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Dixon, Hernandez ticket prevails in contentious Michigan GOP convention

MIchigan GOP nominee for governor Tudor Dixon and running mate Shane Hernandez celebrate at the party convention on Aug. 27, 2022. (Bridge Photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon gets her preferred running mate in contentious GOP convention
  • Shane Hernandez wins nearly 80 percent of vote in lieutenant governor race
  • The event ran hours longer than planned as the party dealt with a hand-count of lieutenant governor votes, among other issues

LANSING — Michigan Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon is heading toward the November election with her preferred running mate: Former state Rep. Shane Hernandez. 

Hernandez prevailed Saturday in a contested, raucous and at times chaotic Michigan Republican Party convention in Lansing, where delegates voted to make him the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor. 

The paper ballot vote capped a wild convention and whirlwind two weeks for Hernandez, who lost a congressional bid in 2020 and had returned to life in the private sector before Dixon tapped him as her running mate to take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist this fall.


Grassroots activists angling for more power in a prospective Dixon administration contested the Hernandez nomination but were not able to secure enough votes to keep him off the ballot and replace him with their top choice: Recently retired pastor Ralph Rebandt of Farmington Hills.

However, the activists were able to upend the GOP convention, voting to replace a dueling slate of Macomb County activists and convincing state party leadership to ditch a planned “voice vote” on the lieutenant governor nomination.

But when the dust settled, nearly 80 percent of convention delegates voted “yes” on Hernandez, affirming his nomination and preventing an extended floor fight that could have ensued if he failed to top 50 percent.  

“These delegates know me,” Hernandez told reporters after winning the convention vote, noting his own grassroots ties as a former tea party leader. 

“We’re in a great spot going forward. We’re going to take our message out to the voters that this election is about the kitchen table issues that are hurting people at home: the cost of groceries, the cost of gas, the lack of workers.”

Dixon did not address the media after the convention vote, but she was expected to speak later Saturday at a “red wave party” outside the Michigan Capitol. 

In a separate and resounding voice vote, GOP delegates made April endorsements official by formally nominating Matthew DePerno for attorney general and Kristina Karamo for secretary of state, among others. 

DePerno and Karamo are Trump loyalists who rose in the party ranks by alleging fraud in Michigan’s 2020 presidential election, which Democrat Joe Biden won by 154,144 votes.

They’ll take on incumbent Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who were officially nominated for re-election two weeks ago at a Michigan Democratic Party convention. 

Hernandez was backed by former President Donald Trump, but he faced a convention challenge from Rebandt, who ran for governor this year and finished fifth behind Dixon in the Aug. 2 primary.

Republicans officially nominated candidates for statewide office on Saturday at a contentious convention. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

Dixon spent the better part of the past two weeks attempting to prove Hernandez’s conservative credentials, but “I don’t think the delegates are convinced,” Rebandt told Bridge Michigan before the vote. 

“Shane is a great guy, but I guess there are just some questions in my mind,” he said, noting that Hernandez endorsed DePerno’s opponent in the state party’s April nominating convention. “I don’t know his history enough.”

Regardless, Rebandt pledged to support the Dixon-Hernandez ticket.

“We realize that this is a momentous time in not only our party’s history but in Michigan’s history. In order to oust Whitmer, Nessel and Benson, we have to unite as a party, and all of the people supporting me, I’ve told them that.”

Hernandez got a big boost from DePerno, who spoke in support of his nomination prior to the convention vote. He touted Hernandez’s tea party roots and record in the state Legislature, where he was once voted the “most conservative” lawmaker in the Michigan House. 

“He understands the grassroots fights we are in, and he stands with us,” DePerno said. “Shane will bring our brand of conservatives to the state.”

If elected in November, Hernandez would be Michigan's first Hispanic lieutenant governor.

DePerno also closed the convention, making a motion to end the event so Republicans could go out and “kick some ass.”

The GOP convention was contentious from the outset, with activists vocally booing Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser and interrupting him to successfully challenge convention rules.

In a prayer, Vice Chair Bernadette Smith urged God to “break the power of division, disunity” so Republicans could organize to fight against their “real enemies.” 

But division ensued for several hours, delaying the nomination process amid a separate fight over dueling GOP factions from Macomb County, where former Chairman Mark Forton alleged he was illegally ousted in April and held his own county convention earlier this month. 

Forton’s contingent was initially denied access to the convention floor,  but they gathered in the guest area, where they hung a banner calling themselves the “real Macomb delegates” and lobbied credentialed GOP delegates to challenge the rules. 

The fight wasn’t about Macomb, it was about the soul of the state party, Forton told reporters after winning a credential to vote on the floor, predicting GOP activists will oust Weiser in February. 

“The Republican Party is going to be Republican again, not a Demo-RINO uniparty in Lansing,” Forton said, deriding so-called Republican in name only. “They all work together to tax us to death and strip us of our freedom.”

The convention showed “the grassroots are ticked off” and “Weiser is not popular,” said Dave Agema, a former Republican National Committeeman from west Michigan.

Activists are mad that party officials did not do more to challenge the 2020 election or block Whitmer’s pandemic orders, Agema told Bridge Michigan. ““There’s just a lot of angst.”

While he was booed at times, Weiser won big applause at the convention when he found opportunity to criticize Democrats.

The Dixon ticket will “bring the overreach of the Whitmer-Gilchrist era to an end on Nov. 8,” Weiser predicted in a speech before the lieutenant governor vote.

Jamie Roe, a longtime GOP strategist, was among the Macomb County delegates required to leave the convention hall when Forton’s alternate slate was seated.

“A clear, solid majority” of Macomb County precinct delegates had voted to remove Forton in April because they were sick of his “nonsense” and thought he spent too much time waging fights within the GOP, Roe said.

“He never mentioned a Democrat ever,” Roe said of Forton. “He was always trying to create purity within the party…. There are some people who are more focused on beating Democrats than demanding purity.”

The convention fights meant Republicans had only limited opportunities to criticize Whitmer, Nessel, Benson and other Democrats they are hoping to unseat this fall. 

The infighting also meant Republican leadership rarely mentioned Democrats, either. The convention began at 10 a.m. with a video criticizing Whitmer, but her name was not mentioned again over the next four hours. 

DePerno and Karamo joined Dixon and Hernandez at a morning breakfast for GOP delegates, attempting to present a united front ahead of what turned out to be a chaotic convention. 

Jason Roe, former executive director of the Michigan GOP who was ousted last year by Trump loyalists, summed up his thoughts on the convention in a Twitter picture: a Dumpster fire.

But Tom McMillin, a longtime GOP activist who serves on the state Board of Education, argued Republicans were leaving the convention enthused and ready to fight against Democrats this fall. 

“I think it’s a positive,” McMillin said of the convention process. “The grassroots was upset with the leadership, the leadership actually let them speak and decide, and they decided, and now we’re moving on. I think it’s great.”

Republican delegates on Saturday also officially nominated Lena Epstein for the University of Michigan Board of Regents following a Bridge MIchigan report revealing that she was arrested in a domestic violence dispute last year. 

Other GOP nominees include incumbent Judge Brian Zahra and newcomer Paul Hudson for the Michigan Supreme Court, Linda Lee Tarver and Tami Carlone for the state Board of Education, Sevag Vartanian for the University of Michigan Board of Regents, Travis Menge and Mike Balow for the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, Craig Wilsher and Christa Murphy for the Wayne State Board of Governors.

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