You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 5:45 a.m.

Conservative on campus? David Brandon's hiring carries political ramifications

By Nathan Bomey

The intersection of David Brandon's conservatism with the University of Michigan's liberalism could be cause for political fireworks.

But the political differences between Brandon and U-M are unlikely to create a problem for the university, which announced Tuesday that Brandon would become its next athletic director.

"Do you think the Maize and Blue fans in Michigan Stadium care whether the AD has an 'R' or 'D' beside his name? I don’t think that’s going to matter," said John Bebow, executive director of think tank The Center for Michigan.

"It seems to me the street-level expectation is they want a winning and clean program. I don’t think his political affiliation will matter much."

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for david-brandon-small0105.jpg

David Brandon, the University of Michigan's new athletic director

U-M's decision to hire Brandon effectively ends speculation that Brandon may run for the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Brandon, one of Michigan's most prominent conservatives, is signing a 5-year contract, but it's not his first leadership role at the left-leaning public university.

He's a former member of the U-M Board of Regents, which is dominated by liberals. Partisan conflicts were few.

"They all pretty much worked together," said Tom Shields, president of Lansing-based political polling firm Marketing Resource Group. "I don't think you found many philosophical splits."

Brandon's conservatism is well known. His many political donations include a $10,000 donation to the Republican Party in August 2008, for example, and he supported U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2008 presidential election.

Brandon, who's leaving his job as CEO of Ann Arbor-based Domino's Pizza, has long been rumored as a potential Republican gubernatorial candidate. But he's always denied being interested in the job.

So at the very least Brandon's hiring colors the complexion of the state's shifting political future.

"David Brandon literally takes himself out of politics for the most part, at least for the next 5 years while he's in that office," Shields said.

The announcement about Brandon's new role came as Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry, widely considered the favorite for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said he was withdrawing from the race due to lack of funds.

"It changes the landscape for the gubernatorial race," Bebow said.

Cherry's exodus is a crisis for the Democratic primary, which has to fill the void quickly with a candidate who has a chance at winning. "There’s a vacuum on the Democratic side right now," Bebow said.

On the Republican side, Attorney General Mike Cox, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra and Ann Arbor venture capitalist Rick Snyder are the top 4 candidates.

Brandon's decision not to run for governor could boost Bouchard and Snyder. Brandon donated funds to Bouchard's U.S. Senate campaign in 2006.

But Brandon's decision could also benefit Snyder, former president of computer maker Gateway Inc., because it solidifies the chance that he will be the only business person in the race.

Shields said polling data indicates that the Republicans have a significant advantage in the gubernatorial race, particularly because many voters are disenchanted with Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. But he said none of the Republicans has established himself as the front runner.

That may be why, as Brandon publicly discussed his new role at U-M on Tuesday, he was forced to fight off suggestions that he might have his eyes on the gubernatorial prize. He said he was "committed to the university."

"I'm the athletic director at the University of Michigan," he told reporters. "This is what I want to do."

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter.



Sat, Jan 9, 2010 : 10:05 p.m.

As a conservative politician Mr. Brandon will be looking to use his position to promote his agenda. Mr. Brandon will be in a very public position of leadership. He's not stupid, his temporary paycut is an investment and he's wealthy enough to postpone his wealth accumulation without pain. With this kind of wealth you can see why he's a Republican.


Sat, Jan 9, 2010 : 5:33 p.m.

Conservatives working with our football program is not a new thing. Have you ever listened to a Frank Beckmann show on WJR Detroit? Excellent long-time announcer for Michigan football games, but he is a political spectrum buddy with Rush and Sean and all of the rest of those types.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 10:56 p.m.

There are PLENTY of conservatives on campus (I've been on campus since 1996, and won't be leaving anytime soon!) What bearing his political leanings will have as AD seems like a moot point to me... I doubt any players or coaches will refuse to come play if the AD is conservative, Utah doesn't seem to have problems luring sports talent after all. That the word "conservative" strikes fear into the hearts of so many in this town says more about them than it does about conservatives IMHO.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 5:02 p.m.

who cares about his politics? what a stupid premise.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 3:59 p.m.

hopefully they will deliver more than 30 minutes of football on Saturdays


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 3:47 p.m.

