The Gongwer Blog

May 8, 2022 Through May 14, 2022

MSHDA Director Still Awaiting HUD Approval

By Alyssa McMurtry
Staff Writer
Posted: May 13, 2022 4:33 PM

Amy Hovey, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority's pick for its new executive director, has yet to start the job despite the board selecting her in late 2021, her approval contingent on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's assent.

Approximately eight months after MSHDA selected Ms. Hovey, her appointment is still pending HUD approval. A statement provided Wednesday from MSHDA board chair Susan Corbin, who is also the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity director, confirmed HUD is still reviewing MSHDA's request.

"Following a national search for a MSHDA Executive Director, Amy Hovey's exceptional leadership skills and knowledge made her the ideal candidate for the position. I am hopeful she will be able to join the MSHDA team," Ms. Corbin said. "She passed the first hurdle when the State Ethics Board accepted the conflicts wall arrangement. HUD is now considering MSHDA's request for the exception for the HOME Program and waiver for project-based vouchers."

It is currently unknown when HUD will approve of the exception and waiver request. A message was left with the Detroit field office and was not returned last week.

The HOME program grants states and local governments funds to be used with the goal of increasing homeownership and affordable housing for those with lower incomes. The project-based vouchers are HUD-funded rental assistance that local housing authorities like MSHDA make available to affordable housing developers.

Ms. Hovey currently serves as the special project coordinator at Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. It is her spouse's work with the agency, however, that raised some red flags. Mr. Hovey has loans with the agency and there was concern his work may be a conflict of interest for Ms. Hovey.

In October 2021, MSHDA board decided her appointment can only be confirmed upon approval from the State Board of Ethics and HUD (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 21, 2021).

By December, the board of ethics unanimously approved her appointment and said the anticipated conflicts are not pervasive enough to keep Ms. Hovey from doing her job. It also said the conflict walls proposed by MSHDA were sufficient (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 3, 2021).

Ms. Hovey's offer can still be rescinded if HUD rejects MSHDA's requests.

Post-Debate Spin Shows Diverging Views On GOP Gen Election Success

By Ben Solis
Staff Writer
Posted: May 13, 2022 1:08 PM

The eight-person Republican gubernatorial debate hosted by Livingston County Republicans on Thursday evening gave GOP primary voters and general onlookers their first taste of how the candidates act, think and what they would prioritize should they be elected to office in November.

But like most primary contests, especially in the post-Trump age, the debate was in some ways a purity test of who was most loyal to the former president and who was most aligned with the current sentimentalities of grassroots Republicans in Michigan.

Topics ranged from COVID-19 policy, potential investigations into Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whether Donald Trump won the 2020 election and abortion. It was clear based on the crowd response who was resonating and who was not (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 12, 2022).

Whether any of those points will play well with general election voters was left to interpretation.

In the fast lane based on crowd response were candidates Garrett Soldano and Ryan Kelley, who have built grassroots operations staked on investigating Ms. Whitmer over pandemic decisions. Both seemed to elicit nods, shouts of agreement or applause. The same goes for pastor Ralph Rebandt, who was also able to raise his status with at least this crowd in Livingston.

The candidates considered to be the higher echelon in the field had middling performances, with Tudor Dixon making only a handful of splashes, Kevin Rinke waffling on a question about whether he believed Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and with Perry Johnson fumbling through several responses rife with personal anecdotes.

Michael Brown played it straight through the debate and had few flashy moments, although his response to the Trump election garnered some scorn form the crowd as he would not say that the former president won the last election (Mr. Trump lost Michigan by some 150,000 votes). His most memorable moment came here when he compared those having a hard time answering the question to a flopping fish out of water.

Michael Markey had a harder time gaining traction with this crowd as he staked out a moderate route.

Following the debate, political strategists Adrian Hemond of Grassroots Midwest, a Democrat, and Tori Sachs, a Republican, with the Michigan Freedom gave alternating views on how the candidates did last night.

For Mr. Hemond, the obvious standout was Mr. Soldano while Mr. Johnson faltered.

"(Soldano) got a lot of applause from the crowd. They seemed to really resonate with him," he said. "Perry Johnson had kind of a rough time, and his answer about Trump winning the election was not satisfying to the crowd. But also, it wasn't much of an answer."

Ms. Sachs, however, said the big winner of the evening was not one of the candidates themselves, but voters across Michigan concerned with the state of education, as K-12 learning loss and university funding were major focuses in the debate.

"The biggest winners tonight were Michigan parents. Every single person on that stage supports giving parents the tools needed to make sure their child gets a good education," she said. "Every single person on that stage is going to put parents and children first."

That said, Mr. Hemond believed Ms. Whitmer had a good night as "none of what was said on stage tonight is palatable to a general election electorate." To those who tried to walk the line, he said that there was no walking that line with this crowd.

"They want red meat and they were very happy with the candidates that gave it to them," he said. "Literally none of it (will translate into votes from independents or moderates). There was shockingly little take about the rampant inflation in the economy. That's a leading issue for Republicans and they barely mentioned it. That's shocking. That's not what this crowed wanted to hear about and so that's not what they were talking about."

Ms. Sachs said she disagreed with that assessment, as Republicans appear giddy to retire Ms. Whitmer with any candidate that ends up on the ballot.

"We had 700 or 800 people here and Republicans are obviously fired up. It's a Thursday, a school night, in Livingston County … the energy for anyone to take on Gretchen Whitmer is super high," she said. "The best thing about the Republican Party is that we appreciate diversity of thought. We show up and hear people whether we agree with them or not. And I think whoever wins this primary, from what and who we saw on this stage tonight, Republicans are going to be fired up to support that person and fired up to fire Gretchen Whitmer in 2022."

