GOP gov. hopeful says he’ll get rid of Dept. of Education, attacks vaccine mandates

By: - October 30, 2021 4:32 am

Sign for GOP gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley at a right-wing rally calling for a so-called “audit” of the 2020 election at the Michigan Capitol, Oct. 12, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

GOP gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley told a crowd of supporters earlier this month that he would “happily and enthusiastically” get rid of the state Department of Education and proclaimed the government should have no authority to issue a vaccine mandate.

Kelley, also an Allendale Township planning commissioner, was speaking at the Newaygo Grassroots Dinner Party in an area north of Grand Rapids. He announced his candidacy less than a month after attending the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Ryan D. Kelley

Kelley was allegedly seen in photos and videos going up the stairs and bound for a U.S. Capitol entrance, but it was unclear as to whether he ever entered the actual building, according to WWMT-TV. Kelley also allegedly attended the insurrection with William Null, one of the 13 men charged in plotting to kidnap and kill Whitmer, WWMT-TV reported.  

Prior to his involvement at the Jan. 6 insurrection, some Allendale residents had called on Kelley to step down due to his relationship with Null and the group he founded, the “American Patriot Control.” The group has centered its attention on protesting COVID-19 restrictions and defending a controversial Civil War statue in Allendale. 

Kelley is one of 12 Republicans to file paperwork to form a candidate committee to run in 2022 against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. He raised $45,125 last period, less than Republican hopefuls including former Police Chief James Craig, who took in $1.4 million, and Garret Soldano, a chiropractor and activist from Mattawan, who raised $495,979. Whitmer collected the most of any candidate last period with $3.1 million.

At the Newaygo event, Kelley condemned the teaching of “critical race theory” and “social emotional learning” in schools. The Republican said as governor, he would either ensure the Department of Education stops teaching it or abolish the government agency entirely. 

Critical race theory is a decades-old academic concept that examines the impact of systemic racism on the country, including how white supremacy shapes public policy. It is not taught in any K-12 schools in Michigan.

“It’s all there to divide this skin color. It’s going to be, you know, less likely to succeed,” Kelley said. “This skin color should feel guilty because of whatever they did in the past, things that divide people. … The Department of Education that is teaching in America is a terrible place. American students are going to be separated by skin color, by where they’re from, the accents they have or whatever, anything else they can come to compartmentalize us. We will get rid of it, and we’ll institute something totally different that will focus on holding up our American values.”

Kelley did not respond to the Advance’s request for comment. 

Kelley also criticized vaccine mandates, saying the “Constitution limits the government” and “it’s up to us to stay strong” against government “tyranny.” 

“If you don’t want the vaccine mandates, don’t take the vaccine,” Kelley said. “And you say, what are you going to do about it? That’s the answer. What are you going to do about it?” 

Kelley further lambasted vaccine mandates in schools, saying schools are “not going to put masks on our kids and expect us to sit down and shut up.”

“You’re going to hear from us,” Kelley said. “We’re not going away. We will be respectful. We will walk right up to that line and make you feel uncomfortable because our freedom of speech is not going away. We’re not playing nice anymore.”

There are currently no statewide COVID vaccine or mask mandates for Michigan schools. There are vaccine mandates for illnesses like polio, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, although parents can get a waiver for religious or “philosophical” reasons.

In September, Kelley posted a TikTok video while outside an Ottawa County Commission meeting in September protesting vaccine mandates, saying “you don’t even know yet what this is going to look like if you guys keep trying this tyranny.”

“We told you guys, our patience is wearing thin with you. You don’t even understand what it looks like for us to protect freedom and personal choice in the United States of America,” Kelley said.

Aidan Johnson, press assistant at American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic-aligned political action committee, said he doesn’t find it surprising that Kelley “is spreading dangerous conspiracy theories about military uprising and COVID-19” given his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Right now, I think these kinds of lies and misinformation run rampant in the Michigan Republican Party,” Johnson said. “And clearly the right-wing extremist candidates running for governor are more than happy to foment violence if it gives them a better shot at securing Trump’s endorsement.”

Johnson also addressed Kelley’s comments about wishing to get rid of the Department of Education, saying that Michigan voters would never get on board with a move like that. 

“It’s fairly disgraceful that anyone running for governor in Michigan would say that they want to get rid of the Department of Education,” Johnson said. “That’s clearly not a position that any voter likes to hear going into the 2022 midterms. That’s a decision that voters in Michigan are going to reject come next November.”

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.