GOP pushes to defeat Whitmer threatened by candidate baggage | Health, Medicine and Fitness
By BRIAN SLODYSKO, SARA BURNETT and THOMAS BEAUMONT – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A leading Republican candidate for the governorship of Michigan was sued in the 1990s, accused of using racial slurs against black people in the workplace and of having sexually harassed its employees.
One of his rivals pleaded not guilty in federal court on Thursday on misdemeanor charges after authorities said he rounded up Donald Trump supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 uprising. Another candidate is a chiropractor and self-help guru who sold supplements he falsely claimed to treat COVID-19.
And even the opponent who garnered mainstream support had an “admittedly lame” hobby acting in low-budget horror pictures, one of which included a zombie biting a man’s genitals.
In one of America’s most politically important states, the Republican gubernatorial primary is shaping up to be a battle with the least disqualifying personal baggage. In an otherwise favorable election year for Republicans, the spectacle surrounding the Aug. 2 contest could hamper the party’s efforts to defeat incumbent Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the fall.
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“Whitmer can attack any of them,” said Bernie Porn, a Lansing-based pollster with more than three decades of experience investigating the state. “There are skeletons in the closet of most Republican candidates.”
The GOP campaign has been tense from the start. Two top candidates were launched the ballot for submitting false petition signatures, narrowing the field to five candidates.
There are few reliable polls to suggest there is a clear favorite among the remaining candidates. But Republicans insist Whitmer is still vulnerable this fall given rising gas and food prices and his close ties to President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings remain low.
The allegations against businessman Kevin Rinke, who ran the family’s suburban Detroit car dealership empire in the 1990s, are particularly explicit.
Four employees filed a lawsuit in 1992, alleging that Rinke repeatedly made vulgar and disparaging sexual remarks to men and women, creating a hostile work environment that sought to get them to quit.
In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Rinke called the claims in two separate lawsuits “demonstrably false.” as well as the employees agreed that the cases be dismissed.
On one occasion, Rinke allegedly said women “shouldn’t be allowed to work in public” because “they are ignorant and stupid” while referring to a female employee with a vulgar term, a lawsuit alleges.
Court documents say Rinke also called his own genitals “golden” while threatening to sexually assault a used-car manager if he didn’t “do a good job.” If the manager had done a “great job,” according to court documents, Rinke would have allowed the man to please her sexually.
Much of Rinke’s conduct was reported by his personal secretary, who alleged that he inquired about her underwear, called her at home if she didn’t say good night, and also called to ask. “what young stud” she was with while speculating on her gender. life. Once, while employees were looking at pictures of newborn babies, Rinke commented on how well-endowed one of the babies was, the lawsuit says.
Another lawsuit filed the same year by a black employee alleged that Rinke repeatedly made derogatory racist remarks about him at a December 1991 holiday party.
At the party, according to the lawsuit, Rinke allegedly asked the employee where the car he was driving was stolen. When the employee replied that he hadn’t stolen, Rinke allegedly said, “You mean you’re not like the others? while using a racial slur. Rinke is accused of using the same racial slur multiple other times, including an instance in which he repeated a sexual stereotype about black male anatomy while encouraging the employee to expose himself to others at the party , according to court documents and the attorney who represented the employees.
Rinke told the AP the experience prepared him to run for office “because in America you can accuse anyone of anything.”
“It wasn’t true then. That wasn’t true now,” he added.
His rivals, however, say the allegations make him ineligible.
“He’s never going to be governor because Gretchen Whitmer is just going to rack her brains,” said Fred Wszolek, a longtime adviser to the family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who runs a Tudor-backing super PAC. Dixon, another GOP candidate.
As an electoral battleground, Michigan has helped determine the winner of the past two presidential races. Trump and his allies sought to overturn the result of his 2020 defeat in the state, but were blocked by the courts and a GOP-led state Senate investigation completed there was no widespread or systemic fraud.
But Ryan Kelley, a Grand Rapids-area realtor, has made voter fraud and lying that Trump won in 2020 a campaign target. He was also videotaped in Washington during the January 6 uprising directing a crowd of Trump supporters towards a staircase leading to the US Capitol. He used his phone to “video the crowd assaulting and pushing back the US Capitol police officers” and was part of a group that forced the police to retreat, the FBI said. He pleaded not guilty during a court appearance on Thursday.
Kelley, who staged armed protests inside Michigan’s state house early in the pandemic, did not respond to a campaign request for comment. But he and his supporters have questioned the timing of her arrest in June, arguing she was politically motivated.
The arrest, however, helped Kelley raise his profile, which led to an appearance on conservative pundit Tucker Carlson’s widely-watched Fox News show.
“I’ve seen the support grow tremendously,” Kelley said.
Garrett Soldano, meanwhile, has used his activism during the pandemic to launch a campaign. Soldano, a chiropractor from Kalamazoo, started the Facebook group Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine which gained around 380,000 members before the social media company shut it down as part of a crackdown on the spread of misinformation and threats.
As a candidate, he sought to lure social conservatives with an ad disparaging transgender rights and stating his preferred pronouns are “conservative, patriot”.
Prior to his rise to prominence, the former Western Michigan University football player was a firewalking instructor and self-help author of the book “God’s True Law: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Successful Children.” He also peddled the Juice Plus supplement, which he said could “overpower” any virus, including COVID-19, and had the added benefit of giving him “great bowel movements.”
The Federal Trade Commission has sent a letter to the multilevel marketing company that produces the supplement in 2020, warning against misrepresentations made by those selling Juice Plus, including Soldano. The company has disavowed any claims that Juice Plus was an effective COVID-19 treatment.
In a statement that did not address his biography, Soldano’s campaign said he was looking forward to challenging “Queen Gretchen Whitmer.”
Tudor Dixon, co-host of a conservative online news show, is the only woman running for the Republican nomination. She garnered considerable support from the Republican establishment, including endorsements from the wealthy DeVos family, as well as the anti-abortion group Michigan Right to Life.
Like Soldano, Dixon also focused on the role she says parents should play in curriculum choice, suggesting schools have become a hotbed of government-sponsored perversion. In social media posts, Dixon called for school administrators to be prosecuted if children were found to have “access to sexually explicit” and “pornographic” books in our schools.
But just over a decade ago, Dixon moonlighted as an actor in low-budget horror productions that have been criticized as at odds with his current focus on family values.
She had a small role in the 2011 zombie film Buddy BeBop Vs. the Walking Dead in which she is eaten alive by zombies. The film, which was shot in the Kalamazoo area and is still available on Amazon Prime, features a scene in which a zombie consumes the midsection of a pregnant woman. In another, a zombie bites a man’s genitals while screaming.
She also had a starring role in an online TV show called Transitions, which is about vampires and was directed by the same director. The show has been removed from public view online. But a clip shared with the AP shows a woman beginning to undress for a male vampire before Dixon’s character, a British vampire named Claire, emerges from a bathroom with a sword and slits the woman’s throat.
James Blair, a Dixon strategist, played down his game, explaining that “not-so-entertaining entertainment” was made for adults, not kids.
“Tudor’s admittedly lame hobby of more than a decade ago is in no way out of step with its mission to forge a family-friendly Michigan,” Blair said.
Report for America/Associated Press reporter Joey Cappelletti contributed from Grand Rapids.
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