Calley talks GOP discord, possible LG fight ahead of convention

Former LG is ‘not surprised’ Soldano nixed his effort to be Dixon’s running mate

By: - August 23, 2022 11:44 am

Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley | Andrew Roth

Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is no stranger to the ins-and-outs of Michigan GOP nominating conventions.

But although his own (successful) efforts to secure and maintain his position as GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder’s two-time running mate were not without their challenges, particularly in 2014, Calley’s experiences both times seem like much smoother sailing compared to what is teed up for Saturday’s state convention in Lansing.

Less than an hour before the party’s deadline, GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon announced on Friday that she has chosen former State Rep. Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) to serve as her running mate. She will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.

In the short time since then, two former GOP gubernatorial candidates have launched their own bids to challenge Hernandez for the position. Garrett Soldano subsequently withdrew his efforts with an announcement on Monday; the Rev. Ralph Rebandt released a statement shortly after with his intent to go after the LG spot.

Rick Snyder (left) and Brian Calley (right) at their year-end press conference, Dec. 11, 2018 | Ken Coleman

The Advance spoke with Calley both before and after Soldano pulled out of the race.

In addition to facing Rebandt and potential other challengers from the floor, Dixon will need party delegates’ approval for her pick of Hernandez.

Calley surmised that a potential fight over the LG position could sow discord at the convention, but most importantly could also hurt the ticket. 

“If you win the convention, but then are on the outs with your running mate, then the chances of winning, I think, are potentially diminished,” he said. “… The idea of disharmony on the ticket itself … could make it more difficult to win.”

Calley, a former Republican House member who has served as president of the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) since he left office at LG in January 2019, lent his insights to the developments in Monday phone calls with the Advance.

He did so from a “bystander” capacity, as he says SBAM has not yet decided how it plans to engage with the gubernatorial election.

Calley will not be attending Saturday’s convention, as he is not a delegate in this election.

Hours before former President Donald Trump weighed in Monday night and said Hernandez “is who I want as your next Lieutenant Governor,” Calley had predicted that an endorsement from him would shift the scales and lessen the possibility of a floor fight over LG.

“I do think that Donald Trump is in a position to make it much less dramatic,” he said, as it would be less likely for many members of the party to go against a Trump endorsement.

“ … And if that comes to fruition, that makes an enormous difference in the process of getting delegates’ support in the convention.”

Trump endorsed Dixon days before the Aug. 2 primary. 

Tudor Dixon participates in a GOP gubernatorial debate in Warren, June 30, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Hernandez lost a primary fight for Congress to the more right-wing U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Romeo), who released attack ads that painted Hernandez as going against Trump.

But in his statement Monday evening, Trump said he has spoken to Dixon and Hernandez and “found him to be an outstanding person.

“In fact, he was named Michigan’s most Conservative legislator, and is strongly committed to Election Integrity. The MAGA movement should support the ticket!”

Regardless of party discord, Calley is sure that the party will eventually unite around Dixon for the general — but a win in November and a better administration will require a good relationship between the governor and her LG.

Calley also offered his thoughts on why he feels Dixon’s choice of Hernandez was a “logical move” that also belied how she might function as governor, the state of the Republican Party post-Trump and more.

I can promise you that nobody feels like supporting their former opponents after an election. It’s not as automatic now, but I think usually people still get there.

– Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley

The following are excerpts from the first interview with Calley, before Soldano pulled out of the running for LG:

Michigan Advance: Since there’s a potential floor fight coming up this weekend for LG, and knowing about what all happened when you were becoming LG, I would love to hear your perspective on all of this.

Calley: Technically, I was challenged [both at the 2010 and 2014 conventions]. Although the first challenge, I think, was kind of overblown back in 2010. It wasn’t much of a challenge. There was a gentleman by the name of Bill Cooper who got nominated from the floor, but nobody really knew him. He ended up withdrawing the nomination. At that time, it was viewed as kind of shocking that anybody would even think of that. So I think that’s what made it somewhat dramatic, just like, what’s going on here? But it wasn’t a serious effort. It wasn’t organized. … Even though that’s talked about like a big deal, I don’t remember spending any time being worried about it.

But by 2014, there was a fairly aggressive and organized effort [from tea party activists]. I’m no stranger to the process, so I out-organized the competition and made a kind of an anticlimactic end with a wide margin of victory. But it took a lot of work. It was a year’s worth of recruiting and planning and organizing with a big team of volunteers, and I had some campaign staff, too, that really did work on recruiting precinct delegates. And that was a key part in 2014. But being able to win the nomination with a pretty good margin, the key part was organizing the recruiting precinct delegates to run for office, and then organizing conventions. The other side that was opposing me, they were doing the same thing. But I just did it better.

