Photos and article by Patrice Johnson
Let’s go DePerno .
Let’s go DePerno.
Full-throated chants reverberated through the Devos Convention Center in Grand Rapids on Saturday, April 23. Another impromptu face-off was erupting between two sign-waving groups of adversaries. If any of the 2,100 delegates and thousands of alternates, candidates, media, and other political faithful who converged on the Republican Endorsement Convention were expecting a staid Grand Old Party, they were in for a mind-blowing awakening.
The phrase, vigorous representative government at its best came to mind.
The convention began with Friday night registration. Then badged participants attended candidates’ open houses, pizza parties, and a packed MAGA event. Rudy Giuliani materialized at a private Friday night dinner meeting hosted by Lena Epstein, a University of Michigan regent candidate.
The next morning, the draw of Giuliani’s and Mike Lindell’s appearance wiped an Epstein-hosted breakfast bare of food and beverage.
Around 10:00 a.m. MIGOP Co-Chair Ron Weiser called the meeting to order. Supporters adhered to parliamentary procedure and nominated candidates for attorney general, secretary of state, Michigan Board of Education, and state-university regents.
Throughout, candidates worked the crowds, shaking hands and fielding tough questions. Delegate enclaves conferred. Attendees studied their phones, digesting text messages and Signal threads rife with breaking news and last-minute candidate pitches. Emcee Pete Hoekstra, a former US Representative, lost his voice.
Jo Demarco, PIME and EIF supporter, delayed the vote for a few minutes as she lodged a complaint. “The machines were supposed to be zeroed out ten minutes before voting began, not sooner. That was the agreement.” Her objection prevailed, and the tabulators were re-zeroed out.
Around 1 p.m., Round One of voting began with delegates from each of 13 state districts lining up and casting their ballots. Volunteers, trained under the watchful eyes of a former Sec. of State (now state Senator) Ruth Johnson and her team, commenced a hand recount.
Careful to preserve chain of custody, candidate-balanced teams rolled the suspect tabulators across the overhead-glassed hallway to a sectioned-off counting room. There, trained inspectors and observers manned tables as an overhead screen displayed tallies as they were reported district by district.
Kristina Karamo won the slot for secretary of state, capturing 67% of the convention votes in the first round. None of the other candidates captured a large enough percentage to prevail, so a countdown clock ticked down toward Round Two of voting.
Upon accepting her party’s endorsement, Karamo encouraged delegates to support Kalamazoo lawyer Matt DePerno in the runoff. As she spoke, State Rep. Ryan Berman, who had fallen out of the race after receiving 11% of the vote, stood at her side, brandishing a sign for DePerno’s opponent, Tom Leonard.
Round two of voting began and then ground to a halt, paused due to an error in the order of races that appeared on the overhead screen guide for voting. The issues were resolved to candidate and administrator satisfaction, and at long last, voting resumed.
DePerno secured 55% of the convention vote to former state House Speaker Tom Leonard’s 45%. Linda Lee Tarver and Tamara Carlone won the two open slots for State Board of Education. Winners of endorsements for regents included Lena Epstein and Sevag Vartanian, Travis Menge and Mike Balow, and Craig Wilsher and Christa Murphy.
Following the party’s announcement of DePerno’s victory, Leonard exhibited good sportsmanship and acknowledged his loss. “The race did not turn out the way we had hoped,” he said and expressed gratitude to the delegates who supported him.
Now, Karamo and DePerno, who have never previously held office and are considered political outsiders, will head into the August primary and November election. The two Republican candidates, both endorsed by former President Donald Trump, will vie to become the state’s next chief elections officer and top law enforcement official. They will challenge Democrat Sec. of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel.
MIGOP Co-chair Meshawn Maddock declared Trump will “continue to support us, and we are going to win everything back in November. I couldn’t be happier.”
By all objective measures, the Republican party demonstrated a sincere, if at times imperfect, attempt to conduct free and fair elections during its first-ever endorsement convention. If the effort serves as a microcosm of the nation, the republic got its game back.
To quote Senator Ruth Johnson, “I look around and see all these people here giving of their time—and who gave up the first beautiful spring weekend of the year—and it gives me hope.”
In hindsight, maybe Saturday marked the rebirth of the Grand Old Party into the GO Patriots party.
Attorney General: Matthew DePerno
Secretary of State: Kristina Karamo
State Board of Education (two seats):
Linda Lee Tarver and Tamara D. Carlone
University of Michigan Board of Regents (two seats):
Lena Epstein and Sevag Vartanian
Michigan State University Board of Trustees (two seats):
Travis Menge and Mike Balow
Wayne State University Board of Governors (two seats):
Craig Wilsher and Christa Murphy