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VerHeulen, Leonard camps look to pool resources for Republican majority

October 4, 2016

It’s official. Early Tuesday morning, Rep. Rob VerHeulen (R-Walker) announced via press release he would support Rep. Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) for caucus leader in the 2017-18 term.

The two had publicly announced their candidacy for caucus leadership earlier this summer. Rumors that VerHeulen and Leonard were planning to merge leadership teams re-surfaced Monday night. The combined team hails the move as a step toward refocusing on ensuring a Republican majority in November. 

“I have the utmost respect for Representative VerHeulen,” said Leonard. “He is not only a colleague, but a close friend. I look forward to working with him and the rest of our Republican caucus over the next six weeks as we work to preserve a House Republican majority in November.” 

VerHeulen will keep his post as caucus whip in the Leonard leadership team, Leonard’s office said. 

VerHeulen’s decision to drop out of the race follows the suggestion of key adviser Rep. Jim Tedder (R-Clarkston) to unify the party in the six weeks leading up to the elections. 

One source suggested Tedder’s push to unify may have been spurred by colleague and seatmate Rep. Tom Barrett’s (R-Potterville) highly contested re-election race. With Barrett supporting long-time friend, Leonard, and Tedder helping to lead VerHeulen’s leadership campaign, the feeling may have been the leadership race was getting in the way of pooling resources among Republicans, the source said. 

Also, various counts of where the 2017-18 caucus stood following the primary election had Leonard well over 30 commitments while VerHeulen was stuck at 17. By all accounts, Leonard-supported candidates had a better primary election night than VerHeulen’s supported candidates. 

“Representative Leonard is a close friend, and he will do a great job leading this caucus,” VerHeulen said. “I appreciate his willingness to stand alongside my team, and I look forward to all of us working closely together on the biggest issues facing this state for years to come.” 

Rep. Michael Webber (R-Rochester Hills), also with the VerHeulen camp, said he “wasn’t privy to the meeting” that led to VerHeulen stepping down, but that “the idea was to move forward as one unit.” Webber said that both leadership teams have, up to this point in the election, been working jointly to help Republican candidates. 

“I think both sides were helping folks out,” Webber said. “I know that Rep. Leonard and his team has been working together and walking doors with Rep. (Jason) Sheppard [a member of VerHeulen’s leadership team]. I personally didn’t see it as divisive, but maybe others did.” 

Members of the Leonard campaign celebrated the announcement, looking forward to taking the steps necessary to secure Republicans’ majority. “Tom Leonard is the next leader of our caucus,” said Leonard supporter Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering). “Now it’s time to make him the next Speaker.” 

“Could not be more proud of my guy and the hard work and commitment he has dedicated to preserving majority in the Michigan House,” said Leonard’s wife, Jenell Leonard, in a Facebook post. “Rob and Norma VerHeulen have become dear friends and we look forward to what the future holds. Onward to Majority!”

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