But in this case, it’s a little different. I don’t think you can expect, in a wide-open primary like this, that a gubernatorial candidate eight months ago or a year ago would have been recruiting precinct delegates [and] thinking about getting somebody approved to the convention. At this point, there’s really no precinct delegate operation in the same sense as 2014. So that means it’s really more of an effort of persuasion, and how do you persuade the convention to go along with the choice of the nominee.

… I would think, though, that since President Trump endorsed Tudor Dixon, that they must be asking him to endorse her pick for lieutenant governor. If he did, I think that in today’s politics, that that would make something like a convention potentially smooth, compared to what people might be expecting today.

Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley | NIck Manes

Michigan Advance: You’ve been through this process twice. What are you expecting at next weekend’s convention?

Calley: I do think that Donald Trump is in a position to make it much less dramatic. But these things are pretty unpredictable, so it’s hard to say with or without an endorsement of Tudor Dixon’s running mate choice from Donald Trump. It’s still, I think, fairly unpredictable. Even though people are exploring it, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that there’s a top level type of a challenger. Obviously, there have been people that have made some overtures and are kind of kicking the tires on the concept of it, but none of what I’ve seen so far suggests that any of it is definite.

Michigan Advance: As I’m sure you’ve seen, Garrett Soldano has put his hat in the ring and said that he would be up for the nomination of LG at the convention. That could set up a potential floor fight. How do you think that could shake down?

Calley: Whether or not you can win the convention is only one aspect that any potential candidate would consider. Because if you win the convention but then are on the outs with your running mate, then the chances of winning I think are potentially diminished. With all due respect to the lieutenant governor position, nobody decides how to vote based on the lieutenant governor. They vote based on the governor candidates. But the idea of disharmony on the ticket itself, I think, could make it more difficult to win. And then, even after a win.

My experience in the office is that the position of lieutenant governor, the main power of the position of lieutenant governor, is influence and delegated authority from the governor. The office itself, constitutionally, plays a parliamentarian-style role over the Senate, save when there’s a tie, which is fairly rare, and then acts as the governor when the governor’s out of state.

Everything else, the regular day-to-day work of that office, is whatever is delegated by the governor. And if you don’t have the trust and delegated authority from the governor, it’s a fairly limited role. I think that’s also something that potential candidates will need to take into consideration, as well. Even if you win, it doesn’t mean that you have a real platform if you’re at odds with your running mate.

Michigan Advance: When you became LG, you brought in some legislative experience to the ticket. We now have that with Hernandez. What do you feel is the importance of that experience to the ticket?

Calley: One of the benefits of a gubernatorial candidate picking a running mate is they can look at the organization that they want to build for the future and what they’ll need to govern, and they can pick a running mate to kind of act as a partner. And so by picking Shane Hernandez, I think what Tudor Dixon has done is put to bed one question, which is: As an outsider candidate, are you going to surround yourself purely with outsiders? Or are you going to have a mixture of people with experience and outside perspective?

So in that sense, I think it was a pretty logical move to go with somebody that has not just legislative experience, but legislative experience at a very, very high level, one of the more consequential positions in the Legislature as the chair of Appropriations. So I think that sends a message out there to the marketplace that there’s an eye towards building an administration with some experience included. Now, that’s not the only way to do it, though.

If you were to look at Rick Snyder, who was kind of an outsider — yes, he had me as his running mate, but also the legislative director with Dick Posthumus. Dick has always been a mentor of mine since I started working with him on day one, he’s someone that I very much look up to and admire. And so, the legislative director position is one where you can bring in experience if the ticket didn’t have it.

“If you win the convention but then are on the outs with your running mate, then the chances of winning, I think, are potentially diminished.”

– Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley

Michigan Advance: So you believe bringing in Hernandez was a solid choice by Dixon?

Calley: By choosing somebody like Shane Hernandez, what Tudor Dixon is doing is just setting up the administration to be able to move things through the legislative process more efficiently. I felt that during my time in the Snyder administration, I spent a great deal of time on the legislative process in the first two years. But Rick Snyder is a fast learner, and how to pull the levers and make the legislative process work was something he was able to learn and master pretty quickly. So while I think that the role that I played was very essential in the first few years especially, people learn and grow. And so I would say that having somebody like Shane would help any administration get off the ground running fast.

Michigan Advance: Do you think that the ticket would have a better chance with Hernandez on it versus a more ‘outsider’ type like Sodano?

Calley: I don’t think that I would even speculate on people that haven’t gotten in the race, just kind of kicking the tires. I think Shane Hernandez was a real smart choice. And then as far as others, I think there are a lot of smart people and capable people that weren’t chosen. I’ll just say again that the position itself holds very, very little constitutional power. So in order to be effective in the role, it does require trust and a strong relationship with the gubernatorial candidate themselves.

Michigan Advance: Do you feel like some of the more conservative forces have more power now than 2010 or 2014?

Calley: I don’t know. I guess it depends on how you define conservatives.

Michigan Advance: I know you dealt with the tea partiers back during both years and now it’s more of the MAGA crowd.

