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Where do Michigan GOP governor candidates stand on guns, taxes, schools, more

Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidates agree on more they disagree on policy. They are: Tudor Dixon, Ryan Kelley, Kevin Rinke, Ralph Rebandt and Garrett Soldano. The winner of the Tuesday primary advances to the November general election to face Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.
  • Michigan GOP governor candidates agree on most issues
  • All candidates favor an abortion ban but vary on exemptions
  • Republicans oppose most gun restrictions but promote plans to improve public safety

Aug. 2: Tudor Dixon: What to know about the Republican taking on Michigan Gov. Whitmer

LANSING — The five Michigan Republicans competing to take on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would each offer a stark contrast to the first-term Democrat.  But when it comes to policy, the differences between them are often quite minor.

Conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores, businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township, chiropractor Garrett Soldano of Mattawan, Allendale Township real estate broker Ryan Kelley and retired pastor Ralph Rebandt of Farmington Hills each oppose most gun restrictions, oppose legal abortion, support school choice and want to lower taxes.

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But there are nuances, including conflicting ideas about how to prevent school shootings such as last year’s at Oxford High School, improve elections, how far to take an abortion ban and reform the state’s education system. 

Here is what you need to know before Tuesday’s primary.

Election security

Among the five GOP candidates, only Rinke has distanced himself from former President Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory that he won Michigan’s 2020 election, which Democrat Joe Biden won by 154,188 votes. But all five promise to sign new election security legislation if elected.

Kelley, who protested the 2020 election and has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, has the most aggressive proposals. In addition to tougher voter ID rules, Kelley wants to ban absentee ballot drop boxes and cancel contracts with electronic voting machines. That would require local clerks to hand-count paper ballots, which experts say could delay results for weeks or more. Kelley has also called to "decertify" the 2020 presidential election by recalling Michigan's Electoral College votes, which experts say there is no legal means to actually do. Kelley has also proposed eliminating same-day voter registration which is now guaranteed under the Michigan Constitution, as amended by voters in 2018. 

Dixon says she would support "common-sense voter laws" already approved by Michigan's GOP-led Legislature but vetoed by Whitmer, including mandating photo ID by eliminating an existing option for voters to instead sign an affidavit of identity under penalty of perjury. Dixon wants to prohibit state election officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballots and wants to ban private donations to help run elections or so-called "Zuckerbucks," a reference to 2020 private grant funding provided to Michigan clerks through a non-profit supported by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Rebandt supports mandatory photo ID, wants to prohibit the state from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications and bar private funding for public elections. He also opposes same-day voter registration currently allowed under the Michigan Constitution.

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Rinke supports tougher voter ID rules and has promised to "audit the voting rolls" to make sure anyone eligible to vote is property registered — and alive — before casting a ballot. In a recent debate, Rinke said he would like to eliminate no-reason absentee voting, which is guaranteed under the Michigan Constitution, as amended by voters in 2018. Instead, he'd like to allow for an early in-person voting period with mandatory photo ID. 

Soldano has also proposed what he calls "common sense" reforms, including expanded ID rules and a ban on unsolicited absentee ballot applications. He supports a "full forensic audit" of the 2020 election but has not detailed what that process might look like or who would oversee it. Soldano says he wants to toughen existing penalties for election fraud. 

Expanding school choice

While all five GOP candidates say they want to improve education in Michigan, they've offered relatively sparse plans for public schools. Instead, several want to create scholarship programs that would help parents pay for private schools and circumvent the state’s constitutional ban on using public dollars for that purpose. The candidates have also leaned into culture-war issues with proposals to limit discussions of racial oppression or gender identity in schools. 

Dixon supports a proposed scholarship program, backed by former U.S. Education Secretary Besty DeVos, that would help parents pay tuition if they choose to send their kids to private schools. She also wants to add new civics and financial literacy curriculum requirements for grade schools. Dixon says she wants to prohibit transgender athletes from competing on preferred sports teams. Her proposed Parents Right to Know Act would prohibit K-3 teachers from talking about “sex and gender theory” and require schools to post online a list of every book available in classrooms and libraries. “Every parent has a right to know exactly what is happening in their child's classroom,” she said in a debate.

Rinke says he would ban “critical race theory” in public schools. He has not defined what he means by that phrase but says he wants to “end the practice of indoctrinating our children rather than educating them.” Rinke says he supports “school choice” and has praised a voucher-like scholarship program that would help parents pay for private schools. Rinke told Bridge he would support a law to limit discussions of gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarted through third-grade. 

Soldano, who made his mark in politics by fighting pandemic restrictions, says he would prohibit any future mask mandates in Michigan schools. He has said he would ban “critical race theory” in Michigan schools but has not defined a clear plan. Soldano has also praised a proposal for voucher-like scholarship program to help parents pay for private schools. He has said he would consider cutting funds to public universities, which he has derided as “indoctrination centers.”

