GOP leaders come to Mackinac Island for conference


MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Every two years, Michigan Republicans meet on Mackinac Island for what they call their leadership conference. 

That event is taking place over the next three days at the Grand Hotel.

The conference is aimed at getting Republicans geared up for 2020 and a race for the White House that they believe will mean a big push in Michigan, where President Donald Trump won in 2016 for the first time for a Republican in nearly 30 years.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey this event is about getting everybody on the same page before the next election

“I call it a recalibration and then a refocus of our efforts. So it’s kind of a start of the next election cycle in earnest,” he said.

As the party officials, elected lawmakers and others arrived here on the island, much of the conversation is about next year’s presidential election and with good reason.

Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking to the group Saturday. Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox says that shows how important the state will be to Trump’s re-election effort.

The Pence visit is a sign to the GOP faithful that the national ticket thinks Michigan needs to be part of their electoral college plan

“As the Representative of Mackinac Island, it’s always nice to host the Vice President,” said Michigan Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield.

For Chatfield, the visit might even be a chance to talk about roads.

“I look forward tomorrow about how we could use maybe some additional federal road funding dollars in our state,” Chatfield said.

But beyond next year’s election, there are policy discussions as well.  

With Republicans still in charge of the state House and Senate, there is no shortage of talk about the ongoing budget situation in Lansing. 

On Thursday, the Republican-led legislature passed one big-budget bill. On Tuesday, they intend to pass the rest of a nearly $60 billion budget.

News 8 spoke Chatfield about the deal he negotiated on education with House Democrats even though Governor Gretchen Whitmer wasn’t on board.

“We’ve said from day one that we wouldn’t be like Washington (D.C.) and right now we’re proving it. What we did yesterday in the House was a big step in showing we can work together and we can reach a deal. It’s common sense. It’s what the people expect us to do,” Chatfield said. “So, we’re going to keep moving together and the budget will get done whether the Governor agrees with it or not. But I’m still hopeful she’ll come back to the table and negotiate in good faith.”

Earlier, Whitmer released this statement saying:

“I’m ready to work with anyone who’s serious about solving this problem, but until Lansing Republicans put a real long-term solution on the table that doesn’t involve cutting teacher pensions to fill potholes, our roads will continue to get worse, putting drivers and our economy at risk.” 

The budget will certainly get some attention, but the presidential election is front and center, particularly with Pence visiting on Saturday. 

The weekend features a number of high-profile appearances, including former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The Republican conference will continue until Sunday on Mackinac Island.

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