Ron Weiser, UM regent, former ambassador, to lead Michigan GOP after contentious race

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Ron Weiser won his third term Saturday as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, two days after party leadership leveled payoff allegations against him. 

Weiser, a University of Michigan board regent and longtime Republican donor, will take the reins of the Michigan GOP alongside his co-chair Meshawn Maddock, a grassroots organizer for former President Donald Trump who led calls last year to overturn the state's election results. 

Ron Weiser

Weiser said his win Saturday, where he took 66% of the vote, was "just the beginning" of the party's plan for "victory in 2022" and "unifying our party."

"The skirmishes of yesterday are over," said Weiser, the former ambassador to the Slovak Republic. "Our focus now rests on the great challenges before us: Rebuilding our party. Defeating Whitmer, Nessel, Benson and other far-left radicals. We must strengthen our House and Senate majorities. We must win back the Supreme Court and the Board of Education."

Former chairwoman Laura Cox on Saturday said it was an "honor" to lead the party and she vowed never to stop "fighting for our conservative principles and what we stand for."

Weiser's victory comes despite Cox throwing her name back in the race Thursday along with allegations that Weiser had paid party activist Stan Grot $200,000 of party money to drop out of the 2018 race for secretary of state. Grot's departure from the race ensured the GOP had at least one female statewide candidate to run against the Democratic party's all female statewide ticket. 

Weiser and Grot denied the allegations and Weiser's former chief of staff noted Grot had done delegate recruitment that might account for the payout. 

Still, the allegations shook a party still reeling from a tumultuous presidential election and weeks of unproven claims of election fraud, "Stop the Steal" protests and litigation challenging President Joe Biden's 154,000-vote win in Michigan.

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Weiser clinched his win at the Saturday convention, a month to the day after the U.S. Capitol was stormed by rioters in order to disrupt the Electoral College process. Maddock was in D.C. the day of the insurrection but said she had returned to her hotel prior to the rioting.

The contested election, last-minute allegations against Weiser and some calls for unity colored the remarks of Republican delegates and nominees who spoke during the convention Saturday. Some of those speaking on behalf of candidates and the candidates themselves had been plaintiffs in lawsuits seeking to overturn the state's results.

FILE - Then-Michigan Republican Chairwoman Laura Cox speaks to supporters of President Donald Trump at a rally in Norton Shores on Oct. 17, 2020.

Republican activist Linda Lee Tarver began the convention with a prayer that advocated for the party to "pursue and return everything that was stolen," language similar to the pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" rallies after the election.

Other Republican speakers emphasized the importance of electing leaders who would have the best chance of flipping key statewide and legislative seats in 2022. 

Michelle Frederick, an 11th Congressional District delegate, nominated Cox, arguing that the party needed "honest people who will lead with integrity and who will unite our party.”

"Given the most recent developments Laura and Terry (Bowman) are the only candidates who are deserving of your vote," Frederick said.

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U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, nominated Weiser by focusing on his history as a successful businessman, fundraiser and supporter of Trump. 

"He is best suited to lead us and unify us," McClain said. "He will lead our party to victory in 2022.”

Aside from GOP party chair, the state committee also chose administrative vice chair, outreach vice chair, grassroots vice chair, youth vice chair, ethnic vice chair and coalitions vice chair.

Paul Stephens will serve as youth vice chair, Tami Carlone as coalitions vice chair, Marian Sheridan as grassroots vice chair, Diane Shindlbeck as administrative vice chair, Ty Bundy for outreach vice chair and Bernadette Smith for ethnic vice chair.

Sheridan, a Republican organizer and, more recently, a plaintiff in a suit seeking to overturn Michigan's election results, called the November election "disturbing" during remarks following her nomination Satuday. She repeated unproven claims about the election. 

"We discovered thousands of disturbing anomalies," Sheridan said, noting they forwarded the information to Trump attorneys.

Schindlbeck, a nominee for administrative vice chair, focused on election integrity and collaboration among Republicans during remarks at the convention.

"My promise to you is to be productive and not destructive as we work together to build our Republican Party," she said. 

The GOP chair race comes after a year of chaos in state and national politics.

Trump, who earned a nearly 11,000-vote win in Michigan in 2016, blitzed the state ahead of the November election, holding rallies with thousands of people while the state battled the coronavirus pandemic. But those efforts fell short.

Trump's 154,000-vote loss in Michigan to President Joe Biden was followed by weeks of unproven claims of election fraud, several lawsuits claiming the same, Stop the Steal rallies in Detroit and Lansing and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. 

That same day, Cox announced she didn't want to run and Weiser, a former party chairman, appeared to be on course to win the party's chairmanship easily. Then Cox announced Thursday that she would step back into the race to prevent Weiser from taking control of the party.

In an email, Cox alleged Weiser funneled $200,000 in GOP funds to Grot of Shelby Township to leave the 2018 secretary of state race so the party could have at least one female candidate for statewide office. 

Cox engaged a lawyer to conduct a preliminary report on the payments to Grot but Weiser would not cooperate, she said.

Both Weiser and Grot have denied Cox's allegation, but neither have denied Grot was paid $200,000 in a seven month period between when he dropped out of the race in August 2018 and when Weiser finished his term as chair in February 2019. 

Weiser's then-Chief of Staff Colleen Pero told investigators the payments weren't improper and said Grot had been recruiting delegates, organizing events and helping with Macomb County legislative races. 

Cox, who has promised to step down after the convention, urged party members Friday in a live townhall to support her and "speak truth to billionaire power."

"I just want to convince you to vote against the ethically-challenged Ron Weiser," she said. "We are not the party of payoffs."

Maddock fired back in a Saturday video, arguing she and Weiser had believed Cox when she said she would bow out of the race. 

"We did not believe that Laura Cox would try to burn down the party on her way out the door," Maddock said, arguing that Cox's actions invited Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel to "poke around in our records."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com