At campaign kickoff, GOP gov. candidate Kevin Rinke says he’s fighting ‘tyrannical’ govt.

Doesn’t say whether he backs the so-called ‘forensic audit’ ballot initiative

By: - January 21, 2022 10:15 am

Kevin Rinke campaign kickoff in Plymouth, Jan. 20, 2022 | Julia Forrest

Kevin Rinke, a Bloomfield Township businessman who announced his GOP gubernatorial campaign on Nov. 22, held a “campaign kickoff” Thursday evening in Plymouth.

Rinke, who has vowed to spend $10 million of his own money on his bid, opened the event for about 50 people at the Bearded Lamb Brewing Co in Southeast Michigan by saying the “American dream is under attack.” He cited “tyrannical” government, echoing past criticism of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and businesses being “shuttered across the state,” which is not currently state COVID-19 policy; Whitmer issued orders during surges in the first year of the pandemic.

“I know as a conservative businessman, that effective leaders create an environment for the people that they lead to be successful,” Rinke said. “But somehow, our elected officials in Lansing seem to have forgotten the people that they serve. I traveled around the state and I’ve learned issues that resonate with our people across every race, and every religion.” 

Rinke also cited “voting irregularities” — a baseless argument from many Republicans about the 2020 election — and “critical race theory” as reasons for why he was running.  

When asked by the Advance after his speech whether or not he supported the right-wing so-called “forensic audit” ballot initiative, Rinke answered that he does not “have any control over that” and that he is “going to work to get rid of those [election] irregularities.” 

Kevin Rinke ad for governor | Screenshot

Rinke was the 12th Republican candidate to join the race, preceded by former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, right-wing commentator Tudor Dixon, Garrett Soldano, Donna Brandenburg, Michael Brown, Ralph Rebandt, Ryan Kelley, Bob Scott, Articia Bomer, Evan Space and Austin Chenge. 

The state GOP primary is slated to be in August. The winner will likely face off against Whitmer in November. In 2018, Whitmer beat her opponent, former Attorney General Bill Schuette, by 9 points. 

Soldano on Thursday became the first Republican candidate to submit signatures to get on the ballot, turning in 20,000 and exceeding the 15,000 minimum. The chiropractor made a statewide name for himself as co-founder of the right-wing group, Stand Up Michigan, that protested Whitmer’s early COVID-19 restrictions.

“What the state of Michigan is getting right now is a pitbull,” Soldano said on Thursday. “I won’t quit. I won’t back down, because I believe in my heart and soul our cause is just.”

At his event, Rinke went on to critique “big teachers unions and the education bureaucracy” for decisions made on behalf of students and parents about public education. 

“As the next governor, I’ll be accountable to the Michigan parents who are frustrated by these constantly moving goalposts, to the children of Michigan who are being deprived of the public education that they’re entitled to,” Rinke told the crowd. 

Rinke concluded his speech by saying that he feels “the anger of the people of Michigan” and that he will use it to “build a stronger and better Michigan that serves” Michiganders. 

“We need to rejuvenate our state’s economy and small businesses, repair our children’s education and stop their indoctrination, respect the rule of law and ensure our families are safe and secure and restore faith in our elections.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives the keynote address at the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference, Sept. 22, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

Rinke’s brief campaign has not been without controversy. In December, the Detroit News reported on lawsuits brought against Rinke which claimed he made sexual and racist comments to his car dealership employees in the 1990s. He has denied those claims. He also vowed on “The Steve Gruber Show” in December to uphold the 1931 Michigan law criminalizing abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Following the event, Rinke told reporters that he would like to expand the voting population of Michigan but that he has some “deal breakers.” He also claimed he was sent seven absentee ballots in the mail in 2020 — which would be voter fraud — a claim he quickly corrected to seven ballot applications.  

“All people in Michigan want honest and fair elections, and they get to choose who wins,” Rinke said. “I just want to make sure as governor that we are providing what government should provide: value and integrity.”

When asked by reporters what sets him apart from other candidates, Rinke highlighted his experience owning and running car dealerships in Michigan.  

“The governor’s job is to be the CEO of the state,” Rinke said. “I understand what it’s like to work, to achieve the American dream, and I want to bring that to the people of Michigan. And that’s what differentiates how I make decisions, and what I’ve been exposed to in the past.”

In a press release, Michigan Democratic Party spokesperson Rodericka Applewhaite said Rinke will do “little” to “convince voters that his wrong-for-Michigan agenda is one worth adopting.” 

“At every turn, he’s displayed just how out of touch he is, from rejecting cost-cutting reforms for Michigan drivers, to cultivating toxic workplace environments, to pushing extreme anti-choice views that will do irreparable harm to women and families,” Applewhaite said. “Michiganders simply can’t afford the steep cost of electing this millionaire Toyota salesman to office.”

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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.