Kelley, whose kids are homeschooled, has proposed aggressive plans to overhaul Michigan education. He has advocated for vouchers to pay for private schools and wants the state to spend more on trade schools.  He’s also proposed rejecting federal dollars for the state Department of Education. In public schools, Kelley says he would prohibit “critical race theory” and would try to force schools to eliminate any staff positions focused on “diversity, equity and inclusion.” And he wants to require schools to teach new courses on the Constitution and civil liberties. “Provide a quality education or go out of business,” he said in a debate. 

Rebandt says he’d like to see the Christian Bible taught in public schools, either in history or literature classes. He’s advocated for vouchers – currently restricted by the Michigan Constitution – that would help parents pay for private schools or homeschool materials. Rebandt has also said he wants to eliminate funding for public universities despite a state constitution requirement for governmental support. 

Banning abortion

Republicans have reliably opposed legal abortion for years, but a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has thrust the issue back into the spotlight by ending federal protections and again allowing states to determine their own policies. Michigan has an old abortion ban on the books, but that 1931 law has been temporarily suspended during an ongoing legal fight over whether it should be immediately implemented. For now, abortion remains legal here. 

Rebandt is the only GOP candidate who says he favors a total abortion ban with no exeptions, but he told Bridge he’s also OK with the 1931 law. “At conception, there is a person, and we need to do everything we can to protect that little child and the mother,” he told Bridge.

Dixon wants to ban all abortions in Michigan except in cases where the life of a pregnant woman is at risk. She does not support exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. 

Rinke favors an abortion ban and is the only GOP candidate who supports exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, along with cases where the health of the mother is at risk. “I have the same position as Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump,” he said in a debate.

Soldano wants to ban abortion except in cases where the life of a pregnant woman is at risk. He does not support exceptions for women who get pregnant because of  incest or rape, saying the “baby inside them may be the next president.”

Kelley supports a ban on abortion without exemptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. He supports an exemption for the life of the mother but says that should be rare

Gun rights

There’s not much distance between the candidates when it comes to gun regulations: Each has consistently opposed calls for new restrictions following mass shootings, instead arguing that the solution is ensuring more “good guys” have guns so they can stop the crimes.

Dixon says she supports gun rights and will “not allow anyone to tear apart our Second Amendment.” She opposes so-called “red flag” gun confiscation laws once touted by Trump and recently incentivized by Congress, which allow family members to petition judges to take away guns if someone is deemed a danger. She also supports “constitutional carry,” which would allow Michiganders to carry concealed pistols without the need for permits and requisite training. 

Soldano has said the first thing he'd do to curb gun violence is to make Michigan a "constitutional carry" state, arguing that armed citizens could help stop mass shooters. Soldano has promised to oppose "Democratic gun grabs" and said in a recent debate that gun restrictions "don't work”  Michigan also needs to put "a lot of money for mental health" to prevent mass shootings, he said. 

Kelley opposes "red flag" gun confiscation laws and supports “constitutional carry.” He's said he'll explore ways to incentivize gun and ammunition manufacturers to set up shop in Michigan. Kelley also opposes any restrictions on the AR-15 assault-style weapons used in several mass shootings across the country. It's a "baseless" claim to call an AR-15 an assault weapon, he said in a recent debate. "Assault is an action. It is not an object."

Rinke also opposes “red flag” laws, which he said “allows an opening for government overreach and… eliminates due process.” He too wants to make Michigan a “constitutional carry” state by eliminating the need for a license and training to carry concealed pistols.  Rinke has said he wants to “make sure that bad guys don’t have guns” and in a recent interview with journalist Charlie LeDuff  said he is open to requiring background checks for all firearm sales, which would close a so-called loophole for long guns sold at gun shows. “I certainly don't see that as a huge infringement,” Rinke said. However, in a follow-up interview with WOOD radio, Rinke said he was merely expressing “a personal opinion” and does not plan to propose background check legislation if elected governor. 

Rebandt says he will "aggressively" protect gun ownership rights if elected. "Neighborhoods are a safer place where the citizens are given every opportunity to protect themselves," Rebandt says on his website. In a recent debate, Rebandt stressed the importance of mental health aid and said he does not "agree with the phrase gun violence." He prefers to "call it people violence," Rebandt said. 

School safety

While the GOP candidates oppose new gun regulations,they have offered a series of unique proposals to improve school safety and deter mass shootings, including metal detectors, gun sniffing dogs and armed hall monitors. 

Soldano says he wants to limit Michigan schools to a single-point of entry, an idea some experts have said is unrealistic and potentially dangerous because it would create student logjams. Soldano has emphasized the need to address an ongoing “mental health crisis.”  He also wants to allow teachers to carry guns in schools, but only if they are willing. “When evil comes knocking at that door they should know there's going to be a fistfight in a phone booth,” he said in a recent debate. 

Kelley opposes gun restrictions for adults but has said he would support installing metal detectors "inside every one of the doors" of Michigan schools. He's also suggested schools could do a better job responding to "early warning signs" but has not offered any plans to do so. The state already operates a confidential tip program that allows students to text, email or call in information about potential threats. 

Rebandt has said he favors limiting Michigan schools to a single-point of entry. He also wants to hire retired police or military veterans and arm them to patrol the halls. But to ensure students don’t have weapons, he’s proposed putting gun-sniffing dogs into Michigan schools.  

