Business groups split over Michigan Republican governor candidates

Experts say they aren’t surprised local chambers have aligned with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and the Michigan Chamber has chosen Attorney General Bill Schuette in the race to become a Republican nominee for governor. Regional interests and political ideologies make each candidate a predictable fit for the business advocacy groups.

Oct. 31, 2018: Here’s who endorsed the 2018 Michigan governor candidates
Oct. 31, 2018: Here’s who endorsed the 2018 Michigan Secretary of State candidates
Oct. 31, 2018: Here’s who has endorsed the 2018 Michigan Attorney General candidates
August 2018 update: Bill Schuette wins Republican nod for Michigan governor

With fewer than 50 days until primaries to determine Michigan party candidates for governor, leading business groups are split on their preferred candidate in the heated Republican race.  

The powerful Michigan Chamber of Commerce was one of the first to endorse state Attorney General Bill Schuette, the presumed frontrunner, in March. This month, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Regional Chamber endorsed Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. Other influential groups, such as Business Leaders for Michigan, have yet to endorse.

The local endorsements are a boon to Calley, who has been lagging behind Schuette in the polls. But they aren’t necessarily an indicator that the tides are changing for him. Rather, experts say, the split endorsements are likely more a reflection of business community interests in each region.

“The state chamber tends to take a broader statewide policy view of the world, and that’s their mission ‒ basically, state legislation and overall policy,” said John Truscott, president of the Lansing-based public relations firm Truscott Rossman. “A local chamber is much more focused on the local economy and their issues.”

While chamber endorsements might not move the needle for rank-and-file primary voters, they can come with financial perks that can help candidates cross the finish line later on.

Since the beginning of 2017, chamber groups across the state have spent nearly $850,000 on political campaigns, according to campaign finance data. The vast majority has come from the Michigan Chamber (more than $747,000) and Detroit Chamber (more than $55,000).

The state chamber gave Schuette $5,000 and Calley $10,000 last year before endorsing either. Then after endorsing Schuette in late March, it gave him an additional $25,000. The Detroit Chamber and the Grand Rapids Chamber have not yet contributed to either candidate’s committees.

In the minds of Republican primary voters, Calley offers a more moderate candidacy and Schuette a more conservative one, said long-time Lansing political analyst Bill Ballenger. That’s why it’s no surprise the two local chambers — which cover regions that are generally more moderate than deeply red regions scattered throughout the state — would choose Calley, and the state chamber would prefer Schuette.

John Clark, a professor of political science at Western Michigan University, said this sort of split among business groups is not surprising given that both candidates have a long history of public service — something most primary slates don’t have.

“By many standards, this is really a remarkable Republican primary,” Clark said. “Their resumes are quite similar to one another. In many election years, a political party would be delighted to have somebody like either one of these guys as their nominee.”

Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said that by early 2018 Democratic candidates had “taken multiple public positions on policy issues that were at odds with employers or the business community.”

He said it would be “very difficult” for two other Republican candidates for governor ‒ State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) and Saginaw obstetrician Jim Hines ‒ “to build the name ID and recognition needed to win the primary.” That left Calley and Schuette, both “well known to the Michigan business community.”

The PAC chose Schuette due to his experience working in several areas of government relevant to the governor’s office — the federal government, the court system, the state legislature and the executive branch, said Studley.

“Schuette is the most well-qualified and the best candidate who can win in both August and November,” Studley said.

He pushed back when asked whether Schuette’s front-runner status was influential in their choice.

“Our endorsements are not a popularity contest,” he said.

Schuette has also been endorsed by the Michigan Realtors and the Michigan Restaurant Association.

In describing why they chose Calley, the Grand Rapids and Detroit chambers cite a desire to continue the economic growth of the Snyder administration.

“When you think about the progress that we’ve made in the state over the course of the last eight years, the Lt. Gov. has been an instrumental part of that,” said Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

The Grand Rapids Chamber was also particularly interested in hearing the candidates’ vision for addressing talent and infrastructure challenges, said the group’s vice president for government affairs, Andy Johnston.

“When you add those things up, it’s just really strong alignment with the West Michigan business community’s priorities,” Johnston said.  

Only one Republican candidate will be chosen on August 7. Whichever candidate wins will hope to pick up the others’ endorsements, which is not a slam dunk, said Ballenger.

However, other experts don’t expect a lot of drama.

“Those primary rifts are usually healed fairly quickly, especially when there doesn’t seem to be that big of a dispute on policy between the candidates,” said Matt Grossmann, Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.

Grossmann cited recent precedent for business groups uniting behind whoever becomes the Republican nominee.

