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After his only opposition dropped out on Sunday, University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser (R) is expected to be approved as the Michigan Republican Party chairman in February. With Weiser soon to balance positions in both the University and the state GOP, accusations of conflict of interest and defenses have risen from members of both parties.
Weiser unseated former Regent Laurence Deitch (D) last November to bring the current partisan count in the regency to a 5-3 Democrat majority. He had already run for a seat in 2014 but lost the election.
Weiser said his largest priority for the regency is to serve the students.
“I care deeply about the University, I care deeply about what its mission is, and I care deeply about its customers,” Weiser said. “Its customers are the students. We have to make sure that we’re serving well, providing … the highest quality education and opportunities for students at the lowest possible costs.”
Weiser announced his campaign for Michigan GOP chairman back in December. The announcement came after former chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel vacated the position to head the National Republican Party.
LSA senior Casey VanderWeide interned for Weiser on both his regent and GOP chair campaigns. She said his decision to run was made after Republican Party members approached Weiser and recommended him for the position in McDaniel’s absence.
“He was approached by multiple people of the party just because of this vacancy,” VanderWeide said. “Coming up in 2018, we have the governor, we have the U.S. Senate, you have the Michigan House and the Michigan Senate. There’s a lot of important races for this state and Ron has had such an incredible legacy helping the Michigan Republican Party and other Republican parties as well across the nation.”
Public Policy Lecturer Rusty Hills has served as the Michigan Republican Party chair twice. He said the job of the GOP chair is to turn states red, as seen in November.
“The chair’s job, really, is to elect Republicans and to assist them in their efforts to win office,” Hills said. “It’s real simple. It’s about winning elections.”
Scott Hagerstrom, Trump’s campaign director in Michigan during the election, was Weiser’s only opposition for the position.
“I am confident that Ron Weiser understands that the future of the Michigan Republican Party lies in embracing the constitutional principles that led to President Trump’s historic victory,” Hagerstrom wrote Sunday in a Facebook post.
Once it was announced that Hagerstrom canceled his campaign, many expressed concern over whether it was a conflict of interest were Weiser to hold both positions. Some have questioned whether it would be a violation of the board’s bylaws to do so.
The Regental and Executive-Senior Officer Conflict of Interest Policy, Section 1.14 of the board’s bylaws, says a regent is considered to have a conflict of interest when they have “an existing or potential financial or other interest which impairs or might appear to impair the regent’s or executive/senior officer’s independence of judgment in the discharge of responsibilities to the university.”
Hills said being both a regent and Michigan Republican chair is not a conflict of interest, but rather an advantage because he will bring his resources from the state job to the University.
“The advantage, as I see it, is that as a party chairman, Ron Weiser will, obviously, come in contact with a great number of people,” Hills said. “By virtue of that, I think he’ll make connections that will rebound to the benefit of the University of Michigan, making fundraising connections, making framed interactions, being a positive ambassador for the University helps to put the University in a good light with a wide range of Republican Party members.”
SACUA member Silke-Maria Weineck, a professor of German studies, however, believes Weiser should resign from one of his positions. She said Weiser’s support of President Donald Trump and his current stake at the University creates a situation where Weiser cannot represent both organizations at the same time.
“Trump’s general campaign and his post-election statements have show him to be deeply at odds with UM’s core mission,” Weineck said, “and its nature as a cosmopolitan institution devoted to the creation and dissemination of knowledge … I think (President Trump) is a proven brazen liar and I think Mr. Weiser can either side with a liar or he can side with the University which stands for the unbiased quest for truth. These two are incompatible. He cannot side with both.”
LSA junior Collin Kelly, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said Weiser’s situation might result in students being a backburner issue for him in the future.
“Even though (the chair position) isn’t a paid position, it’s still one of the most important positions in the state of Michigan,” he said. “Here, running a flagship university, that’s very important and to have explicitly partisan ties is, at the least, a big distraction. There’s a danger and a worry that his chairmanship of the Michigan Republican Party will affect that and might put conservative politics above what is in the best interests of the students and the University.”
With these claims above his head, Weiser said his holding both positions is in no way a conflict of interest and, like Hills, he said he will try to use his chair position to help the University any way he can.
“The other people who are regents also have full-time jobs so the regents are not full-time jobs,” Weiser said. “On the other hand, I do believe as chair of the party of Michigan, that will give me some opportunity to try to help the University when it comes to government policy because I’ll have some influence over the legislature and the executive branch.”