MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. -- The 32nd Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference wrapped with nearly 2,000 attending during an off-election year, though much of the focus shifted toward the 2018 midterms.
Speakers on stage focused on Michigan in a positive light: job growth, funding to fix our roads and possible tax cuts. But off-stage FOX 17 spoke with elected officials about what recent policy really means, took a look ahead to the 2018 ballot, and asked what should be done about Line 5: the 64-year-old pipeline running beneath the Straits of Mackinac with bare metal exposed in areas.
With the constant sound of horse hooves outside the Grand Hotel, Michigan Republicans say this was a time to talk policy, though this year they also celebrated.
“We are the job state in the nation today,” said Gov. Rick Snyder, R – MI, rallying a crowd.
“We are the fiscally responsible state in the nation today. We only have room to keep going up, let’s get it done!”
Though Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon qualified this weekend’s celebration with reference to economic growth under President Barack Obama.
“We always want to see job growth, but for the republicans to claim it has anything to do with their policies in Michigan, that is just pure political wishful thinking,” said Dillon.
On Mackinac, officials spoke to deregulation, including Sec. Betsy DeVos who praised an overall “regulatory reset.” She addressed the Department of Education’s recent postponement of the Borrower Defense to Repayment rules, in part to ensure taxpayers don’t foot the bill for loan discharges.
“While students should have protection from predatory practices, schools and taxpayers should also be treated fairly,” said Sec. DeVos.
“Under the previous rules, all one had to do was raise his or her hand to be instantly entitled to so-called ‘free money.’”
The conference attendees also looked ahead to 2018 midterms, including one declared GOP gubernatorial candidate speaking to his partial platform:
“Michigan needs to be a top-tier state, a paycheck state, a job state, and part of that is infrastructure,” said Attorney General Bill Schuette, R – MI.
“And yes, we’re going to need a new injection, enhance our funding for roads, and bridges across the state of Michigan.”
And a speculated GOP gubernatorial candidate, telling FOX 17 he’ll make his decision in the coming weeks:
“That’s a decision for the future,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, R – MI.
“I will get to that decision after the town halls. I’m really focused now on trying to bridge this political divide that I see tearing our country apart.”
Then, nearly 1,000 Michigan republicans voted in a straw poll on Mackinac, that the Michigan Information and Research Service and Crain’s Detroit Business conducted independent of the MIGOP. Of declared and prospected republican candidates and poll questions:
- 56 percent chose Schuette for governor
- 36 percent chose former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young for U.S. senator
- 68 percent were against legalizing marijuana
- 76 percent were against required paid sick leave
- Nearly 78 percent were against shutting down Line 5
See MIRS/Crain's full poll here.
“Number one, we need to make sure that we provide propane for the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan where many families rely upon it,” said Schuette, in response to FOX 17's Line 5 questions.
“Fred Upton, and all of us in Michigan delegation, had voted for a bill that had been Fred’s bill along with Debbie Dingell from Michigan that was talking about pipeline integrity,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R - MI.
“There have to be regular [Line 5] reports. There has to be the testing, that needs to happen.”
Meanwhile critics say the urgency to fix or remove Line 5 is nothing new.
“Bill Schuette and Governor Snyder have really been very slow to acknowledge that there’s even a problem [with Line 5],” said Dillon.
“I think everybody recognizes that anything that happens to Line 5 could be a catastrophe in the Straits of Mackinac, and would be hugely damaging not only to our environment but our economy.”