“Almost none of the (Republican) interest groups supported Snyder and they still got behind him in the general” election, he said.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Agnosticrat 2.0
Tue, 06/26/2018 - 8:31pm

Could get interesting if Calley decides to take on the chamber over its overwhelming silence on Trump Tariffs. Schuette seems fine with their effect on Michigan business as he is 100% behind his man Donald J.
Harley Davidson in Wisconsin may very well be the canary in the coal mine for all of American business.

William Clark
Thu, 09/20/2018 - 4:03pm

Bill Schuette, a Baptist per his personal website, and therefore allegedly an old-fashioned Christian, has done his best as Attorney General to criminalize, victimize, and prosecute Michigan patients and doctors who agree on the effectiveness of 'the drug' which is not a drug, but in fact an ancient medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. “Cannabis” in Latin, “kaneh bosm” in the old Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair.

Respect the Michigan Marihuana Act? 'That's not on my agenda.' –Bill Schuette

Apparently it’s been more important for him to appear 'Tough on Crime'. Especially with his political 'strength' within prison and 'policing for profit' industries, driven by cash and properties seized by violent SWAT teams.

The 'War on Drugs'? This is the War at Home, and its victims are real enough.

And never mind that Schuette smoked marijuana himself when he was young. Roll back the Statute of Limitations to charge him with his 'crime', and he'd change his 'opinion' in a heartbeat.

I'm convinced that prohibition of marijuana is a premise built on a tissue of lies: Concern For Public Safety. Our new laws save hundreds of lives every year, on our highways alone. In November of 2011 a study at the University of Colorado found that, in the thirteen states that decriminalized marijuana between 1990 and 2009, traffic fatalities have dropped by nearly nine percent—now nearly ten percent in Michigan--while sales of beer went flat by five percent. No wonder Big Alcohol opposes it. Ambitious, unprincipled, profit-driven undertakers might be tempted too.

In 2012 a study released by 4AutoinsuranceQuote revealed that marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users, as "the only significant effect that marijuana has on operating a motor vehicle is slower driving", which "is arguably a positive thing". Despite occasional accidents, eagerly reported by police-blotter ‘journalists’ as ‘marijuana-related’, a mix of substances was often involved. Alcohol, most likely, and/or prescription drugs, nicotine, caffeine, meth, cocaine, heroin, and a trace of the marijuana passed at a party last week. However, on the whole, as revealed in big-time, insurance-industry stats, within the broad swath of mature, experienced consumers, slower and more cautious driving shows up in significant numbers. Legalization should improve those numbers further.

Marijuana has many benefits, most of which are under-reported or never mentioned in American newspapers. Research at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that, unlike alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or Nancy (“Just say, ‘No!’”) Reagan’s beloved nicotine, marijuana is a neuro-protectant which actually encourages brain-cell growth. Research in Spain (the Guzman study) and other countries has discovered that it also has tumor-shrinking, anti-carcinogenic properties. These were confirmed by the 30-year Tashkin population study at UCLA.

Drugs are man-made, cooked up in labs, for the sake of patents and the profits gained by them. Often useful, but typically burdened with cautionary notes and lists of side effects as long as one's arm. 'The works of Man are flawed.'

Marijuana is a medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. “Cannabis” in Latin, and “kaneh bosm” in the old Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair. The very name, “Christ” translates as “the anointed one”. Well then, anointed with what? It’s a fair question. And it wasn’t holy water, friends. Holy water came into wide use in the Middle Ages. In Biblical times it was used by a few tribes of Greek pagans. But Christ was neither Greek nor pagan.

Medicinal oil, for the Prince of Peace. A formula from the Biblical era has been rediscovered. It specifies a strong dose of oil from kaneh bosom, ‘the fragrant cane’ of a dozen uses: ink, paper, rope, nutrition. . . . It was clothing on their backs and incense in their temples.

I am appalled at the number of 'Christian' politicians, prosecutors, and police who pose on church steps or kneeling in prayer on their campaign trails, but cannot or will not face the scientific or the historical truths about cannabis, Medicinal Herb Number One, safe and effective for thousands of years, and celebrated by most of the world’s major religions.

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 11:58pm

Gee with all the chamber and PAC money it looks like a shoe-in for the Republicans except for the fact that the Republican House, Senate and Governator have not solved any of the State problems just created more plus created more business leaning efforts that weren't good for Michigan or its citizens. How do voters solve those problems?

Bill Clark
Wed, 06/27/2018 - 1:42pm

I see nothing about what either one of these guys will do about our high Auto insurance rates in this state. Someone with balls needs to get rid of the no fault insurance.