Millionaire Mitchell joins race for Rep. Miller’s seat

Melissa Nann Burke and Chad Livengood
The Detroit News

Retired businessman Paul Mitchell, who spent millions of his own money last year in a failed congressional bid, plans to run for the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Candice Miller and become the third GOP candidate in the race.

To be closer to family, Mitchell, 58, said he recently moved to Lapeer County after purchasing a small farm in Dryden Township, where he is launching his campaign Monday.

Mitchell recently stepped down as chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition of Michigan to run. He has never held public office, but earlier this year led a successful campaign to defeat the proposed sales tax increase that Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders heralded as the solution to road and bridge repair funding shortfalls.

“I will take the same conservative values that crushed Proposal 1 to Washington,” Mitchell said.

He has hired a couple of longtime Miller aides to help with his bid, including campaign manager Don Brown, former deputy district director to Miller and Macomb County commissioner; and consultant Jamie Roe, whose last day as Miller’s chief of staff in Washington was Friday.

Mitchell also has enlisted Stu Sandler, a Republican political consultant who worked on Mitchell’s 2014 congressional campaign for retired U.S. Rep. Dave Camp’s 4th District seat.

“The battle is going to be about who’s got the best ideas,” Roe said. “Paul has proven himself on the statewide stage as a conservative leader on issues of importance to the state, particularly on Prop. 1 and the Faith & Freedom Coalition. No one will outwork him, I can tell you that. The guy is tireless.”

He joins two other Republicans vying for the 10th District seat held by Miller since 2003 — state Sen. Phil Pavlov of St. Clair Township and former state Sen. Alan Sanborn of Richmond. Miller told The Detroit News in March that she may endorse in the GOP primary.

Former state Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, took himself out of the field of potential candidates recently when he took a job as state director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political organization. “I’m doing this job,” Lund said Friday.

State Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, who’s almost certain to enter the race later this year, called Mitchell an “eccentric” candidate with no ties to the populous Macomb County portion of the district.

“No matter how you cut it, he’s going to try to buy this seat,” Brandenburg told The Detroit News. “He does not know the area like I do.”

Brandenburg, known as an aggressive door-to-door campaigner, said Mitchell “better be ready” to match his retail politicking. “I'll take a grassroots campaign over a money campaign any day,” Brandenburg added.

Mitchell, the former CEO and owner of Ross Education, says he does have ties to the Thumb, including his son, a police officer who lives in Macomb. A sister and brother-in-law also live in the community.

“I have lengthy and extensive linkages in the 10th District. I have family there and lived there a long time. Now, I own a farm there,” Mitchell said. “When people don’t have very good arguments, they resort to name-calling.”

Mitchell lived and owned a home in St. Clair for eight or nine years, and during that time moved the Ross corporate headquarters there and expanded its operations in the 10th District and across the Midwest, he said. Mitchell moved to Saginaw in 2008 after marrying his wife.

His roots are in Waterford Township, Oakland County, where he grew up the eldest of six siblings and later graduated from Michigan State University. Before coming CEO at Ross, he was the longtime head of the division that conducted educational and other transitional programs throughout the East to help long-term welfare recipients get into jobs.

Mitchell said his campaign will focus in part on the need to grow the economy and reduce regulatory burdens on businesses. He also wants to repeal Obama’s health care law and replace it with a private-sector-oriented program.

Mitchell spent $3.6 million last year in the Republican congressional primary, according to federal disclosure reports. He lost to former state Sen. John Moolenaar, who was backed by Camp and Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Mitchell also reached for his own pocket to help fund his campaign against Proposal 1, the sales and fuel tax increase proposal rejected by 80 percent of voters statewide on May 5. He spent the most among those opposing the ballot proposal, which was backed by millions of dollars from the road construction and contracting industries.

He donated $132,645 directly to his Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals and provided another $34,843 in-kind contributions — mostly Facebook advertising buys, according to state campaign filings.

As for Brandenburg, chairman of the Senate Finance panel, he's in no rush to jump into the race.

“I'm not going to declare until I have to,” Brandenburg said. “You start burning money at a pretty fast clip when you declare.”

Paul Mitchell

Age: 58

Home: Dryden Township, Lapeer County

Professional experience: Former head and co-owner of Ross Medical Education Center in Saginaw.

Political experience: Former chairman, Faith & Freedom Coalition of Michigan. Formed the Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals this year to oppose the proposed sales and gas tax increases known as Proposal 1 on the May 5 statewide ballot. In 2014, ran unsuccessfully in the 4th Congressional District Republican primary in central Michigan, losing to John Moolenaar. In 2013, launched Pure PAC, a super political action committee devoted to defeating then-Rep. Gary Peters’ bid for U.S. Senate in 2014.