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Republican Michigan gubernatorial hopeful Kevin Rinke is trying to end the lasting effects of incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID shutdowns in the state, aiming to improve its economy and education system.

In an exclusive interview with Fox News Digital ahead of Tuesday’s primary, the longtime businessman touted Whitmer as the candidate in a crowded Republican field, outlining her plans to revitalize the state’s business climate and her cause for Michigan businesses. Best chance to win in November.

“Gov. Whitmer’s shutdowns put Michigan first in two areas, and I’ll share them with you,” Rinke said. “We are number one in the country in small businesses per capita. We are number one in the country in lost personal income per capita, at 9.8%. We are number one in the country in the number of women who lost their jobs during Covid.

“Our public education system is the fastest declining in America. I saw a report that Michigan is now the only state that is 127,000 jobs behind where it was before Gretchen Whitmer took office.

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Republican Michigan gubernatorial candidate Kevin Rinke speaks with Fox News' Brandon Gillespie during an interview Wednesday, July 27, 2022.

Republican Michigan gubernatorial candidate Kevin Rinke speaks with Fox News’ Brandon Gillespie during an interview Wednesday, July 27, 2022.
(Brandon Gillespie)

“She doesn’t like to talk about those things. She likes to spin. She likes to exaggerate. And she ingratiates herself by handing out money and spinning stories to people. And I think people in Michigan know that.”

Whitmer has overseen several statewide business and school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, drawing sharp criticism from Republicans and others across Michigan as other states jump-started their economies after the nationwide shutdown that began in early 2020.

Asked what he would do to bring businesses back to Michigan and put people back to work, Rinke outlined several policy goals to address the economic challenges plaguing Michiganders.

“No. 1, Michigan residents are facing the highest cost-of-living increases and inflation they’ve ever experienced in their lifetime. That’s why I’m proposing to eliminate the personal income tax and give that money back to the people of Michigan as a Republican conservative,” Rinke said, referring to several states that don’t have a state income tax.

“They’ve all prospered economically and they’ve all grown population-wise during COVID and post-COVID, but Michigan has declined economically and declined population-wise,” he said. “So I’m going to give people their money back.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address during a joint session of the House and Senate on January 29, 2020 at the state capitol in Lansing, Mich.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address during a joint session of the House and Senate on January 29, 2020 at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich.
(AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)

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Rinke argues that improving the state’s literacy rate and providing a “world-class public education” is the second step to a thriving Michigan economy, but he’s not just throwing money at the “education bureaucracy.”

“What we’re going to do is allocate money for accountability and results. There’s about 50% of students in Michigan right now who can’t read because they’re considered functionally illiterate. The amount of money thrown at education in the world isn’t going down. What’s a pimple on the end of the nose and that’s illiteracy,” he said.

Beyond education, Michigan is made up of entrepreneurs and small businesses that need investment and support.

“That’s what makes us great. We have more engineers than any other state in America. We have a diverse and talented workforce when properly educated and managed. And I support businesses and allow those businesses to attract employees. At the private level, not just at the corporate level,” he said.

Republican Michigan gubernatorial candidate Kevin Rinke speaks to employees at Michigan Production Machining in Macomb County, Mich., Thursday, July 28, 2022.

Republican Michigan gubernatorial candidate Kevin Rinke speaks to employees at Michigan Production Machining in Macomb County, Mich., Thursday, July 28, 2022.
(Kevin Rinke for Governor)

Rinke’s experience building businesses and helping large companies achieve success is evidenced by his ability to make the necessary changes for a growing economy.

“In every case, we’ve put our employees first, we’ve put our customers first, with great results for both. And that’s how I’m going to govern Michigan,” he said.

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“I’m going to put my internal customers on notice that we’re serving the people of Michigan, and we’re going to get tangible, measurable, honest results that Michigan business people have never had before. And I’m really excited. I’m going to make Michigan great again.”

Rinke is one of five candidates in a crowded Republican field seeking the GOP nomination for governor in the Aug. 2 primary. Other candidates include businessman Tudor Dixon, pastor Ralph Rebond, chiropractor and businessman Garrett Soldano and real estate broker Ryan Kelly.