I don't know if it was a good choice or not. But he better learn to keep his mouth shut on his political views, or he will turn away a good chunk of the alumni. His Domino's ads where he took shots at Obama were distasteful and ridiculous. I don't think he has done a good job at Domino's. I remember Domino's producing an above average delivered pizza. The last pizza I had from Domino's was tasteless, bland, the cheese was clumpy, and the dough was barely baked. I received a request from Domino's to answer a few questions, since I ordered the pizza on line. I gave the above answer on the questionnaire, and all I got was a thank you for taking our survey. So in my opinion if we expect him to do for Michigan athletics, what he has done for Domino's, we will have a bland athletic program, with no piazza, no character, but delivered in 30 minutes or less.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 3:47 p.m.

"His kids had been sick when they were born. Almost didn't make it. Went to Mott hospital." I wonder what his "conservative" stance is on the health care/insurance debate? Given that,I assume, we the people of the State of Michigan are about to provide him some.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 3:33 p.m.

no offense intended to the rugby team


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 3:32 p.m.

Bought his position? Come on. He donated millions to the childrens' hospital. (And if he "bought" his position he lost money on the deal.) His kids had been sick when they were born. Almost didn't make it. Went to Mott hospital. They were saved. He donated the money to help others. Be reasonable. And last time I checked, the AD has nothing to do with the teaching of evolution in college classrooms. Relax.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 3:29 p.m.

"For me it's much less about Democrat or Republican and more about simple things like "do you believe in evolution"..." If he was the chairmen of the Biology Department I would agree. I don't care if he thinks the earth is 6000 years old or 4.5 billion years as long as the football team (re)evolves in to a Big 11 contender with BCS potential. That after all, is the cash cow that funds the athletic department. I don't think, if we had another 6000/4.5 billion years the rugby team will ever evolve to that point.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 3:19 p.m.

This is a concern. Brandon is a conservative republican, member of the "religious right". Chaired the DeVos campaign, supporting issues like teaching creationism and anti-gay measures. Also appears to have bought this AD position through major donations after the Michigan voters bounced him as Regent. Not a good fit for a major public institution.

Nathan Bomey

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 2:50 p.m.

BHall, thanks for the comments and, Ed, thanks for the research. My apologies for the confusion on his former position. Since were not sure, Im changing the story to say he was a member of the Board, not chairman.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 2:50 p.m.

Thanks. So he was chairman of a regents' subcommittee. Not the whole board.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 2:47 p.m.

And by the way, David Brandon's political beliefs are pretty irrelevant when it comes to the job of the Athletic Director. How is making sure programs don't run a deficit and the athletic teams don't run into problems conservative or liberal? That's the job. Not making policy. I personally don't think Brandon is the arch conservative people here are making him out to be. How is he conserative? Nobody says. Donating money to the Republican party and McCain? Come on, please. He served on the board of regents during the university's lawsuit over affirmative action. Did he support it? He served while the university was named a center for human embryonic stem cell research. Did he support that?

Mumbambu, Esq.

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 2:29 p.m.

Mitch, the point is - God created Michigan football.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 2:28 p.m.

When was David Brandon a chairman of the university regents? I don't believe he ever was.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 12:34 p.m.

Tidge, actually since Granholm is term limited, I guess the voters are deprived of their right to vote for her. So, in the strictest sense, they are "disenfranchised".

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 12:02 p.m.

"So how does it matter, who is a Republican and who is a Democrat, other than the brand name, other than the front man?" Because there is more to politics than Mideast policy?


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 11:59 a.m.

I for one don't care about the official R or D. Don't get me wrong, I don't like the guy - he has worked too hard and given too much money to efforts that would hurt me. I'm grateful he won't be running for governor this time. For me the question comes to mind about how he will handle recruiting given his dislike of affirmative action? Will he really uphold all those important conservative values when it comes to running this organization? Will he coddle and make excuses for the poor academic performance of his charges? Will he allow his players to continue to play after they have been arrested for, say, smashing the windows in a local bar? My question about his conservatism is more based on what I see as the hypocrisy of what he says and what he does. Will he be an "I got mine" leader or will he be the straight arrow family values conservative he claims to be? I know too much about how Domino's works to be all that optimistic.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 11:38 a.m.

Next a new university president. Time to get rid a president that has cost the university millions promoting her personal agenda.

David Paris

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

I can't think of an instance where political affiliation was ever a factor, or even mentioned regarding any other Athletic Director. Congratulations Mr. Brandon, Best of Luck, and Go Blue!


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 11:08 a.m.

I think, as a general rule, it's better to have conservatives in charge of any business/government. I don't think we'll see Dave doing anything halo-esque.

Sean T.

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 10:31 a.m.

His political affiliations are not important but our athletic programs are!

Atticus F.

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 10:29 a.m.

I've heard that this guys political views are in line with those of Rush Limbaugh, or at least close. I guess this shouldn't have any affect on his ability to run the department. But I strongly disagree with his political views...As do I strongly disagree with the political views of some friends and family members.

Scott Beal

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 9:57 a.m.

I'd say the contention that the University of Michigan is a "liberal" institution is problematic at best.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 9:05 a.m.

I don't think Brandon's conservative political views will have any significant impact on him doing his job. The main person he has to answer to on a daily basis is Mary Sue Coleman - not a room full of liberal faculty members. And I'd guess most of the alums, donors, and upper level staff members he deals with are conservatives too. So, no worries on the Republican vs. Demeocrat front with Brandon. He'll do what's best for Michigan.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

"That group of people couldn't agree on what color the sky is on any given day." GO Maize,..!! He'll have a pal in the football play by play announcer who's conservative beliefs are pontificated 5 days a week 3 hours a day on a local 50,000 watt radio station.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 8:33 a.m.

"For those of you who continue to drop all of our problems at the feet of Governor Granholm: Regardless of what you think of her policies, she has had to contend with the most obstructionist legislature in the history of our state. That group of people couldn't agree on what color the sky is on any given day.' Well said! good luck to Mr. Brandon running his new business.

Nathan Bomey

Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 7:59 a.m.

Tidge, thanks for the catch! You're right, I meant to say "disenchanted." Not sure how that happened. I just updated the story to reflect it. Thanks again!


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 7:48 a.m.

Where the political leanings of an AD will come into play won't be seen in the short term of any AD's tenure,.. they will be seen long term. While still acting in what they believe to be the best interests of their university,.. conservatives will still make "mostly" conservative decisions,.. with liberals more willing to accept more risk in their decisions. If you look at the pinnacle schools in college sports right now, Stanford, Virginia, North Carolina, Villanova, UCal, USC, (based on the Sears Trophy standings,..) these are athletic departments that are making decisions that are years ahead of where Michigan is at. Just in the Big Ten alone,... Indiana has had facilities as nice as Michigan's are now,... for the past 10 years. (The football stadium being a small exception..) I have done business with Bill Martin over the the years, and while I don't profess to know his political leanings, he was more than ready to take on above average risk with his business decisions. That tells me a lot,... I hope that David Brandon can play the game along the same lines. As I said before, I believe Mr. Brandon was a safe, easy choice, not a great choice. I wish him great success at Michigan. For those of you who continue to drop all of our problems at the feet of Governor Granholm: Regardless of what you think of her policies, she has had to contend with the most obstructionist legislature in the history of our state. That group of people couldn't agree on what color the sky is on any given day. GO BLUE,..!!


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 7:19 a.m.

Bo Schembechler was also an ardent conservative. That seemed to work out pretty well at Michigan.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 7:09 a.m.

How about "disenchanted"?


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 6:54 a.m.

@ Tidge, in that context I agree, more like dismayed, or even dissed.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 6:51 a.m.

Please. Do we know the political affiliation of all UM administrators? And if so, do we care? I do not do my job based on my political affiliations...I'm assuming he won't either. And that is all that matters. This is a non-issue.


Wed, Jan 6, 2010 : 6:43 a.m.

Just an FYI, from the story "...because many voters are disenfranchised with Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm" Disenfranchised means to be deprived the right to vote. Was that a direct quote or misuse of terms? If the former, that is a pretty reactionary thing to say.