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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

Michigan's race for governor: Meet GOP candidate Ryan Kelley

Ryan Kelley.png

Michigan’s primary election is on August 2. There are five candidates hoping to win the Republican Party’s nomination to face Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the November election.

As part of our Election 2022 coverage, we’re speaking to those candidates all this week on Morning Edition.

Ryan Kelley is a real estate broker and owns his own business.

Kelley spoke with Morning Edition host Doug Tribou

Doug Tribou: Before we get into your campaign and your positions on the many issues that have come up during this election season, I want to ask you about the federal criminal case against you related to the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. You were in Washington that day. You're facing four misdemeanor charges and have pleaded not guilty.* A group is also trying to sue to keep you off the ballot because of those charges. Regardless of the outcome of the case or the lawsuit, how would all of that affect your ability to lead as governor?

(*Editor's note: This interview was recorded before the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected a request Thursday to declare Kelley ineligible to be governor.)

Ryan Kelley: People see me as as a fighter and somebody that takes action for the things that I believe in. Exercising my First Amendment. What we see here with these charges, no coincidence of timing. I start doing really well in the polls 18 months after January 6.

And you ask how it's going to affect my ability to lead. One thing I can point out, this came directly from Dana Nessel, the [Michigan] attorney general. She mentioned there's nothing we can do to get me off the ballot, number one. Number two, no matter what happens here, I can still serve as governor and it'd be tough to get me out.

And we're going to get through this because ultimately we need to make some big changes here in the state of Michigan.

DT: You have announced that Jamie Swafford would be your lieutenant governor if you're elected. Swafford held the position of ethnic vice chair in the Michigan Republican Party. Swafford has said she attended a Trump rally in Washington on January 6 last year. She's also been photographed posing with members of the extremist group The Proud Boys. How does that mesh with your plans to lead the entire state, including Michiganders, who see those actions as an attack on our democracy?

RK: First of all, we are not a democracy. We're a republic. So it is absolutely not an attack on our republic. It is a protected First Amendment activity to be able to get a picture with someone and, you know, calling specific groups, extremists. You know, I've seen pictures of Whitmer with [Black Lives Matter] members. And, you know, that's an extremist group, if you ask me. I mean, they burned down cities.

To answer your question, how this is going to affect our ability to lead and represent people? Because we have a republic and we understand that, we're going to uphold the constitutionally protected God-given rights of the citizens of America and of Michigan.

DT: Let's turn to some of the issues in this election campaign. You've said that you'd like to explore eliminating the personal income tax in Michigan. That could be billions and billions of dollars the state could put to roads, infrastructure, making sure we have clean drinking water. What are your ideas for offsetting that revenue for the state if we eliminated the personal income tax?

RK: Well, the first thing I think we should look at is the property taxes and how those continue to not provide balance in regard to the tax structure. When you think about reducing taxes and making an environment for businesses and people to prosper, they're going to have more money. They're going to spend more money. There's going to be additional revenue that's created with sales tax as you bring residents to the state and businesses to the state. It's going to stimulate the economy the right way inside the private market, and not government checks and handouts.

"When something like that happens, a school shooting, tragic. The other tragedy that comes out of this is the continued attack on the Second Amendment."
Ryan Kelley on his opposition to new gun laws after shootings at Oxford High School and other schools

DT: We've seen a string of mass shootings in schools here in the U.S., including in Michigan at Oxford High last year. You support Second Amendment rights. Would you support any changes to gun laws in Michigan that might have prevented the kinds of school shootings that we've seen across the country recently.

RK: When something like that happens, a school shooting, tragic. The other tragedy that comes out of this is the continued attack on the Second Amendment. Why do we never see actual solutions aimed at the schools instead of going after firearms? We're going to make all schools single-point access. We're going to put metal detectors inside the door frames. Why don't we talk about addressing mental health issues? Let's allow school staff members to carry firearms, if they so desire, put them through a training so that they understand how to respond in those situations.

That's the route we need to go versus, you ask the question, what would you do for more gun control? Forget about more gun control. It's already illegal to kill people with firearms and criminals don't follow those laws. So let's protect the actual schools. Let's protect our actual students.

DT: With all due respect to all of those ideas, the best laid plans are broken all of the time. You know, the way we deal with our schools has changed dramatically since you and I were kids. My kids' schools, you have to check in. You have to show an ID, you have to buzz in. There have been a lot of changes and yet we still continue to see school shootings. So you're saying that will just make another level of changes and that will get us there?

RK: You know, all my points stand valid. You know, not every school has the things that you mentioned. You know, we spend $60 billion over in Ukraine to arm Ukrainian citizens and to help them fight their war against Russia. Yet we still have schools over here that can be provided resources to enhance these safety mechanisms, if you will.

DT: Do you not support our support of Ukraine?

RK: I don't support sending billions of our dollars to Ukraine. No, absolutely not. America first. We have problems in this country. But, you know, it's not a defensive standpoint to want to protect the schools. The best defense is a strong offense.

DT: Do you believe that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and will you accept the results of the primary next month, win or lose?

RK: Joe Biden didn't receive 81 million votes. He didn't get more votes than Barack Obama did. We look at [the film] 2000 Mules. We look at the cardboard boxes up at the TCF Center, the pipe burst shutting everything down. We see now all of these different components of the 2020 election that at least you got to say they're suspicious.

DT: I do think I have to say here that that the alleged facts of 2000 Mules have been looked at by a lot of people and been widely debunked, as have some of the other things that you mentioned there. But, in short, you do not believe that President Biden won the election. Will you accept the results of the primary next month?

RK: We say, "Oh, it was widely debunked. Everything was wildly debunked." By who? By the media? It was debunked by the by the mainstream media coming out saying it was baseless claims, baseless claims, baseless claims. They want to force feed that down everybody's throats. That's a bunch of nonsense, right there. You know, the real true evidence has not been looked at.

And to answer your other question here, if this is conducted with integrity, absolutely, I'll accept the outcome. But if there is a whole bunch of 2020-style suspicion and questions then absolutely I'm going to question it and want to get to the truth, because this is not about me. It's not about you either, Doug. This is about our republic and making sure people have confidence in our elections.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can hear the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in June 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Lauren Talley is Michigan Radio’s Morning Edition producer. She produces and edits studio interviews and feature stories, and helps manage the “Mornings in Michigan” series. Lauren also serves as the lead substitute host for Morning Edition.
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