Michigan Rep. Ryan Berman announces campaign for attorney general

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — State Rep. Ryan Berman, an Oakland County Republican, lawyer and critic of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is launching a campaign Wednesday for attorney general.

Rep. Ryan Berman

Berman, 40, said he will seek the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is expected to run for reelection in November 2022. The Commerce Township resident is in his second term in the state House.

"As a state representative and reserve police officer, I value the rule of law and fully support our law enforcement community. And, as a defense attorney, I know how important it is to prosecute the laws equitably," Berman said in his campaign announcement. "The only way to build trust in government is advancing transparency, accountability and integrity at all levels. That is not happening today in Lansing.”

Berman, who has practiced law for 16 years, becomes the only Republican in elected office so far to formally announce a campaign against Nessel. The only other GOP candidate to form a fundraising committee, at this point, is Matthew DePerno, a Kalamazoo attorney who has gained attention by questioning the results of the 2020 election.

However, former state House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, who ran against Nessel in 2018, losing by 3 percentage points, is also considered a potential candidate. The eventual nominee will be chosen by Michigan GOP delegates at a state convention in 2022.

Berman was first elected to the state House in 2018. Last year, despite Democrat Joe Biden's success in Oakland County in the presidential race, the lawmaker won a second term by 5 percentage points. His current district features Wixom, Commerce Township, a portion of West Bloomfield Township and the village of Wolverine Lake.

In the House, he has pushed to subject the Legislature to open records requests and championed bills to allow accusers of former University of Michigan physician Robert Anderson to sue the university for their alleged sexual assault by altering the statute of limitations and curbing the university's governmental immunity.

He's also spoken out frequently against Whitmer's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interview, Berman said if he had been attorney general in 2020, he would have issued an opinion determining that the Democratic governor didn't have the authority to keep an emergency declaration in place without the GOP-controlled Legislature's approval.

Ryan Berman

"It would have limited a lot of destruction on our small businesses," Berman said.

Nessel "stood aside while Whitmer ran over the constitution," he contended.

On Oct. 2, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that a state law allowing the governor to declare emergencies and keep them in place without legislative input — the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act — was unconstitutional. 

In a statement Wednesday, Nessel's campaign spokeswoman Kimberly Bush said Nessel had met the promises she made and transformed the office "into a model of effective government for the people."

Nessel has expanded the civil rights and consumer protections departments, advocated for victims of elder abuse and sexual assault, created the first auto insurance fraud department, and focused on businesses that intentionally and harmfully violate environmental protections, according to the statement.

"Nessel has never shied away from fighting for her constituents," Bush said. "The voters of this state recognize this and don’t want to turn the clock back to when this office was primarily used to shield special interests and partisan priorities."

But Berman said he disagreed with Nessel's efforts to shut down Enbridge's Line 5 pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, which she has said pose a "grave threat." Likewise, Berman said he would have initiated an investigation into the governor's handling of COVID-19 policies for nursing homes, which Nessel declined to do.

Last year, Berman sponsored a resolution opposing Whitmer's decision to care for elderly individuals with the virus in isolated areas of existing nursing homes, instead of separate facilities.

In response to a nursing home investigation request from state Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, Nessel said the Republican senator had provided insufficient indication that "any law has been violated" with the response to COVID-19 in nursing homes.

"I appreciate that you and your colleagues have policy disagreements with Governor Whitmer’s response to COVID-19," Nessel wrote. "But an investigation by my office is not the mechanism to resolve those disagreements."

If elected, Berman said he will focus on applying laws with "integrity and equality."

He and his wife, Stacie, have two daughters. Berman is a graduate of Detroit Country Day School, Michigan State University and Wayne State University Law School.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.