Dixon says she wants to “harden” schools by improving security. Too many are now a “soft target” she said. Dixon said she would also revisit – and potentially implement – additional recommendations from a School Safety Task Force convened by former Gov. Rick Snyder. She has not specified which recommendations. 

Rinke has proposed using armed and volunteer military veterans to serve as “hall monitors” in Michigan schools. It’s not clear how many volunteers would sign up, or if there would be enough military veterans willing to be stationed without pay in thousands of Michigan schools for a full academic year. Rinke has proposed training the volunteers through the Michigan State Police. “We'll have folks who are familiar with guns and comfortable with them,” he said in a debate.

Taxes

With inflation eating into pocketbooks, all five GOP candidates say they want to cut taxes. Those are popular proposals during campaigns but can make choices difficult in office by eroding budgets that governors are constitutionally required to help balance. None of the candidates have identified enough potential spending cuts to pay for their plans, although two have identified university funding as a potential area to cut. 

Rinke wants to completely eliminate Michigan's 4.25 percent personal income tax, which generates $12 billion in revenue for state and local governments, within one year of taking office.  He has not identified potential spending cuts to pay for the plan but says he'd spend his first year in office negotiating those details with the Legislature. Rinke has also said he wants to explore potential cuts to personal property taxes, which has traditionally proven a complicated endeavor in Lansing because those taxes are used to support local government services. 

Soldano has praised low-tax states but not detailed a specific plan to cut personal income taxes. In debates, he has proposed cutting business regulations and reducing corporate income taxes. His campaign says he wants to eliminate at least 25 percent of those business regulations within his first two years of office. He’s identified public university funding as one area to potentially cut spending. 

Kelley says he favors lowering the state’s 6 percent corporate income tax and reducing business regulations. A real estate broker, Kelley said in a recent debate that  he’d like to explore reducing primary residence property taxes, which include an 18-mill state tax that pays for schools as well as local initiatives. Reducing property taxes could be complicated given their importance to local government budgets. But doing so, Kelley said, would “incentivize a lot of people to want to live in Michigan because you'll own your home.”

Rebandt says he would "immediately suspend" primary residence property taxes for Michiganders who are 65 and older in order to provide relief to seniors who may be on fixed incomes. That could reduce funding for local governments, in particular, but Rebandt said he would create an anti-appropriations committee of citizens to brainstorm ways to cut the state budget to free up additional resources for locals. He also wants to eliminate public university funding even though the Michigan Constitution requires financial support. 

Dixon says she wants to “phase out” Michigan’s personal income tax, which generates $12 billion a year in revenue for state and local governments. Dixon has not specified how quickly she wants to phase out the tax or what areas of the state budget she would be willing to cut to pay for it. Dixon has said she will protect police funding. Dixon has also said she wants to cut or simply 40 percent of Michigan business regulations but has not specified which. Experts say Michigan is already one of the lesser-regulated states. 

Roads and infrastructure

The Republican candidates have spent considerable time criticizing Whitmer for failing to “fix the damn roads,” as promised in her 2018 campaign. After the Legislature rejected her proposed 45-cent fuel tax hike, Whitmer has used borrowed money through bonds to accelerate road construction projects but acknowledged there’s a lot of work left to do. GOP candidates have so far failed to offer many concrete plans of their own, with some offering only vague suggestions to change road construction techniques that engineers have spent decades studying and developing. 

Dixon has not proposed any new funding for roads, but she is the only candidate who has offered some sort of clear alternative. Dixon has said she wants to re-examine Michigan’s road funding formula to ensure more money goes to areas with more needs, an idea that has proved a heavy lift in the Legislature because it would require buy-in from legislators in areas that current formula favors. Dixon has also said she wants to ease restrictions to allow for more aggregate mining in Michigan to produce local materials. She has also suggested the opportunity for more private-public partnerships to fund road maintenance. 

Rinke has said he’ll “make investments in our roads” and seek to fix “priority roads” first. He has not offered any plan to pay for additional maintenance but argued there is “plenty of money” available. Heclaimed the state is currently building “roads that are designed to fail” and should be built differently given the state’s high weight allowance for commercial trucks. 

Soldano has argued that focusing on attracting businesses to Michigan would increase the state’s tax base to allow more funding for roads, but he has not offered any plans for slowing projected deterioration. In a debate, he suggested the state should consider “making them thicker so they don’t degrade every several years” and has said he wants to explore different mixtures to combat freeze/thaw cycles that some blame for the state’s roads. 

Kelley has argued the state doesn’t need additional money to fix the roads, it just needs to “allocate the (existing) funds properly.” He suggested the state take a more active role in local road construction decisions instead of simply funding local road agencies and allowing them to determine best uses. In a recent debate, Kelley said the state should “have counties tell us the roads in worst shape and then allocate funds to have these assets be replaced without replacing the roads that don’t need to be replaced.”

Rebandt has offered only general ideas for fixing roads but says he’d cut other parts of the state budget to prioritize road repairs. In one debate, Rebandt said he wants to make sure Michigan uses the “proper mixture to make the roads last.”

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