Austin Chenge is the first candidate to announce that he is challenging current Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the 2022 gubernatorial race.
Chenge and his family immigrated from Nigeria to Grand Rapids in 2008 as permanent residents, and became citizens five years later. He's an entrepreneur, operating a product and software design company, and he's never held public office.
He wants to be "a breath of fresh air" for Michigan, and says his understanding of the state was furthered by visiting each of the 83 counties. Chenge is critical of how the governor has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's great to put in place measures that prevent the spread of the disease. That's great, but you have to look at it and balance it with what our constitution says about our freedom and our rights," Chenge says. "For instance, if you look at the hospitals, or you look at the people who are more vulnerable, of course you can put restrictions around those places, but not a statewide restriction that science doesn't support."
The U.S. Constitution is a key priority for Chenge. He thinks judges need to separate their politics from their judging, saying, "It's not there for you to interpret it the way you want to be, just let the Consitution be the way it is. Defending our Second Amendment rights under that Constitution is also one of our priorities."
Economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a key part of his platform, he says, and a key part of that is tax cuts for small business owners—something that he understands as a small business owner.
"People have been hurting for the last year. But the taxes keep coming, property taxes, they keep coming in. People still have to pay. People still have to foot that bill while they’re still struggling to make ends meet. It’s not right."
He wants to work with the state Legislature to make this happen, saying, "I'm willing to work with our Legislature to cut taxes for Michiganders, across the whole state including property taxes. That is going to benefit the ordinary person in Michigan."
Perhaps the most important issue to Chenge on his platform is election security—it is the first item on his policy page on his campaign's website, and the first thing he mentions when asked about his platform.
"People are losing faith in the ability of this state to deliver fair and free elections, rightly or wrongly. I understand that the very mention of the company, Dominion Systems, brings up the idea of fraud, but rightly or wrongly, people of Michigan have lost faith in the ability of this company to deliver fair and free elections." Regardless of whether the claims of fraud are true, Chenge wants to end the state's contract with Dominion. "Michigan isn't tied to Dominion. I've reviewed the contract, and I can say, with 100% accuracy, that it would give me, as a governor, the power to cancel it on day one."
If elected, Chenge would be the first Black governor of Michigan. But that doesn't matter so much to him—he says he just wants to be an American governor for Michiganders.
"I don't actually see myself as a minority, or a Black American, or a Black anything or a minority anything. I just see myself as an American. When we start focusing on a person's gender or race or anything that causes division, we lose our unity as Americans." The historical significance is not as important to him as serving his constituents. "If I become the governor of Michigan, I'm not going to be the first Black governor of Michigan. I'm going to be just another American governor."
Chenge even said in an Instagram post that he would cancel Black History Month in schools, and would instead implement an American History Month instead. In regards to conversations about racism that the nation has been having over the past year, Chenge says these conversations have led to polarization.
"I think people overreact to very simple things. If I meet a person who is horrible to me, why can't it just be that that person is a horrible person? Why would it be that that person is horrible to me because of the way I look? If you begin to view everything from that point of view, then it's polarizing and nothing can ever get done. You can't fire someone from their job for being bad at that job without having the fear that maybe somehow you're going to get accused of being someone who fired this person because of the way they look."