Kalamazoo, MI

Get Off Our Backs? A Chiropractor Trying to Oust Gretchen Whitmer

Joseph Serwach

Whitmer won focused on fixing roads — Now Garrett Soldano is focused on stopping her lockdowns

Garrett Soldano, a Kalamazoo, Michigan chiropractor, started an anti-lockdown Facebook group in 2020Photo courtesy Soldando campaign.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won office in 2018 vowing to fix roads but now a chiropractor wants to get Whitmer off Michigan’s back.

Garrett Soldano, 42, got involved with politics by starting a Facebook group, Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine, which exploded to more than 400,000 members protesting Whitmer’s 2020 stay-at-home orders.

Now he’s running against her as a Republican, hoping to defeat her in her 2022 bid for re-election. She remains the heavy favorite, having raised more than $5 million as her national profile soared.

“I never had any interest in politics, never had any desire,” Soldano told MLive. “But when the governor took away our constitutional freedoms, our sacred values, and our citizens’ rights last year on April 9, I started that Facebook group.”

The power of social media? As the numbers exploded from 500 in the first 24 hours to more than 400,000, “we noticed and realized that we had a movement.”

Soldano is the owner of Soldano Family Chiropractic Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After Facebook took down his group, saying comments and videos were threatening to spread the virus, he formed a political advocacy group called Stand Up Michigan.

One year later, most of the restrictions remain in place. Michigan still has higher than average pandemic cases (the highest in America in recent weeks), despite months of battling between Whitmer and Republicans who control the state Legislature and Supreme Court:

  • In recent weeks, Michigan has led the nation for the most COVID-19 cases (its third major spike) and was an early national leader for deaths. More than 17,575 have died, and more than 837,514 have contracted the virus.
  • Whitmer has grown in popularity among Democrats and grown a national reputation. Joe Biden considered her for vice president, and she was even parodied on “Saturday Night Live.’’
  • Whitmer’s emergency orders, considered some of the strictest in the nation, also triggered America’s first anti-lockdown protests from conservatives, including Soldano’s Facebook group and his role as a co-chair of Unlock Michigan campaign.
  • The protests made Owosso, Michigan barber Karl Manke a nationally-known figure. Manke appears to endorse Soldano in a campaign video.
  • The Michigan Conservative Coalition and Donald Trump Republicans organized drive-by protests and Operation Haircut, where free haircuts were offered on the Capitol lawn when many businesses were shuttered.
  • Today, Whitmer mainly offers recommendations rather than closing businesses, urging Michiganders to stay away from restaurants while allowing them to remain open. This week, as the latest surge declines, she outlined a plan tying re-openings to the number of people being vaccinated.

“There wasn’t any common sense going on at the time, telling us that we couldn’t buy mulch and paint, and we couldn’t go in our motorboats, but we could go in a kayak, we couldn’t travel — and God forbid if you touch that gas station pump handle because she’s hearing that COVID is on there and you can contract it there,” Soldano told Crain’s Detroit Business.

For decades, Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation roads combined with the highest gas taxes made road quality a perennial state issue. Whitmer rode the issue to a big win in 2018 when Democrats won every statewide office.

High-profile Republican officeholders have announced they won’t run against Whitmer, but several lesser-known Republicans, including Soldano, have said they will run.

Other candidates saying they will challenge Whitmer: businessmen Austin Chenge and Ryan Kelley and Bob Scott, vice president of the Evangelical Alliance Ministerial Association.

The Michigan Supreme Court eventually struck down her use of a 1945 emergency powers law to implement lockdown restrictions. Still, she quickly used her state Health Department to implement her executive orders as health orders starting with the fall 2020 spikes in cases.

Soldano also became a co-chair of Unlock Michigan, the ballot initiative seeking to repeal the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945 that Whitmer used to keep certain indoor businesses closed for months in 2020.

Acknowledging the virus is “nasty,” Soldano told Crain’s “We do not need a nanny governor to tell us what we need to do and what we should and should not do — and then tell us we need to cancel Thanksgiving and Christmas and then she goes to the inauguration.”

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