Kevin Rinke and Garrett Soldano.

Dixon is a conservative media personality who got the DeVos family’s endorsement.

Kelley is a real estate broker and has served on the Allendale Township Planning Commission.

Rebandt is a pastor at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Rinke is the former owner of a car dealership.

Soldano is a chiropractor and self-help specialist, who became a grassroots figure during the pandemic.

Michigan Rep. John Roth (R-Grand Traverse) said he’s not sure what to make of the race. He may be at the debate Saturday, depending on other events.

Roth, the former chair of the Grand Traverse Republican Party, said it’s a group of political outsiders, as is becoming more the case in conservative candidates.

He said he’s going to pay closer attention to the race now that one or two of the people he was looking at will be off the ballot.

“I think this helps Tudor Dixon,” he said. “I have not made up my mind. I've been looking at them from afar."

Neil Friske, a candidate for the 107th State House seat, said he likes Garrett Soldano and thinks Ryan Kelley’s got a good platform.

He said it’s a great time to be involved in politics, as a group of “true conservatives” are running in elections across the country.

“There are a lot of good conservative patriots, America first candidates running,” Friske said.

Friske said northern Michigan Republicans he talks to are sick of what he called “the liberal leaning influence” on the Republican party.

“That’s why you see so many smaller conservative patriot type groups starting,” he said. “We’ve become so frustrated and disheartened with the Republican party.”

Friske said concerns about election integrity is the number one thing he hears from voters. Gubernatorial candidates will likely be asked about their solutions to the statewide housing crisis, he said.

Still, Friske said electability is his biggest concern. He’s not convinced any of the candidates can beat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer yet.

Cerone said her group, Citizens Liberating Michigan, and other local conservative groups like Benzie County Patriots are sponsoring the debate.

She would not disclose the topics that would be the focus of the debate. Cerone said enthusiasm is high, because of this week’s shake up and the debate coinciding with a holiday weekend.

The debate is scheduled from 3-5 p.m. May 28 at the Park Place Hotel and Convention Center in Traverse City.
The event is free but pre-registration is required at nmidebate.com.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.