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How a former Republican state lawmaker became an "independent for Whitmer"

Portrait of David Maturen in dark suit jacket and dark blue patterned tie.
Keith King
David Maturen
Former state lawmaker David Maturen.

David Maturen served in the state house from 2015 through 2018. He said during that time, the Republican Party changed around him.

Last week Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign announced endorsements from more than 100 political independents supporting Whitmer’s bid for reelection. The list included CEOs, a political appointee from Rick Snyder’s administration and former State Representative David Maturen.

Maturen was a Republican politician for 30 years. He served on the Brady Township Board and chaired the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners. He also served four years in the state House of Representatives. In a recent interview he explained how he became an independent, and then an independent backing Whitmer.

Maturen was a Republican member of the state House from 2015 through 2018.

“I think over those years I found the party had created more distance with me than the year before, and it finally got to the point where it seems like the litmus test for being a Republican is believing in the election lie, election denier, having fealty to one man,” he said.

Specifically, fealty to former President Donald Trump.

“I don’t call it idol worship but that’s just kind of the direction the party’s gone, and I think having a label on you kind of puts you in a box already. People have some preconceived notions about you and what you believe in and your philosophy. I think being an independent probably is a better place to be, I support people whose policies that I think are important to me, I think are important to the state of Michigan, and so policies and occasionally parties.

“I think both parties probably have some good ideas and I’d rather be in a position where I can support those policies that I think are good and not be attached to those policies that I don’t think are good.”

Brian O’Keefe: I gave a lot of thought about whether or not I was gonna ask this question, who won the 2020 election?”

David Maturen: “President Joe Biden won the 2020 election. ”

O'Keefe: “It’s absurd that I feel like I need to ask that question, but that’s the world we’re living in right now.”

Maturen: “Oh yeah, sure, and that’s a road that, if you ask some gubernatorial candidates, there still going to give or right now they may be starting to backpedal on it a bit, and say ‘well, yeah, Biden, but we still need more election reform, we still need more guarantees, yada, yada, yada.”

Maturen says it feels like the political party of his childhood left him.

“I grew up in a Republican household in a little town called Essexville, back in Bay County, my dad was chair of the Republican Party there in Bay County. And I guess if I had to look at it I’d say I’m more of a Milliken Republican than today’s Trump Republicans,” Maturen said.

Republican William Milliken was governor of Michigan from 1969 to 1983. He was known for his bipartisanship and environmental stewardship. Maturen relates to that.

“I’m more concerned about the environment, more concerned about governance, getting things done, seeing not what divides us but common ground so we can again move things…move things for the betterment of the state. I don’t think I moved so much as the party shifted and parties do that all the time, it’s not the same party it was 60 years ago in lots of areas…it isn’t the same party as today.”

Gov. Whitmer and David Maturen in a side-by-side embrace with baskets of chrysanthemums, hay bales and squash in the background
Courtesy photo
Dave Maturen
David Maturen with Governor Gretchen Whitmer Wednesday at Verhage Orchards in Oshtemo Township.

How does a lifelong moderate Republican become a member of a group dedicated to electing a Democrat to a second term in the governor’s office?

”I’d heard about an organization called Republicans for Whitmer and a lady actually contacted me cause I was considered a moderate back then, way back then, although some people thought I was an ultra-liberal, but I just thought I was a moderate Republican at the time and I’ve probably been seen over the years as a moderate as far as state legislators, as far as Republicans go.

“So I got a call, and I said, ‘I’d like to help you out but I’m no longer a Republican, I said. ‘I’m an independent,’ and she said ‘Oh we have an independents for Whitmer too.’” So I thought, well that’s a good spot for me to land, I’d like to promote her candidacy. I think she’s the better choice between the two gubernatorial candidates so I said sure I’ll be on it, I’ve got some experience in life, like you do, some experience in government with policy, and so I thought that would be a good thing for me to do to help keep our state on the right path for the next four years.”

I asked Maturen what concerns he had about Republican nominee for governor, Tudor Dixon.

“I guess the promotion of, the affiliation with Donald Trump, election denier, stridency, personally her no exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother with abortion, lots of issues. I think this adherence to Donald Trump and his philosophy, I can just see four years of chaos, four years of constant, something new every day, instead of sitting down and saying how do we fix this problem, how do we get people from the other side to come along.

“That’s why I’m looking at it. Plus, the fact that she doesn’t have the governing, I like to find folks who have actually had some experience governing, be it on the local planning commission or county board or something like that so they have a flavor for what it’s all about.”

Maturen said over the past four years, Governor Whitmer has demonstrated an ability to get things done for the state.

“You’ve got know how to get along with people, and getting along with people doesn’t mean castigating them at every turn. I can just see that in him, I can see that in Dixon. I don’t know her personally, but I mean, just the whole alignment with that philosophy.

“But yeah, sending a businessperson, I think it’s fine to have some business experience, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m a small businessman, I get it, I understand paying taxes and being regulated, I understand all that stuff, but at the same time I found a way during my career to also be on township, county, and state elected places and at least share some of that business experience with other folks who haven’t had it. It’s good, but simply having that as a sole criteria, send a businessman…send a business woman, I don’t think that’s enough.”

With his departure from the Republican Party and new identity as an independent, I wondered if Maturen thought the time had come for a viable alternative the two-party system.

“There are a lot of parties, I just filled out my absentee ballot and I looked down the ballot and there’s lots of other minor parties, you know we look at Ross Perot, John Anderson over the years, there’s been some fairly prominent people making a push but it still didn’t get anywhere.

“I think there’s probably a place for center-right, center-left, but I think that’s where more of the independents fall. They’re not tied to one party, they’re not just going to go vote, pull that R-lever or D-lever, put in a little circle, ‘I’m done ‘cause they’re bad, we’re good.’ I think the people that are, I would hope independent, folks in the middle who vote for both parties on occasion, both candidates.

“So whether there’s a party per se, or whether those folks fall into that center area and those are the people you’ve got to appeal to, those are the people that are going to decide the election, it’s not going to be the hardcore Democrats or Republicans are going to vote that way anyway. It’s the rest of the people that don’t feel like there’s an allegiance to a particular party, it’s who’s going to do the best job for me, who’s going to do the best job for the state.

So I’m not sure about a third party, it could happen but I think it might be pretty difficult to do that and those people are again are going to probably fall into ‘I don’t want to be part of a party, I just want to vote the way I think, I believe in this person, I believe in this philosophy, that’s who I’m going to vote for.’”

Corrected: October 7, 2022 at 11:40 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the years David Maturen served in the Michigan House. Maturen served from 2015 through 2018, not 2016 to 2020.
Brian comes to WMUK after spending nearly 30 years as News Director of a public radio station in the Chicago area. Brian grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and attended Western Kentucky University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcasting. He started working in public radio while at WKU; and has worked in radio news for more than 35 years. Brian lives on a quiet lake in Barry County with his wife and three dogs. Thanks to his Kentucky roots, he’s an avid collector of bourbon and other varieties of whiskey. Above all else, Brian considers himself a story teller and looks forward to sharing southwest Michigan stories with WMUK’s listeners.