Michigan gov candidate Rinke: 'I want to run this business a hell of a lot better'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Armada — In what was touted as his first rally while seeking the GOP nomination in the race to become Michigan’s governor, conservative businessman Kevin Rinke touted his status as a political outsider Monday night.

"I want to be the chief executive of Michigan and I want to run this business a hell of a lot better," the former head of the Rinke Automotive Group told about 50 supporters at Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill in Armada.

Rinke is among 10 Republicans seeking their party's nomination in the Aug. 2 primary.

The candidates have chiefly run as political outsiders.

Kevin Rinke brings his Won't Back Down bus tour to northern Macomb County's Blake's Orchard and Cider Mill in Armada on Monday.

The winner faces incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as she seeks a second term in November.

Rinke said the state was stalling under her leadership and needed a fresh direction.

"Michigan government right now is failing," the Bloomfield Township resident said. "...It’s not the Michigan that I grew up in nor the one that I want for you, for myself, for my family."

Rinke said he wanted to change how government worked to better serve residents. That included a proposal to eliminate the 4.25% individual income tax by 2024.

The individual income tax produced about $11.9 billion in revenue for Fiscal Year 2021, according to the state Department of Treasury. That number amounts to about 16% of the $74 billion budget plan Whitmer proposed in February for next year.

Rinke's plan, announced last month, would involve sending a proposal to the Legislature to eliminate the personal income tax in one of his first acts as governor. A repeal would take effect Jan. 1, 2024.

Rinke told the crowd at his rally Monday night: "I believe you know how to spend your money better than the people in Lansing."

"I believe you know how to spend your money better than the people in Lansing," Rinke said to applause.

Addressing criticism about how the plan would work, he said the 2024 deadline gives the Legislature a year after he would take office "to figure out how not to spend your money and how not to waste your money."

Speaking to The Detroit News after the event, Rinke added his proposal would make Michigan more competitive economically, pointing to other states that have followed similar paths and grown their population, including Texas and Florida.

"We create the environment where they can stay," he said.

In a statement Friday, the Michigan Democratic Party said Rinke's tax plan "reads more like a charcuterie board of statewide self-sabotage. This backwards vision would result in billions in cuts for a whole host of critical services like public health/safety/schools, law enforcement and the infrastructure Michigan’s economy relies on."

Rinke is among the self-funding candidates in the Republican primary race, vowing to spend millions of their own dollars on gubernatorial bids.

Besides the auto group, the Michigan State University graduate has led other businesses, including a traumatic brain injury center and Centria Healthcare.

During his rally remarks Monday, he discussed his priorities if elected in November. They include boosting education across Michigan, including enhancing vocational programs, "because there's nothing wrong in being a painter, an electrician or plumber," he said.

The focus on education attracted people such as Lev Montgomery, a Realtor and longtime Macomb County resident who has been following multiple conservative candidates on the campaign trail.

"I do feel that that there is a massive education crisis," he said. "It's not a Democratic or Republican issue, but it is an issue that we that we need to address."

Rinke stressed the need for a state government that would "create an environment for the people to be successful. Not to control them, not to take from them, not to mandate for them."

In introducing Rinke to the crowd, Don Brown, chairman of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners, called him "an auto guy that we all can appreciate from this side of the state."

"He’s got the right temperament," Brown said. "He’s not going to be extreme. He’s going to be open-minded and listen to people."

Rinke told his supporters his views on "election integrity."

"I'd like for people that vote to be alive," he said. "I'd like them to be citizens in the state of Michigan. … How about they’re registered correctly? How about they have voter ID?" 

Allegations of voter fraud in Michigan have persisted after former President Donald Trump lost the state's election to Democrat Joe Biden by 154,000 votes or about 3 percentage points in November 2020.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and other Democrats have said the elections were run properly. 

Whitmer recently signed an executive directive designed to make it easier for people to register to vote and has vetoed legislation that would include information on an absentee ballot application informing a potential voter that it is a felony to vote more than once in the same election. 

In her reelection campaign, she has touted a planned $7 billion electric vehicle investment from General Motors Co., which was announced in January; efforts to expand the budget for K-12 education; and securing $400 refund checks for drivers after changes to auto insurance laws.

"Kevin Rinke continues to hurl out-of-touch attacks at Governor Whitmer to distract Michiganders from his dangerous agenda, including his plan to slash billions from critical services like schools, law enforcement, and roads," said  Rodericka Applewhaite, spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, in a statement Tuesday. "It’s clear that someone who ran his used Toyota dealerships with a toxic environment of harassment for his employees can’t be trusted to lead Michiganders."