When asked if their stance on the 2020 election would hurt the general election chances of either Mr. Brown or Mr. Markey if they eke out wins in the primary, she said no, and that Republicans all agree that there were problems in the 2020 election regardless of if that leads to the conclusion that Mr. Trump won.

"There's a great amount of support for things like voter ID, all the reforms that are in the Secure MI Vote initiative, we all agree on that," she said. "And we're fired up for whoever takes on Gretchen Whitmer to get those things done."

Asked about the lack of talk about inflation issues, Ms. Sachs said talk about economic woes in the debate focused on ways to give relief to people.

"We all know inflation is a problem. The number one issue when you're at the grocery store or at the gas pump, whatever it is that you're buying in this country, you know and especially in Michigan that inflation is hurting you," she said. "What we heard tonight from every Republican … was how they're going to give relief at the state level to taxpayers. … I feel confident that every Republican up there talked about returning tax money to the people. It's a great first step to give people more buying power."

James Craig, the one-time frontrunner in the race who has since fallen in stature after multiple mishaps and a lingering challenge to the validity of his ballot signatures, did not appear at Thursday's debate.

When asked about the state of Mr. Craig's campaign, who was speaking at a trade association dinner instead, Mr. Hemond said the question is when he'll bow out of the race as opposed to if he'll bow out.

"It's my understanding somewhere (in Detroit) right now, which is good because he needs a job and it's not going to be as the next governor of Michigan," he said. "I think that much is clear, or even as a candidate for governor of Michigan."

Bridge Michigan reported that Mr. Craig's campaign early Thursday said he had a prior commitment and disputed reports of him pulling out of the debate. But Livingston County GOP Chair Meghan Reckling told the outlet that he had been confirmed for weeks and that he was one of the first candidates to commit.

Mr. Hemond said that signals the end of the road for Mr. Craig's gubernatorial ambitions.

"We're at the end game," he said. "I'm sure he's giving a speech to this nice corporate group because he's going to need money, first of all, to pay the consultants that he still has because he's burning through money so fast. It's time to wrap it up."

On whether some of the candidates shined more without him there, Ms. Sachs said voters and members of the media should focus on who was actually there.

"We need someone who is going to stand up for their beliefs and take on Gretchen Whitmer," she said. "I feel the people who were here tonight will be capable of doing that, absolutely more than capable of taking her on and returning the governor's office to Republicans."

Nessel Hits DePerno On Abortion; He Says Video Lacks Context

By Ben Solis
Staff Writer
Posted: May 9, 2022 10:22 AM

Attorney General Dana Nessel this week shared an edited video of her 2022 election opponent, Republican attorney Matthew DePerno, which detailed what she framed as the GOP candidate's absolutist stance on abortion.

However, Mr. DePerno told Gongwer News Service that the video shared by Ms. Nessel lacks context and detailed only a short bit of the conversation he was having with would-be supporters on abortion.

The video shows Mr. DePerno at a speaking event saying that he doesn't believe there should be a viable medical exemption for abortion even if it could save the life of the mother – a stance that not even Right to Life of Michigan holds.

Neither does the 1931 abortion ban currently on the books in Michigan, which would become law again once the U.S. Supreme Court finalizes a leaked draft opinion that signaled the court has the votes to overturn Roe v. Wade. The law, if and when it should go back into effect, allows abortion if the mother's life is compromised during pregnancy.

"And (Right to Life of Michigan) then said, 'Well what about the life mother? Okay. Do you have an exemption for that?'" Mr. DePerno is shown saying on the video, apparently detailing a conversation with the organization. "I said, 'I do not.' Because there is literally no medical diagnosis that says that if the mother's life is in danger, abort the baby. The medical diagnosis is always deliver the baby in every single instance. You cannot find anywhere in the medical book, a diagnosis that says abort the baby. It doesn't exist."

Notably, the video is interspersed with news article headlines from Reuters and USA Today in which doctors and various fact checkers say that the termination of a pregnancy can be necessary to save the life of the mother in some situations.

Also notable is the fact that Right to Life of Michigan endorsed Mr. DePerno's chief GOP opponent, former House Speaker Tom Leonard, before Michigan Republican Party delegates voted to endorse Mr. DePerno at its first of two conventions in 2022.

In response, Ms. Nessel tweeted saying Mr. DePerno "cites a lack of medical evidence, but experts seem to disagree. If he wins, he will have authority to charge doctors and women in every MI county."

In another tweet, Ms. Nessel said recent polling shows her race with Mr. DePerno for attorney general is in a "virtual dead heat." This tweet also came with an ActBlue campaign donation link.

That said, Mr. DePerno in an interview said the video lacks context and that what was provided in the video doesn't represent his view on abortion.

"It's trying to say that I do not believe in any exception to abortion for the life of the mother, and that's not true," he said. "I do. I think Right to Life, I think the (Christian) church still believes in an exception for the life of the mother, and I do as well."

When asked how what he said in the video squares up with what he told Gongwer, Mr. DePerno said the whole conversation not shown in the video focused on whether, in those emergency situations, was abortion the go-to procedure to save the mother.

He said it was his belief and through his conversations with medical practitioners that aborting the child was not the first option, nor the preferred option when the mother finds herself in medical distress. Mr. DePerno also said he has posed the question to Democrats he's spoken with, and they, too, have not been able to give him an answer aside for two situations – preeclampsia, a serious condition which usually occurs later in a pregnancy, and in the event of a car crash. Even still, Mr. DePerno said it was his understanding that the preferred route is to try and deliver the baby.

A message seeking comment from Ms. Nessel on whether she believed there should be any restriction on abortion was not returned at the time of publication.

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