Insider: Labor unions help sponsor Michigan GOP conference

Union groups that usually align with Democratic candidates were sponsors of the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island this weekend. The sponsorships from Laborers International Union of North America and Operating Engineers marked the first time the labor groups sponsored the conference.

Representatives from both groups also were featured on a panel at the conference where they expressed common interests with Republicans, such as the building of a tunnel to house Enbridge's Line 5 oil pipeline, road worker safety, the repeal of pension taxes and fewer restrictions for aggregate resources.

The program for the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in 2021 lists the top sponsors, including two labor unions.

"This is the first time we've ever been offered" to sponsor the conference, said William Miller III, political director for Operating Engineers 324. "We've had these relationships with the Republican Party for years. ... We are truly policy over party. We don't get involved with social issues."

As hunters and fishers, the union, Miller said, wants to shut down the 68-year-old Line 5 pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac but wants to ensure the tunnel is built first.

"Right to work and prevailing wage, that's behind us. We are about moving forward," Miller said. "If those things come up and they're viable, we'll talk about it."

Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra stressed Republicans' similarities with the labor groups — such as a desire for lower taxes and fewer regulations — while moderating the panel with Miller and Jonathan Byrd, the director of external affairs for the Michigan Laborers’ District Council. 

"These folks have to be part of our coalition," Hoekstra said. "We’ve got to develop a relationship with them and we need to listen to them.”

Upton buttons hint at reelection run

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican from St. Joseph who's served in Congress since 1987, hasn't said yet whether he'll seek another term in 2022, but buttons distributed at the GOP conference on Mackinac Island over the weekend indicated a run might be likely.

The red-white-and-blue buttons said "Upton 2022!"

Buttons seen at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference indicate U.S. Rep. Fred Upton will run again in 2022.

Upton was the only Republican U.S. House member from Michigan who wasn't at the three-day conference. He had a scheduling conflict with a friend's wedding.

While it remains unclear what his congressional district will look like after redistricting is completed, a handful of GOP challengers have lined up to run against Upton in the primary.

Former President Donald Trump, whom Upton voted to impeach in January, has endorsed state Rep. Steve Carra, R-Three Rivers.

Freedom Fund brings Landshark to life

The conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, one of the groups that have been most critical of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, held an event on Mackinac Island Saturday with a special guest who targeted the Democratic governor's trip to a bar during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An unidentified person in a shark costume wore a sign that said, "Rules for thee but not for me!"

A person in a shark costume appears at a Michigan Freedom Fund event on Mackinac Island on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

The mascot was a reference to Whitmer's visit to the Landshark Bar & Grill in East Lansing in May when she appeared in a photo showing her with 12 other people gathered around tables pushed together in violation of her health department's current epidemic order. A May 15 order from the state Department of Health and Human Services said no more than six people could be seated together and groups of patrons must be six feet apart. The governor apologized in May.

Ex-health director drops in on budget vote

Former state health department Director Nick Lyon was in the room Wednesday as a joint appropriations committee of Senate and House lawmakers voted on the state's budget, which included about $31.7 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Former state health department Director Nick Lyon

Lyon, who currently is facing charges in relation to the Flint Water Crisis, told The Detroit News he was not there in any official capacity but was interested in the process. 

"There's so much opportunity for improvement and anything I can do to help, I will," he said.

Lyon was preparing to stand trial in 2019 for allegedly failing to timely inform the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease when Flint was using improperly treated water from the Flint River in 2014 and 2015.

Attorney General Dana Nessel's office dropped the charges in 2019 and restarted the investigation. Lyon was charged again with nine counts of involuntary manslaughter and willful neglect of duty in early 2020 after a secret grand jury was convened to consider the case.

COVID memorial exhibit 

Upton and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, together visited a memorial exhibit on the National Mall to plant white flags in honor of Michiganians who died from COVID-19 among the 670,000 flags on display around the Washington Monument.

The lawmakers are urging constituents in Michigan to contact their offices if they'd like to them to plant a flag in honor of a loved one. Both Upton and Dingell said they'd return to the memorial this week to handwrite messages and plant the flags.

Contact Upton’s office at (202) 225-3761 or Dingell’s office at (202) 225-4071 by Thursday. The memorial is set to be on display until Oct. 3.

“Today was an incredible and overwhelming experience. Walking through a sea of flags stretching as far as the eye can see, there was a lot of emotion as we saw the reality of how many lives have been taken by this virus,” Upton and Dingell said in a statement.

“We mourn with families across Michigan and our nation who have lost loved ones and experienced the terrible pain firsthand, and we commit to ending this deadly virus once and for all.”

Dingell planted flags in memory of Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko and the Rev. Victoria James of Ypsilanti. Upton planted a flag in honor of Bud Baker, the most decorated veteran in Berrien County who was the first person to die from COVID in the county, his office said.