Michigan Senate Leader Shirkey: 'No interest' in running for governor

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said he has "no interest and no plans" to run in 2022 as the Republican alternative to Democratic Gov. Grechen Whitmer, who is expected to seek reelection.

In a Thursday interview, as state GOP officials and activists have begun focusing on the coming gubernatorial race, Shirkey, R-Clarklake, rebuffed speculation that he would seek to be the nominee. The statement makes him the first of the rumored contenders to do so publicly since the presidential election on Nov. 3.

"I have no interest and no plans for running for governor in 2022 or beyond," said Shirkey, a conservative businessman who has served in the state House and Senate.

Asked if he was not going to run, he responded, "I think my statement was pretty darn clear."

State Sen. Mike Shirkey

The November 2022 election is 22 months away. But candidates for governor in Michigan usually launch their campaigns in the first six months of the year before the election year.

Whitmer formed her campaign committee for governor on Jan. 3, 2017.

Currently, much of the Republican speculation has focused on former U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, a longtime elected official who serves as the public works commissioner in Macomb County. But GOP insiders — some of whom have described her as a "dream candidate" — admit that it's unclear whether Miller will ultimately decide to run.

In a Tuesday interview with Detroit News Editorial Page Editor Nolan Finley, Miller said she loves her current position, which, she said, combines her interests in infrastructure and the Great Lakes.

When pressed on whether she would rule out a run for governor, Miller responded: "I don’t know what to say. Two years is a long time away.”

Many Republicans have viewed Shirkey, who was first elected to the Michigan House in 2010 and is the highest ranking lawmaker in the state Senate, as one of the party's top potential candidates for governor.

"We will have an excellent candidate to challenge our current governor in 2022," Shirkey said Thursday. But he declined to provide specifics about the identity of the person.

Owner of the engineering and manufacturing company Orbitform, he became the Senate's majority leader in 2019 as he started his second term. He previously served four years in the Michigan House, where he was heavily involved in efforts to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act and approve the right-to-work law, which bans labor contracts from requiring non-union workers to pay fees for bargaining.

In 2022, Michigan Republicans will face the difficult task of trying to maintain their legislative majorities with newly redrawn districts while attempting to unseat three Democrats who hold the top state political jobs: Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. An incumbent Michigan governor hasn't lost a reelection race since 1990.

Shirkey has repeatedly clashed with Whitmer this past year over her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has said Senate Republicans wouldn't support a statewide mandate that people wear masks while contending that restrictions on businesses imposed by the governor and her health department to combat the virus have gone too far.

Whitmer, who has been praised by some public health experts, has countered that her administration is following data and doing what is necessary to save lives.

The Republican Party needs to "coalesce around a common foundation" and "make our case" to voters that there are "real costs" associated with the 2018 election, Shirkey said.

"I just hope people have good memories about what they're enduring right now because much of it was unnecessary as a result of their elections in 2018," Shirkey said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com