GOP candidate for governor balks at Detroit Chamber debate over COVID-19 requirements

·2 min read

LANSING — One of five Republican candidates for governor invited to debate at the Mackinac Policy Conference says he will refuse to do so over the Detroit Regional Chamber's policy requiring conference attendees to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

"This ... is a dealbreaker," Ottawa County real estate agent Ryan Kelley said Monday in an email to supporters.

"If I am required to play the radical lefts COVID game, I will decline participation," he said.

"Even for an opportunity this big, I will not give in on our principles and values. Medical freedom is a key component of my campaign."

However, the Detroit Regional Chamber has said previously — and reiterated Tuesday — that the gubernatorial debate will be held outdoors and there will be a separate registration option for that and other outdoor events that will not require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. It was not clear whether Kelley was voicing a broader objection to the general COVID-19 requirements for the conference.

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley speaks during a protest outside of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing demanding a forensic audit on Feb. 8, 2022.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley speaks during a protest outside of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing demanding a forensic audit on Feb. 8, 2022.

Kelley, a harsh critic of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's early measures to address the pandemic, urged other Republican candidates invited to the debate to follow his lead, but there was no immediate indication whether that would happen.

Based on a poll the business group conducted of support for the 10 candidates who have submitted petition signatures to get on the primary ballot, the chamber invited former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, Oakland County businessman Perry Johnson, Kelley, Oakland County businessman Kevin Rinke, and Kalamazoo chiropractor Garrett Soldano to participate in the June 2 debate.

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That means that barring some change, Norton Shores businesswoman Tudor Dixon, Michigan State Police Capt. Michael Brown of Stevensville, Byron Center businesswoman Donna Brandenburg, Farmington Hills Pastor Ralph Rebandt, and Grand Haven financial adviser Michael Markey would not be onstage with their competitors.

Several of the candidates have said they are vaccinated.

Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber, said Tuesday that Kelley and others who want to participate in outdoor events June 2 are not required to validate vaccination status or submit PCR test results.

"We hope Ryan Kelley chooses to participate in this forum featuring the leading Republican candidates," Williams said. "We are also pleased to be partners with the Michigan Republican Party in hosting this potentially pivotal primary debate.”

Conference attendees are required to show that they are fully vaccinated, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition. That means they attend the conference at least two weeks after receiving a second shot of a two-dose vaccine, or at least two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Alternatively, attendees can show a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of the conference.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4. Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: GOP governor candidate says COVID test for debate a 'dealbreaker'