LANSING (AP) - A tea party activist has a chance to be an unwelcome guest on Gov. Rick Snyder's re-election ticket after persuading Republicans to make him a candidate at the party's nominating convention.
Brighton-area automotive engineering manager Wes Nakagiri's challenge to Lt. Gov. Brian Calley seemed in doubt after he missed a deadline to qualify for this summer's state convention. But he found another way to become a candidate, assuming there are no problems with the signatures.
Losing Calley would be a blow to the first-term governor, who entrusted him to shepherd through some of his biggest legislative priorities, particularly major business tax cuts. It would also embarrass Snyder while he seeks re-election over Democratic challenger Mark Schauer.
It's customary for activists to get behind the gubernatorial candidate's choice of running mate. Yet Nakagiri's bid can't be discounted given the unpredictability of convention politics and some conservatives' unease with the more moderate Snyder.
At the 2010 convention, tea party advocates backed a different lieutenant governor candidate despite Snyder - who had just beaten four more conservative candidates who split the vote in the primary - wanting Calley. The challenger ultimately withdrew, but not before the convention erupted into angry chants over misgivings with the process.
There was upheaval at a 2012 convention where the state's two elected Republican National Committee members were defeated. And last year, state GOP Chairman Bobby Schostak survived a challenge from Todd Courser, a self-described evangelical Christian who won support from tea party factions and hasn't ruled out running against Calley.
The 55-year-old Nakagiri, who lives in Livingston County's Hartland Township and founded the tea party group RetakeOurGov, is critical of Snyder's expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care law and his embrace of the national Common Core education standards.
"That's pretty much all I have to talk about before people start understanding what's going on," Nakagiri said.
To avoid problems, the Snyder-Calley team hopes to stock the convention with allies. Local precinct delegates - who had until this past Tuesday to file - will be elected in the Aug. 5 primary and then, at county conventions, will choose delegates to the state convention on Aug. 23.
The GOP State Committee last year changed the rules to require lieutenant governor candidates to give notice of their campaigns in advance like other statewide candidates nominated at conventions - attorney general, secretary of state, Supreme Court, university boards and the state Board of Education.
"In terms of my strategy or my campaign, it's not really dependent on other people that are opposing me. It's really just about the relationship I have with precinct delegates and Republican advocates," said Calley, 37, a former state representative and banker from Portland.
"It's making sure that people understand what my role is in the administration. Being a strong conservative voice in the administration is something that I think a lot of the people that are opposing me, once they learn more about my role and what I do, are finding that they want to keep me where I'm at."
Nakagiri announced his intentions last summer. He couldn't get four of 14 congressional district chairs to nominate him before the April 22 deadline. So he turned to finding a minimum 21 State Committee members from seven congressional districts. He submitted 33 from a pool of 113 week ago.
"Now the grassroots of our party will have a chance to choose between competing visions for this important office," Nakagiri said.
Calley has said regular tea party voters will look at the totality of what the Snyder administration has accomplished and be supportive.
Courser, a Lapeer lawyer, decided to run for an open state House seat while still leaving the door open to also challenging Calley.
He said Snyder and GOP lawmakers "really pumped in bad legislation that the base of the party hates" in 2013, pointing to Common Core and the Medicaid expansion. But in this election year, talk of unity will take center stage, he said.
"A lot of activists buy that. You want to be a team player," Courser said. "If he's going to put forward a credible challenge, he needs the grassroots. It has to be credible threat. ... It's a very, very high bar to go through the convention for anything."
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.