Calley: Even though I found myself sometimes in my renomination at odds with some of those factions, I don’t think at that time there was any real question that those were conservatives. The definition of what is conservative has been significantly muddied up. … It’s less of a clear delineation of what’s conservative and what’s not, but it’s definitely ‘outsider’ versus ‘insider.’

Michigan Advance: What’s your take on all of the establishment vs. grassroots rhetoric that’s been thrown around, particularly toward Dixon because she’s aligned with the DeVos family?

Calley: Everybody has to build a campaign plan to try to win in the end, and that’s the plan that she put in place and in the end, she won [the primary].

It’s always difficult coming together after these things. There was a time when it was just kind of expected and everybody did it naturally, but I can promise you that nobody feels like supporting their former opponents after an election. [Calley said he offered Republican Bill Schuette his endorsement after losing the 2018 GOP primary but Schuette rejected it.]

It’s not as automatic now, but I think usually people still get there. In primaries, small differences tend to get magnified, and in general elections those previously magnified small differences start to look insignificant compared to the big differences between major party candidates. And so I kind of expect that’ll happen here. It just doesn’t happen as quickly or as automatically as it used to.

Michigan Advance: I know that you’ve worked with [longtime Republican consultant] John Yob in the past. Do you put stock in new polling from him over the weekend finding that 54% would vote down Shane Hernandez on the first ballot, opening up the nomination for others? On a ballot between Soldano, Hernandez and [former GOP gubernatorial candidate Ralph] Rebandt, it looks like the results are Soldano 33%, Hernandez 23% and Rebandt 11%.

Calley: What I would say, first of all, is nobody knows conventions like John Yob. I would never want to go into a convention without John on my team, and in fact I never went into a convention without John on my team. I consider him to be a top-level authority on convention politics. He really, really knows his stuff.

Michigan Advance: OK, so you would put stock in that poll?

Calley: Oh, yeah. If that’s what he put out, then that’s how it came out.

Later on Monday, the Advance spoke again with Calley after Soldano dropped his effort for LG:

Michigan Advance: I think the bottom line at this point is that someone else could still step in over the fight for LG, and there are obviously still divisions in the party. What’s your overall take of how the convention may play out now [since Soldano has revoked his interest in LG]?

Calley: Just because people are weighing it, talking about and thinking about it doesn’t mean that they’re actually going to do it. And so I’m actually not surprised that Soldano decided not to move forward, and I think there’s several reasons for that. When you play out the best case scenario, the [LG] position without a real relationship with the governor is not particularly attractive. It’s not some kind of grand soapbox. The main power of the position is directly derived from the relationship and trust with the governor.

Garrett Soldano was able to to build what was one of the more impressive grassroots networks that I’ve seen in recent times in politics, and to do so with a very small amount of money. There’s probably plenty of options for him in the future to get engaged and make a run at something else. In this case, he came in third place in the final tally there, but still, with a relatively modest amount of money and a very impressive grassroots network, a really strong showing. So it would make sense that he’d want that next thing to be something with a high probability of success, assuming he wants to stay involved. So, all those things together, I’m not terribly surprised.

… Soldano deciding not to move forward with it probably removes the biggest threat that Shane Hernandez faced.

Former Rep. Shane Hernandez | Dixon campaign video screenshot

Michigan Advance: Ralph Rebandt still has his hat in the ring. He was the fifth-place finisher in the GOP gubernatorial race.

Calley:  I can’t pass myself off as an expert in this particular group of precinct delegates that are heading to state convention this weekend … but my perception is that Pastor Rebandt did not have the type of statewide, grassroots footprint that could easily translate into a convention challenge like that.

Michigan Advance: What do you think of Dixon’s chances overall against Whitmer in November?

Calley: Well, it’s early. Whitmer has raised a lot of money. I don’t remember exactly where Rick and I were in our reelection, but I know it wasn’t $14 million or whatever. So I think with Dixon, it’s really right now about putting together some serious resources in order to turn the volume level up on the messaging.

In terms of the environment, though, it’s hard to say. It’s been all over the map. … Speaking in anecdotes and gut feeling, I feel like the chances of a big red push were abated somewhat, but it does seem like it might be gathering a little more steam at the moment now, too. But that’s the thing about politics these days, there’s a million political lifetimes between now and the election day. The outcome of the election won’t turn on just one thing; it’s going to be consistent, high performance. You can’t win the election in one day; you need to win the day. So as candidates move forward, whether they’re running for statewide office or a local office, they just have to win the day, and it’s a series of a thousand small things that make a big difference in an election as opposed to one fell swoop.

So all that to say is it’s a long cycle. I would say Dixon’s biggest risk is the money disadvantage that she came out of the primary with. But the thing is that competitive elections attract money. So if it’s competitive, money won’t be the problem. If polling doesn’t show it [to be] very competitive, then it’s going to be impossible to raise money. It really is, at this point, about turning up the volume and being in a position to do so with the money to do it.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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