Eye on Lansing Relationships within Michigan GOP remain uneasy Social conservatives wait to see if Snyder helps or hinders

By Kathy Barks Hoffman

Associated Press

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) -- Saturday's Michigan Republican Party convention was a more sedate affair than the last, when tea party activists fought with party regulars over candidates and convention rules after venture capitalist Rick Snyder unexpectedly won the GOP primary.

This time, a more conservative candidate for party chairman withdrew before the convention began and party activists unanimously elected Robert "Bobby" Schostak, Snyder's choice and the man who raised much of the money that powered Republicans' sweeping wins in the November election.

Still, a slight sense of uneasiness filled the air at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who had a tea party candidate run against him at the August convention, tried to make a joke of it Saturday.

"There isn't anybody else running for lieutenant governor, is there?" he quipped during remarks to the more than 3,000 delegates and alternates.

Although many fiscal conservatives have been happy with Snyder's move to replace the unpopular Michigan Business Tax and cut business taxes overall, social conservatives still are waiting to see whether he will help or hinder their causes. Snyder left the red-meat topics of guns, abortion and the national health care law to other speakers, focusing instead on his plans to adjust Michigan's tax structure and regulations to be more favorable to job creation.

"We will not walk away from the tough issues. We will address them head on," Snyder said, speaking from the front of the stage rather than standing behind the podium. "Before, much of our success was based on what we said we were going to do. . . . (Now), it is time for action."

Greg McNeilly, a former state party executive director attending the convention, said conservatives are watching closely to see how far Snyder will go in cutting spending and shrinking the size of government.

"The state budget's going to answer a lot of questions" when it's released in a couple of weeks, McNeilly said. "It's still a trust-but-verify" relationship between some conservatives and the former Gateway computer executive from Ann Arbor, he said.

Schostak, a 54-year-old from Oakland County's Bloomfield Township, has felt some of the same skepticism from party conservatives. Although he has set fund-raising records since taking over as GOP finance chairman after the 2008 elections, he initially faced suspicion from tea party activists, largely because of his past contributions to Democratic candidates. He explained the contributions were decided on by his family's commercial real estate business, Schostak Brothers & Co., where he's on a leave of absence from his duties as company co-chairman and chief executive officer.

He got some help soothing tea partiers' worries from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, founder of the congressional tea party caucus, when she stumped for Schostak during a December event in Grand Rapids. By Saturday, Schostak had quelled activists' misgivings enough to be elected unanimously after the withdrawal of his only opponent, Troy Rolling, the party's vice chairman. Sharon Wise, 59, of Traverse City, was elected to continue as the party's co-chairwoman.

Schostak told reporters he doesn't expect Snyder and new party leaders to be very far apart from Republican lawmakers as changes are pushed through to help attract more jobs to the economically stressed state.

Republicans won control of all three branches of state government in the last election, giving the party a huge advantage when new congressional and state legislative district lines are redrawn later this year.

Schostak warned that winning won't be as easy in 2012, when Republicans hope to replace Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow with one of their own and help elect a Republican president.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra and former state GOP chairman Saul Anuzis are considering the Senate race, as are former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, businessman Tim Leuliette, former judge Randy Heckman and libertarian activist Scotty Boman. Stabenow easily won re-election in 2006 but could face a tougher challenge in 2012, when Democratic President Barack Obama also is up for re-election.

"We can continue this Republican momentum," Schostak said in his acceptance speech. "But this cycle the wind is in our faces and we will all need to be pulling and pushing from the same direction in order to achieve victory."

Published: Tue, Feb 1, 2011

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