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Ottawa GOP endorses Ottawa Impact Republicans, as other conservatives cry foul


Ottawa GOP endorses Ottawa Impact Republicans, as other conservatives cry foul

May 25, 2024 | 10:50 am ET
By Sarah Leach
Ottawa GOP endorses Ottawa Impact Republicans, as other conservatives cry foul
Michigan Republican Party Chair Pete Hoekstra at a Feb. 17, 2024 rally for former President Donald Trump. | Kyle Davidson

Defying tradition, the Ottawa County GOP has issued candidate endorsements a full two months before the Aug. 6 primary, a move several area Republicans argue interferes with voters.

“This is totally unprecedented,” said Michigan Republican Party Chair Pete Hoekstra.

The county GOP’s endorsement convention on May 16 wasn’t entirely surprising after far-right fundamentalist group Ottawa Impact took a controlling majority on the county board of commissioners and within the local party network early in 2023.

The group, which formed in 2021 over frustrations with county and state COVID-19 mitigation measures, is led by self-described “parental rights advocates” Joe Moss and Sylvia Rhodea and currently holds a six-seat controlling majority on the 11-member Ottawa County board. 

Supporters often are critical of what they view as ineffective establishment conservatives who have led the party previously.

Ottawa GOP endorses Ottawa Impact Republicans, as other conservatives cry foul
Ottawa County Commission Chair Joe Moss (left) and Commissioner Sylvia Rhodea (right) at the Jan. 10, 2023 meeting | Sarah Leach

“This endorsement convention’s main purpose is to expose the do-nothing Republicans that previously ‘ran’ the county,” Joel Buck, an OI Republican who serves at the Precinct 9 delegate in Ottawa County. “The majority of the current precinct delegates understand fully what the previous old guard was up to and that is why the Pete Hoaxstra crowd is against this convention.”

The quip is a reference to Hoekstra becoming the chair of the state party after former Chair Kristina Karamo — who was nominated by Moss last year to the post — was ousted after a revolt over party finances.

Members of the state committee voted to remove Karamo on Jan. 6 and on Jan. 20 to replace her with Hoekstra, who represented Michigan’s Second Congressional District from 1993 to 2011 and served as ambassador to the Netherlands under former President Donald Trump. Hoekstra also won the endorsement of Trump against Karamo.

The legitimacy of Karamo’s removal was challenged by her loyalists, but Hoekstra’s election won the support of Trump and the Republican National Committee before Karamo’s removal was sanctioned by a Kent County judge on Feb. 27.

Hoekstra, 70, said the significance of endorsements is dependent on how credible the endorsing body is. 

“So endorsements are totally dependent on the credibility of the organization, making the endorsements,” he said.

Several local candidates seeking countywide office in Ottawa County denounced the endorsement convention last week.

Eric DeBoer is the current undersheriff of Ottawa County. He’s seeking the top sheriff post this year and said it’s disappointing that the local party opted to meddle before the primary.

Ottawa GOP endorses Ottawa Impact Republicans, as other conservatives cry foul
Ottawa County Republican Party endorsement list

“I am not invited to the Ottawa GOP nominating committee meeting. I have never received a questionnaire, nor have I been interviewed by any member for vetting,” he said. “Historically, the party has stayed out of primary races. It has been up to the voters in the primary to choose their candidate. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be what the Ottawa GOP is about anymore. Instead, it is about consolidating power into the hands of a few.”

Sarah Matwiejczyk is the chief assistant prosecutor who is seeking the top office this year. She said she will not bow to pressure to sign Ottawa Impact’s contract it requires from candidates in order to receive financial backing from the group. 

“The Ottawa County GOP has added a primary endorsement and resolution that has never been a part of the Republican party platform,” she said. “I cannot agree to any resolution or contract that would make my advocacy for justice appear as though it would be prosecuted unjustly or become subject to an appeal or liability to the county.”

John Teeples is running as a Republican for the District 7 seat on the county board of commissioners. He said the local party’s actions will only feed division amongst conservatives in the county.

“It is unprecedented for the GOP in Ottawa County to vet Republican candidates before a primary election, and this so-called endorsement convention seeks to disenfranchise Republican voters and divide the party,” he said.

Shawn Haff, a conservative seeking the District 6 seat on the board, said the move was foolish.

“I could walk on water and give a Ronald Reagan ‘Time for Choosing’ speech and still not change the minds of any of the Ottawa Impact delegates at this convention,” he said. “The vote tonight is rigged in favor of Ottawa Impact candidates. I consider this convention election interference by the Ottawa County GOP.


“This unprecedented and foolish endorsement convention will only further divide our fractured party and alienate Republican voters. I will not engage in quixotic endeavors.”

The county GOP went beyond endorsements for local and county races, issuing backing for Michigan’s U.S. Senate race and Michigan Supreme Court races, as well as a candidate for the congressional races for the state’s Third and Fourth districts.

“This is pretty unprecedented,” Hoekstra said. “And the number of offices that the party endorsed for are unprecedented.”

For the open U.S. Senate race, the county GOP endorsed Dr. Sherry O’Donnell over well-known candidates former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-White Lake), former U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) and businessman Sandy Pensler. On Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and actor Hill Harper have been recommended by the Michigan Bureau of Elections to make the August ballot.

Longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland didn’t receive his local party’s endorsement as he seeks an eighth term in the U.S. House. Instead, the party opted to back Brendan Muir, an OI Republican who relocated from Oakland County in 2022 and is serving his first term as the county party chair after Joel Studebaker left the role after only a few months to become Karamo’s chief of staff.

Muir received 187 votes to Huizenga’s two out of 189 ballots cast. 

“It is my honor to have the endorsement of the real men and women who work to grow our party.  I am humbled by the show of support and am fired up by the momentum we are accumulating,” Muir told WHGN this week. “I am grateful to have received the overwhelming support of the America First Patriots at the Ottawa County GOP nominating convention. I’m running to give you a voice and to revive our American republic!”

Ottawa GOP endorses Ottawa Impact Republicans, as other conservatives cry foul
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) campaigns in Lansing on Aug. 27, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Democrat Jessica Swartz is running on the Democratic side.

For the 3rd Congressional District, Michael Markey, a former 2022 gubernatorial candidate, won the nomination over Paul Hudson. The winner will face U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Grand Rapids) in November.

Hoekstra said after Ottawa County’s decision to issue endorsements and rumors that other counties are considering following suit, he asked the state party to consider issuing guidance on how to proceed in future elections.

“We have a resolution that’s working its way through the state party, where the party may issue some kind of an advisory as to how we feel about local counties endorsing those kinds of things,” he said. “I think endorsements at the county level, and maybe even at the district level — these are complex issues. All we’re trying to do as a party is issue some general guidance, recognizing that under extraordinary conditions these are the things the local parties should consider before you make a decision.”

He said the matter is currently with the MIGOP Issues Committee.

“They will take advice, input, suggestions, revisions, and all those kinds of things,” he said. “At the end of it, they may vote to approve a statement. Or they may vote it down.

Hoekstra said if the committee opts to pursue issuing guidance to counties, the matter would then advance to the state committee before it would become an official statement by the party, which is expected to be sometime after the August primary and will be what Hoekstra described as “forward-thinking.”

“We don’t want to be in the press talking about internal fights for the last four or five months,” he said. “We’ve got to focus on November.”