MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. -- The political mainstay of the 2017 Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference was Michigan as a 'comeback state.'
Discussions on stage focused on statewide job growth, funding to fix Michigan roads, and proposing tax cuts. Speculations continued looking ahead to the 2018 midterm election, and national politics was also a common thread, including a closer look at the lingering Graham-Cassidy bill vote that may sink republican reform.
"It's very disappointing frankly, that we’ve got a group of republican senators that are refusing to even have the debate," U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R - MI, told FOX 17 Saturday.
"The first vote that they would be having is on a motion to proceed."
In state politics, Gov. Rick Snyder, R - MI, defended the bills he signed into law Wednesday: enabling unlimited super PAC funding by aligning state law with the controversial 2010 SCOTUS 'Citizens United' ruling.
"The Supreme Court decided on what law is, based on free speech," said Gov. Snyder on stage.
"I think we always have to be aware of who’s giving the money and that’s why we have the disclosure requirements."
Yet many, including Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon, say this move gives Michigan elections to the highest bidder.
"I think the vast majority of people think 'Citizens United' is a disaster," said Dillon to FOX 17.
"It opens the floodgates for dark money, for big donors to have even more influence."
Then continued incumbent discussion on Michigan job growth, tax reform and road funding.
"We did a couple things in addition to road funding: one we have $600 million in some new taxes, $600 million in general fund money going to this, we also have $200 million of personal property tax relief," said Gov. Snyder during a special session Saturday.
And a look ahead to 2018, with potential GOP gubernatorial rivals Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, MI - R, and Attorney General Bill Schuette, MI - R, sharing the stage during a leadership panel. Off stage, when FOX 17 asked the Lt. Gov. his stance on legalizing marijuana he answered:
"We are just getting to a point where I feel confident that the implementation of medical marijuana is going in the right direction," said Lt. Gov. Calley.
"So I would rather see that come to fruition and get institutionalized into our medical system before tackling or taking on a question of recreational legalization."
And the AG shared his focus on wages.
"We need to give Michigan families a pay raise," he said. "And one of the first things we need to do is to eliminate the income tax increase."
Nearly all incumbents were in agreement to cut auto insurance rates, and closely inspect, if not remove or replace, Line 5: the 64-year-old pipeline running beneath the Straits of Mackinac, with newly discovered exposed bare metal.
"Ideally I think we’d all love to see it out of the Straits," said Huizenga.
"In the short run, we have to make sure that this is safe. And that the integrity of the pipeline is there. We’re waiting for Enbridge to ultimately show that that is the case right now."
And while republican leaders praised Michigan's growth, many republicans and critics like Dillon say work needs to be done.
"Their conference up there is emblematic of how disconnected they are from reality," said Dillon.
"They all go onto Mackinac Island, spend millions of dollars on this quote unquote retreat, while average Michigan residents are still struggling."