Michigan voters favor abortion, voting rights, term limits reform proposals, poll finds

Tudor Dixon picks ex-state Rep. Shane Hernandez as running mate, but challenger may emerge

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon has selected former state Rep. Shane Hernandez of Port Huron as her running mate, potentially placing someone with experience in Lansing at the top of the GOP ticket along with a group of political outsiders.

This story appeared in our Michigan Politics newsletter. Sign up here to get the latest political headlines delivered for free to your in box each morning. 

Hernandez, who was known as a conservative in the state Legislature, unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House in 2020 and was the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee for a term. The Appropriations Committee is responsible for crafting the state's annual budget.

"Shane Hernandez as lieutenant governor will help to improve our schools, create safer communities and improve our economy," Dixon said Friday in a statement. "Like me, Shane is concerned about the impact rising prices are having on our families."

But Dixon's selection of Hernandez as her running mate is not a done deal.

He has to win the backing of delegates at the Michigan Republican Party's Aug. 27 state convention, where GOP activists will formally nominate their candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, the State Board of Education and three university governing boards.

It remained unclear Friday whether a significant challenge to Hernandez at the convention in Lansing would take shape.

A source close to former Republican candidate for governor Garrett Soldano said Friday that Soldano was considering pursuing the party's nomination for lieutenant governor, which would introduce a prominent alternative in the contest.

Soldano, a chiropractor from Mattawan who gained a following among the Republican grassroots, finished third in a five-candidate primary race for governor. Dixon won with 41% to Soldano's 18%.

He also emerged as a critic of Dixon in the final weeks of the campaign, saying in one debate that his "definition of establishment is basically" Dixon's "entire campaign."

Former state Rep. Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, is Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon's pick for lieutenant governor in the Nov. 8 general election. Hernandez served two two-year terms in the Michigan House before making an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2020 in the 10th Congressional District in Macomb County and the Thumb region.

Dixon's decision to pick Hernandez, announced an hour before a state GOP deadline, came 81 days ahead of the Nov. 8 election, when Dixon hopes to unseat Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Whitmer's lieutenant governor is Garlin Gilchrist II of Detroit.

What Hernandez offers

Hernandez was among a small group of contenders for the lieutenant governor position that included Macomb County Clerk Anthony Forlini, state Rep. Julie Alexander and former National Basketball Association player Willie Burton.

Deliberations on which potential candidate Dixon would pick continued into Friday as the Republican nominee and her team had to weigh the need for someone who can gain the backing of delegates at the state GOP convention and the need for someone who can help in the general election.

If formally nominated on Aug. 27, Hernandez would be the only Republican at the top of the ticket with prior experience in elected office. Neither Dixon nor the GOP's presumed nominees for attorney general and secretary of state, Matt DePerno and Kristina Karamo, have ever held elected office.

Hernandez worked previously as the vice president for an architecture firm before being elected to the state House in 2016. He ran for the U.S. House in the 10th Congressional District in 2020, coming in second place in a three-way, occasionally contentious, Republican primary race. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, won the seat with 42% of the vote in the primary. Hernandez got 36% of the vote.

Contacted by The Detroit News, McClain issued a statement: "I hope every Republican wins in November because Gretchen Whitmer has done nothing but set Michigan back for four years."

If he had been elected to Congress, Hernandez would have been Michigan's first Hispanic American U.S. House member, according to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Lavora Barnes, chairwoman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said Hernandez "is cut from the same dangerous cloth as DeVos sellout Tudor Dixon," referring to the wealthy west Michigan family that backed Dixon in the Republican primary. 

"Michigan working families deserve leadership that works for them, but Dixon and Hernandez will be catering to the special interests as they work hand-in-hand to dismantle public education, slash funding for infrastructure and law enforcement, and drag Michigan backwards," Barnes said.

After leaving the Michigan House as a representative, Hernandez worked in current House Speaker Jason Wentworth’s office as a staffer.

'Solid pick'

In an announcement, Dixon's campaign said Hernandez "led the fight against Gretchen Whitmer's 45-cent per gallon gas tax increase."

In 2019, Whitmer unsuccessfully proposed phasing in a 45-cent per-gallon fuel tax hike to fund road improvements. At the time, Hernandez was the appropriations chairman.

"I am honored to run as Tudor's running mate to address the problems created by Gretchen Whitmer," Hernandez said. "Her vision is the right one for Michigan and I believe we will defeat Whitmer and begin to repair the damage she's caused to our families, students, and business owners."

The No. 1 goal of selecting a running mate is not committing unforced errors, said John Sellek, a Republican political strategist and founder of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs.

"This appears to be a solid pick of someone both with a deep knowledge of the state budget and the GOP street cred of having come up from the grassroots of the party," Sellek said. "Dixon can now finish getting ready for the convention and begin the general election campaign."

In recent days, former gubernatorial candidates Ryan Kelley and Ralph Rebandt said they were also considering seeking their party's nomination for lieutenant governor. On Friday, Kelley announced he would not pursue the nomination.

Under Michigan Republican Party rules, Dixon had to submit her selection for lieutenant governor by 5 p.m. Friday. At the Aug. 27 state GOP convention, delegates have to cast "an affirmative vote" to approve her pick. It's unclear how that vote will happen.

If Dixon's lieutenant governor pick doesn't get "an affirmative vote," she'll be able to address the convention, resubmit her choice or submit a new candidate for consideration, according to the party rules.

If the second nomination doesn't receive an affirmative vote, then nominations may be submitted from the floor of the convention.

"I am confident delegates will embrace Shane and, united, we will defeat Gretchen Whitmer in November," Dixon said Friday.

cmauger@detroitnews.com