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Bridge Michigan
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Michigan GOP activists wary of ‘voice vote’ amid Lt. Gov. fight

Ralph Rebandt
Retired pastor Ralph Rebandt is attempting a convention challenge to become the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Tudor Dixon’s choice for lieutenant governor faces a nominating convention challenge
  • Critics fear a ‘voice vote’ rule could be used to rubber stamp Dixon’s pick
  • Pastor Ralph Rebandt is running against Shane Hernandez

LANSING – Grassroots activists attempting to elect their own lieutenant governor nominee at this weekend’s Michigan Republican Party convention are crying foul over a rule they fear could allow leadership to rubber stamp gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon’s choice.

Under a rules committee amendment adopted this month but not publicly published by the state party, convention officials will hold a “voice vote” to determine whether a majority of delegates support Shane Hernandez, a former state lawmaker who Dixon hopes to make her running mate. 

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The voice vote will “offer speed and convenience,” according to a copy of the amendment reviewed by Bridge Michigan and confirmed by a state party spokesperson. The GOP will distribute paper ballots only if “the voice vote is unclear.”

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Grassroots activists contend the voice vote could make it more difficult for them to try to elect former gubernatorial hopeful Ralph Rebandt or other potential lieutenant candidates, who could only challenge Hernandez if he does not garner majority support from delegates in two consecutive rounds of convention voting. 

“Rules that already heavily disadvantaged ‘the grassroots state delegates’ have been further skewed by the corrupt Michigan Republican Party,” Deb Ell, who leads an American First, Michigan First precinct delegate organization, wrote this week in an email to fellow GOP activists obtained by Bridge.

“We CANNOT trust the vote count at state convention,” Ell continued, arguing the process will wipe trust the party gained in April when it created an audit process to ensure accuracy of endorsement votes won by presumed attorney general and secretary of state nominees Matt DePerno and Kristina Karamo.

A voice vote could give the yet-to-be-named convention chair significant latitude to determine whether Hernandez has the votes necessary to secure the nomination.

In a 2018 convention vote to nominate Supreme Court Justice Beth Clement for re-election, many Republicans audibly booed amid frustration over her decisions in key cases, including a ruling that allowed a successful redistricting commission proposal on the ballot that year. The convention chairman nonetheless declared the “ayes have it” and confirmed her nomination.

"It doesn't matter what the rules say or don't say,” Republican strategist Dennis Lennox told Bridge. “Conventions are ultimately political theater. The convention chairman and the gavel are the ultimate rules. Everything will be scripted and floor microphones won't even be activated."

Ell, the GOP delegate organizer from Frankenmuth, told Bridge she and other "America First" convention delegates would be fine with a voice vote "as long it's done correctly." 

"But I don't think it will be," Ell said. "We're gonna walk out united, but going in, if it seems like they're bending rules, or they're not giving all the delegates a fair voice, it will be contentious. It's just like they're stealing our voice and taking away our choices."

Supporters of Hernandez say he appears poised to win the lieutenant governor nomination regardless of how the vote is conducted. Since Dixon announced her choice last week, Hernandez has secured endorsements from former President Donald Trump, DePerno and other Republicans who remain influential  with the increasingly dominant grassroots wing of the party. 

“This thing is over” and “has been over” GOP consultant Jamie Roe, who worked on Hernandez’s failed congressional campaign in 2020, told Bridge on Tuesday after Trump and DePerno announced their endorsements. 

DePerno, who won an endorsement vote in April and is poised to be formally nominated on Saturday despite the threat of potential criminal charges in a vote machine tampering case, is expected to join Dixon and Hernandez for a "meet and greet breakfast" with GOP delegates before the convention begins, according to a Dixon campaign invitation email obtained by Bridge Michigan.

"I selected Shane Hernandez of Port Huron as my running mate because of his proven conservative credentials and his record of successfully battling Gretchen Whitmer," Dixon told delegates in the email, noting Hernandez "led the fight" against the Democratic governor's failed proposal to fix roads by raising gas taxes by 45-cents per gallon. 

"If you think gas is expensive now, just imagine if Shane had let Gretchen Whitmer have her way,” Dixon wrote.

Rebandt, a recently retired pastor who finished fifth behind Dixon in the Aug. 3 gubernatorial primary, announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor on Monday, arguing the attempt to deny Dixon her preferred running mate should not be viewed as “divisive.”

A convention challenge will ensure grassroots delegates have a voice in the process and could ultimately lead to “greater unity and acceptance in the outcome,” Rebandt said in a statement announcing his campaign.

Garrett Soldano, who finished third in the gubernatorial primary, had also considered mounting a convention fight for the lieutenant governor nomination but ultimately decided against a run.

While Trump endorsed Hernandez on Monday, Rebandt told Bridge Michigan that he remained committed to the race: “The process is to let the delegates decide,” he said by email on Wednesday. 

Hernandez would bring legislative experience to the GOP ticket, something Dixon lacks. He also boasts grassroots credentials dating back to his time in the tea party movement. He was named the most conservative member of the House in 2017 by Michigan Information and Research Service (MIRS) news.

But activists urging a convention challenge contend the party needs a lieutenant governor nominee more capable of energizing the new wave of grassroots Republicans who have helped reshape the party but have concerns over Dixon and her backing by the wealthy DeVos family of West Michigan. 

Critics note that Hernandez criticized Trump’s border wall proposal as “ridiculous” in 2016 and more recently supported former House Speaker Tom Leonard over DePerno for the attorney general nomination.

“In my humble opinion, the ONLY way Tudor can and will defeat Whitmer in November is with a true, grassroots, Conservative shit kicker running mate that can inspire and mobilize the Conservative base!” Mike Detmer, a Trump-endorsed state Senate candidate who lost in the Aug. 3 primary but refused to concede, wrote this week in a public Facebook post. 

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“It MUST be someone NOT tied to the Lansing Swamp or the DeVos machine in any way, shape or form and someone who will be a voice for the grassroots movement,” Detmer wrote. 

Ell, the “American First” precinct delegate organizer from Frankenmuth, told fellow delegates in a recent email that she thinks it is important to nominate a lieutenant governor candidate who is committed to investigating the 2020 election, which Trump continues to claim was rigged against him despite certification and court losses.

“When media, State Party, RINOs, and our beloved former president overstep their roles as they have, I say God bless one Lt. Governor candidate who stands - RALPH REBANDT who believes in the strength of We the People - our elected Delegates, to make the decisions that best represent us, God, State, and Country,” Ell wrote.

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