Senate leader sets off Michigan GOP convention brouhaha

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The mild-mannered leader of the Michigan Senate stoked suspicions among conspiracy-alert conservative Republican activists over the weekend when he wore the presidential delegate credential for a candidate he’s not supporting.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a Republican National Convention alternate for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, appeared at a Saturday afternoon meeting of Michigan’s convention delegates wearing the credentials name badge of state Sen. Jack Brandenburg, a delegate for Donald Trump.

“Trucker” Randy Bishop, a Kasich alternate, said he noticed Meekhof wearing Brandenburg’s credentials and voting with the delegates on rules changes. It occurred in a meeting that led to Kasich and Trump’s delegations blocking delegates for Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz from any seats on powerful national convention committees.

“The bell went off in my head and I’m like, ‘OK, what’s going on?’ ” Bishop said Monday morning on his northern Michigan radio show.

He accused Meekhof of “voting illegally ... with somebody’s else’s credentials.”

“Meekhof, in my opinion, should not been able to vote with a Trump credential,” Bishop said. “Arlan Meekhof was the tying vote that basically made the Cruz people’s motions fail.”

Michigan Republican Party officials said Monday that Meekhof was voting as a Kasich delegate in place of Betsy DeVos, the former party chairwoman who received an at-large Kasich delegate seat during the state convention.

DeVos did not attend the convention, though, so Meekhof was elevated from his first alternate spot to vote in her place, said Sarah Anderson, communications director for the Michigan Republican Party.

“He was absolutely voting as Betsy DeVos’ delegate as an alternate,” Anderson said.

Meekhof was given Brandenburg’s Trump credential because it contained an orange card to distinguish voting delegates from alternates with pink cards.

“I was only going to recognize votes from people with orange cards,” said Eric Doster, general counsel of the Michigan Republican Party, who chaired the delegate meeting.

Doster said Bishop and Cruz supporters didn’t raise any issue with Meekhof using Brandenburg’s orange voting card during the meeting.

“No one brought that up,” Doster said Monday. “I didn’t even see Bishop.”

Meekhof, R-West Olive, referred all questions Monday to Doster.

“It’s interesting that Trucker Randy is the chair of District 1, and he doesn’t even know the rules,” Meekhof said.

Party officials also couldn’t find DeVos’ credentials during a chaotic few minutes after the state central committee meeting ended and the national delegate meeting began, Anderson said.

Anderson said there was nothing nefarious about Meekhof using Brandenburg’s orange card to vote.

“There are just some people who are so desperate to make something out of nothing,” Anderson said. “There’s just not anything there.”

Bishop, chairman of the Atrim County Republican Party, isn’t buying the state party’s explanation.

“I think that’s a load of crap, but whatever,” Bishop told The Detroit News. “They had my lowly pink alternate card printed, but they didn’t have one for Betsy DeVos, the top donor of the Republican Party?”

Bishop, a former truck driver, said he confronted Meekhof during the delegate meeting and used “trucker words” he couldn’t repeat on the radio before storming out of the meeting room at the Lansing Center to avoid a further escalation.

“As I was doing so, Meekhof yells out, ‘Trucker, sit down and shut up,’ ” Bishop said. “I did everything I could not to get thrown in jail because I was very upset with his mouth and what he said to me.”

Tensions were high during the meeting because the Trump and Kasich delegations formed a surprise partnership and denied the Cruz delegation any national convention committee seats.

The move came after the Cruz camp thought it had a deal with Kasich’s forces to share Michigan’s seats on the convention committees, which set rules and determine who is eligible to vote.

Wendy Day, a Cruz delegate who ran his primary campaign in Michigan, said Monday that Cruz’s national campaign is reviewing the state GOP rules and what transpired Saturday after they were shut out of any committee seats.

“We went from kind of a weekend of bumper cars … to the battle royale in that (delegate) meeting,” Day said.

Cruz’s campaign was especially irked because former Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob, a Kasich delegate, was elected to the convention Credentials Committee over Congressman Justin Amash, an at-large Cruz delegate.

The Rules Committee could decide whether Kasich is eligible to be considered at the national convention if he fails to win eight states or primaries, Day said, referring to a rule from the 2012 convention.

“The stakes are really high for this Rules Committee,” Day said.

Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, was absent from the state convention over the weekend and was surprised to learn Monday morning his name was caught up in the controversy.

“No one said anything to me about that,” Brandenburg said. “Why would (Meekhof) wear Jack Brandenburg’s credentials when everybody knows that’s not Jack Brandenburg?”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood