Michigan's race for governor: Meet GOP candidate Ralph Rebandt
Michigan's primary election is on August 2. There are five candidates vying for the Republican Party's nomination to challenge Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the November election.
As part of our Election 2022 coverage, Michigan Radio is speaking with each of the candidates on Morning Edition.
Ralph Rebandt is a recently retired evangelical minister. He lives in Farmington Hills and he talked to Morning Edition host Doug Tribou.
Doug Tribou: You served as a pastor for 35 years at Oakland Hills Community Church. And during your campaign, you’ve frequently mentioned that you want to, as you put it, "restore Judeo-Christian principles." What exactly do you mean by that and how would you do it?
Ralph Rebandt: As we look at America's history, it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and those Judeo-Christian principles were the foundation for our Constitution. They were the foundation, in many ways, for the American Revolution. Everyone knows that America wasn't founded on Buddhist ideology or Muslim theology. It was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and I'm convinced that's what's made it great for so long.
My faith affects everything I do, and I think one of the most transparent things is, in Governor Whitmer's administration, people are still wondering all over the state of Michigan what happened in the nursing homes, what happened with [former head of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services] Robert Gordon? Why did he leave?
DT: You're talking about the COVID response?
RR: Yes. Bills that are signed at 2 in the morning, things like that. And I've told people all over the state that when I become governor, I'm going to make Michigan an open records state. Michigan and Massachusetts are the only two states that do not have open records [for the governor's office], which means we can't [make Freedom of Information Act requests of] her office.
Doug Tribou: You've said you want to see more religion in schools, and you've talked about teaching the Bible in school. The Supreme Court has set some pretty clear boundaries in two rulings in the 1960s about that sort of thing. What would you say to Michiganders of other faiths or citizens who aren't religious and don't want the Bible taught in a public school curriculum?
RR: When I say bring it back, I'm not saying that we're going to have the Bible and everybody is going to sit there as if they're in a Sunday morning sermon. What I'm talking about is that our country has silenced that part of our history. And Karl Marx said, if you can erase the nation's past, you can take it anywhere in the future. And so I just want to take the eraser out of the hand of those who want to remove that.
DT: Karl Marx, notably not really big on religion, I believe.
RR: [Laughs] That's right. You know, we talk about the Supreme Court in the '60s, but in 1979, there was a case in Tennessee where a U.S. Circuit Court, somebody brought a complaint against teaching the Bible in the schools and they said, as long as it's not proselytizing, it's literature, it's history. So, there are court cases that set the precedent.
DT: Let's turn to some other issues. Roe v. Wade has been overturned, but abortion remains legal in Michigan. That’s because a court order prevents a 1931 law banning the procedure from taking effect. That law makes an exception for abortions that would protect the life of the mother. If that law does go into effect, what, if anything, would you change about it?
RR: I would have been happy with a heartbeat bill. I would be happy with the 1931 law. Science and the scriptures tell me that at conception there is a person. Look at it like this: If a woman has an ectopic pregnancy, that child is not going to live. And so anyone who understands life and understands that that is not even a viable pregnancy anyway, that that child has to be removed from the mother. And so the mother's life is then saved. So I think a lot of people, when I explain this, are leaving that off. They just say, "Ralph has no exceptions," which sounds really harsh.
But the reality is say, for example, the life of the mother. In 1931 it was, the mother is going to die, so we're going to take the baby out. Today, with all this mental illness talk, a woman could say, "I feel suicidal because I'm going to have a baby. I can't afford this baby. I can't whatever..." And then that becomes the defining factor for the life of the mother. We don't take a life because someone has a mental issue. We let that child be born and we share that child with thousands of families in Michigan that would love to adopt the child.
"As we look at America's history, it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and those Judeo-Christian principles were the foundation for our Constitution... Everyone knows that America wasn't founded on Buddhist ideology or Muslim theology. It was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and I'm convinced that's what's made it great for so long."Ralph Rebandt
DT: Are you saying you would want to make a distinction about a mental health aspect versus an immediate physical threat to a mother?
RR: Yeah, I see that as a legitimate distinction. And I can see people turning that, you know, the life of the mother and then sucking mental health into that.
DT: What would be your other top policy priorities if you're elected governor?
RR: Obviously, schools. I'm concerned about our children. I'm concerned about their safety, their physical well-being. I'm concerned about their mental well-being. I'm concerned about their emotional well-being. And COVID and the way Governor Whitmer has mishandled this has affected all of those.
You know, again Doug, here's an interesting thing that will help you understand my heart a little bit better. I've been a pastor for 35 years and I've also been a police chaplain in Farmington Hills and Beverley Hills. I'm the chaplain for the Michigan Chiefs of Police. And I went to the visitations for all four students who died in Oxford. As a pastor who's done many deaths, I mean hundreds of deaths, to see four students lying in those caskets in two days back to back was emotionally draining for me. It was discouraging, and I don't ever want to see that happen again.
Doug, I don't know how old you are, but I grew up having fun. I grew up in a Michigan that was free. None of this government overreach. I want to see that for our kids and our grandkids because they deserve the America that you and I grew up in. And I'm convinced that if we get God right in this next election, we're going to we're going to see things change.
DT: Would you support red flag laws or other gun restrictions that may have prevented some sorts of these tragedies that we've seen with gun violence in the U.S.?
RR: I would not support anything that infringes any more on our Second Amendment rights.
DT: I'm a bit younger than you are, but certainly not that young. And to refer back to the times when you and I were going to school, neither one of us, I'm sure, had to present an ID or wait to be buzzed into a school, which is certainly the case at my children's schools. Are you saying we should get rid of those practical safety measures in the hopes that the cultural or religious change that you're proposing would would end the need for that?
RR: No. And that's why I mentioned early on when you asked me the question about education. I'm very concerned about our children's safety. I would make sure that all schools have the financing to become a one-entry building. The other thing I have said is that I would hire retired military and retired law enforcement with a gun-sniffing dog. The other thing on schools, I'm in favor of vouchers. The Supreme Court just ruled it had an amazing case out of Maine, and that was an amazing victory for every state to have vouchers for students.
DT: You were a poll watcher inside the TCF Center in Detroit during the 2020 election. Will you accept the results of the primary next month if you're defeated?
RR: Absolutely. For sure I would.
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.