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Federal charges against candidate Ryan Kelley add more turmoil to MI Republican race for governor

 Gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley was formally charged in federal court with participating in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021.
Ryan Kelley for Governor
Gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley was formally charged in federal court with participating in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021.

It's been a chaotic couple of weeks in the campaign for the Republican nomination for governor in Michigan.

Things got a lot more chaotic Thursday when FBI agents arrested candidate Ryan Kelley during a raid at his home in Allendale. He is now facing several charges related to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021.

Kelley is one of five candidates who qualified for the gubernatorial primary ballot while five others were left off because of a campaign signature scandal.

Detroit Free Press reporter Paul Egan spoke with Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about the case against Kelley and how it could affect the gubernatorial race.

Doug Tribou: Ryan Kelley is facing a number of charges. Could you walk us through the accusations?

Paul Egan: There are four criminal counts against him. They're all misdemeanors, which means the most he could face on any one count would be one year in prison and a fine of about $100,000.

The first one relates to being in a restricted building or grounds, which could be significant because they really haven't cited yet any photographic evidence of him inside the Capitol building. They have a lot of video of him going up the steps around the scaffolding.

[Also,] disorderly and disruptive conduct, knowingly engaging in an act of physical violence against a person or property. Based on the affidavit from the FBI agent, it would appear this relates more to property, possibly, than to a person.

And then the last charge, which is somewhat similar, is willfully injuring property.

DT: How has Kelly responded to the charges against him?

PE: Well, he didn't say anything [Thursday.] He appeared in federal court in Grand Rapids and was released after they set the next court date. A large number of supporters were outside. They were launching prayers for him. He was joined outside the courthouse by the Republican attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno.

"There are some analysts who say, bizarrely, that these charges ... may actually help his candidacy."
Paul Egan

One interesting thing, though, is he has a gubernatorial Facebook page and shortly after the raid, while Kelly was actually in custody, somebody who's an administrator for that Facebook page posted "political prisoner."

DT: Ryan Kelly is not a household name in Michigan politics. What is his background and what prompted him to run for governor?

PE: He basically is a real estate agent or broker. He did have one sort of township planning-type job, but really, like almost all of the Republican candidates for governor, no real elected experience whatsoever.

He is one of several candidates who basically got into this over Governor Gretchen Whitmer's [executive] orders, especially early during the pandemic where businesses were shut down, schools were closed, a number of other restrictions were placed on activity. It was this idea that there was this autocratic government that was taking away people's rights, and that's what really got him into running for governor.

DT: Before Kelley's arrest, five other Republican candidates for governor had already been left off the primary ballot because of invalid signatures in their paperwork. Four candidates then lost legal challenges about that. Perry Johnson has filed a federal suit that's still in progress. And the best-known candidate, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, is now running a write-in candidacy. He mentioned that in an appearance on Fox 2 Detroit Thursday night.

What does all of that do in this pretty short window for Republicans before the August primary to determine who will face Governor Gretchen Whitmer in November?

PE: It's a mess, really. I mean, what more could go wrong? You have candidates that are running on election integrity and making allegations about fraud in the 2020 election. And, lo and behold, many of them turn in nominating petitions with the names of dead voters on them. Voters that no longer live in the districts, and voters that Bureau of Election staff determined were basically forged by signature collectors.

Now we have these criminal charges against Ryan Kelley. And, you know, of the five remaining candidates, he really was not seen as a front runner. Many have described it as kind of a three-person race now between Tudor, Dixon, Kevin Rinke and Garrett Soldano. But this is really raising [Kelley's] profile and name recognition. And there are some analysts who say, bizarrely, that these charges against him may actually help his candidacy.

Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Further reading:

"Federal criminal charges could help Ryan Kelley's GOP campaign for governor" by Paul Egan for The Detroit Free Press

"FBI arrests Ryan Kelley, Michigan gubernatorial candidate, on charges stemming from Jan. 6" by Paul Egan, Arpan Lobo, Audra Gamble, and Dave Boucher

for The Detroit Free Press

Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in June 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.