GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — From a seemingly homemade podium on his virtual stage, 35-year-old Austin Chenge is amassing thousands of social media followers as the first Republican candidate to enter the 2022 race for Michigan governor.
“I love my country, I'm a veteran and I love my state,” Chenge said to FOX 17 Wednesday.
Chenge, an Army veteran who lives in Grand Rapids, calls himself a conservative Republican who’s fed up with how things are going.
“People are fed up--the way the politicians handle everything in the state. It's time for a breath of fresh air.” Chenge said.
And he’s not mincing words in how he feels about the state’s leadership. On several occasions he’s called Governor Whitmer a dictator, while criticizing how she’s handled the pandemic.
“I don't have anything against the governor personally, but her actions and the things she has done speak for themselves. She doesn't work with our legislature, and that is a classic characteristic of a dictator. So, if she's already acting like one, that's exactly what she is,” Chenge said.
“Do you think there's any problem using language like 'dictator' though? When there's been threats against her, including the alleged plot to kidnap and harm her, do you think maybe using that language isn't correct at this time?" FOX 17 Reporter Aaron Parseghian asked.
“No, I don't think so; you have to call a spade a spade,” Chenge answered.
In the first couple months of his campaign, Chenge has come under fire for some other things he’s said online, like that the rioters who stormed the U.S Capitol were “overcome with passion."
“Do I endorse it? No, absolutely not. But what I’m saying is, try to understand why it happened and what led them to that point. These are people who didn't go there planning to do this; they just simply went there to protest the way their country was headed. They have a right to do that. Now somehow they got overwhelmed by passion,” Chenge explained.
Chenge wouldn’t answer if he felt the Nov. 3 election was "stolen" but says on his first day as governor, he’d cancel contracts the state has with Dominion Voting Systems, the company at the center of several debunked election conspiracy theories.
His next move would be to cancel something else: Black History Month.
“The way to move forward to stop this division and this polarization that's going on in our community is to forge a single American identity that we can all identify with first. No one is saying you should get rid of your background, and no one is saying that in the middle of that there’s not going to be any black history being taught,” Chenge said.
“How about the rest of the people that make up this great, beautiful state of Michigan also having their history being taught in an American history month, which can encompass all of this. That's my point of view, and I stand by that statement,” he added.
Chenge would be Michigan’s first Black governor, but the Nigerian immigrant who served this country considers himself an American first and foremost, and he has that same nationalist vision for others.
“We're all Americans. That's the first thing that unites us; nothing else unites us more than the American identity, and that's what we need to hold on to,” Chenge said.
“Holding on to our various groups, it's tribalism, and that's going to tear this country apart. This country is made up of so many different people; if everyone held on to their own little background, then we have no American identity,” Chenge added.
“I don't stand for that. I stand for a single American identity.”