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Lawsuit seeks to boot top GOP candidate from Michigan ballot over Jan. 6 arrest

The suit seeks to declare Ryan Kelley, a leading candidate in the GOP primary for governor, ineligible and asks that early votes for him not be counted.
Michigan Republican candidate for governor Ryan Kelley, of Allendale, appears at a debate in Grand Rapids, Mich., July 6, 2022. The Republican primary for Michigan governor is shaping up as a battle of whose personal baggage is the least disqualifying.
Ryan Kelley at a debate in Grand Rapids, Mich., on July 6, 2022.Michael Buck / WOOD via AP file

A progressive political group in Michigan helped file a lawsuit Thursday that seeks to remove GOP candidate Ryan Kelley from the ballot in the governor's race, citing his arrest on Jan. 6 charges.

The suit, filed by a Michigan voter with the help of Progress Michigan, asks Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the Board of State Canvassers to declare Kelley ineligible as a candidate and not to count votes that have already been cast for him in the Aug. 2 primary, in which early voting is already underway.

The lawsuit also aims to ensure that Kelley — the front-runner on the GOP side — does not appear on the November ballot if he wins the primary, because he has “engaged in insurrection in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore is ineligible to serve as a candidate for Governor for the State of Michigan.”

“He is a clear and present danger to democracy in Michigan,” the lawsuit says.

Progress Michigan, a progressive group based in Lansing, is not the plaintiff in the suit, which was filed in the state’s Court of Appeals. Rather, it said, it “assisted with research and financial support” for the suit.

“If you supported and participated in the January 6 insurrection, you should not have the privilege of holding — or even running — for public office,” Lonnie Scott, the executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement. “Whether it’s Ryan Kelley or anyone else that was illegally at the Capitol trying to overturn the will of the people, there needs to be accountability.”

The Kelley campaign, in a lengthy statement, called the suit "laughable" and full of "dishonest claims."

Kelley, a real estate broker, has surged to the top of polls since he was arrested last month on misdemeanor charges related to the riot. He is charged with four counts related to his alleged actions at the Capitol, including disorderly conduct and willfully injuring or attacking U.S. property, according to the criminal complaint. Kelley has pleaded not guilty, saying he did not go inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Thursday's lawsuit cites the 14th Amendment’s provision prohibiting anyone who engages in insurrection against the U.S. government from running for federal or state office — an argument that holds merit, according to a recent federal appeals court ruling.

In May, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the election and campaign finance reform group Free Speech for People in its lawsuit arguing that the actions of Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., surrounding Jan. 6 disqualified him from holding office. Cawthorn, who had spoken at a rally before a pro-Trump crowd stormed the Capitol, lost his primary before the court ruled against him.

The same group also sought to bar Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., from seeking re-election. State election officials, however, cleared her to run after a state judge rejected the group’s arguments.

The 4th Circuit’s opinion in the Cawthorn case does not extend to Georgia.

Kelley emerged as a front-runner in the GOP primary in Michigan after the Republican field was scrambled by the disqualification of two leading candidates. He has led or been tied for the lead in three recent polls.

The winner of the Republican primary will go up against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to be the Democratic nominee.

The FBI raided Kelley's home on June 9, the day the House Jan. 6 committee began its nationally televised hearings.

In an interview last month, Kelley painted his involvement in the riot as an asset among the GOP electorate, saying no one else in the race showed the devotion he did by being on the scene that day.

“It boosted my name. There’s been a ton of support,” Kelley said.