The Michigan Republican convention erupted into anger Saturday as tea party activists fought with party regulars over candidates and convention rules.
Gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder appealed for unity, but the moderate Ann Arbor businessman got only a tepid response from conservatives in the crowd.
Snyder spokesman Bill Nowling said much of the disgruntlement stemmed from activists’ anger at a bottleneck over getting credentials as they tried to get into Michigan State University’s sprawling basketball arena, the Breslin Center.
Hundreds of delegates stood in lengthy lines as computer problems hung up the credential process. GOP officials finally just let everyone in and handed out credentials later in the convention, which started nearly an hour behind schedule because of the snafus.
“People were mad. … You had alternates voting as delegates” and other rule violations because of the sloppy credentialing process, Nowling said. “That was outside our control.”
State GOP Chairman Ron Weiser apologized for the problems, which were acerbated by the fact that at least 500 of the nearly 2,100 delegates were new to politics and the convention. Most were tea party activists, who held their own raucous pre-convention caucus Friday night that was frequently interrupted by disagreements.
“We screwed up,” Weiser said as he started the convention with far higher attendance than usual.
The first real problems erupted when tea party activists insisted on a roll call vote for lieutenant governor. Members of the Tea Party of West Michigan nominated Fruitport businessman Bill Cooper for lieutenant governor, even though Snyder had named state Rep. Brian Calley as his running mate Wednesday.
Angry chants of “roll call! roll call!” erupted Saturday as GOP official Hank Fuhs tried to hold the vote with a show of hands. Cooper then withdrew his name, but hundreds of tea party activists yelled “no” as Calley’s name was put up for a vote.
Calley and Snyder both appealed to delegates to unify, but it was clear they still have a sales job to do with many conservatives. The wealthy Snyder beat four more conservative candidates who split the vote, and some Republicans were upset that Snyder had asked independents and Democrats to back him in the Aug. 3 primary election.
He’s distrusted by social conservatives who disagree with his support for embryonic stem cell research, and they’re unhappy Calley voted in 2007 for the Michigan Business Tax, although most of his voting record is in line with other House Republicans.
Larry Laham of Grand Rapids, one of the founders of the Tea Party of West Michigan, said he expects most tea party activists will back Snyder this November. But he added the candidate, who sells himself as “one tough nerd,” has some work to do.
“Most of us see Rick Snyder as an unknown commodity,” Laham said. “We’ve had moderate candidates in the past who have proved to be disappointments.”
But the 67-year-old industrial machinery salesman also sees Snyder making changes that could earn him tea party support.
“He is beginning to say things that cause those in the grass roots to be heartened that he’s going to be more responsive to our concerns,” Laham said.
Also evident during the convention was Republican ire over Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver’s decision this week to resign and let Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm appoint her replacement.
Former Justice Clifford Taylor gleefully told the convention that “we’ve gotten rid of Weaver the deceiver.” Although she was twice nominated for the court by the GOP, Weaver often clashed with Taylor and other Republicans on the court. Taylor unexpectedly lost to Democrat Diane Hathaway in 2008, and Justice Robert Young said he’s determined to not only keep his seat but regain the GOP majority on court this November by helping Wayne Circuit Court Judge Mary Beth Kelly win.
Snyder and Calley were scheduled to begin a statewide bus tour Saturday after the convention ended.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)