Critics blast 8 Michigan Republicans who broke with tradition to vote against state's first Black House speaker

Following the same vein of the often-contentious partisanship discord of the last few years, Republican House members — newly in the minority for the first time since 2010 — caught flak Wednesday for appearing to try and undercut the new Democratic majorities and leadership.

That culminated in eight House Republicans voting against House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) for his new position, which is unusual considering both chambers traditionally vote unanimously in the mostly ceremonial procedure.

Tate, who is Black, is the first person of color to serve as House speaker in Michigan.

“It’s unfortunate that when legislators, regardless of party or worldview, have an opportunity to contribute to the history of Michigan empowering people of color they vote against diversity and inclusion,” said the Rev. Horace Sheffield III of Detroit, a leading civil rights activist who heads the Detroit Association of Black Organizations.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, Democrats control both the House and the Senate and they are serving alongside Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who won reelection last year.

Although House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Marshall) voted for Tate and emphasized in a press conference later Wednesday that he looks forward to working together with the Democrat, several of his colleagues in the newly declared Freedom Caucus — state Reps. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), James DeSana (R-Carleton), Joseph Fox (R-Tecumseh), Neil Friske (R-Petoskey), Mike Hoadley (R-Au Gres), Matt Maddock (R-Milford), Angela Rigas (R-Hastings) and Josh Schriver (R-Oxford) — voted “no.”

There were also several Republican votes against state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia), who is the chamber’s first LGBTQ+ speaker pro tempore. And the caucus of far-right lawmakers issued a press release saying they didn’t support the rules for the lower chamber.

“Eight conservative Republicans voted against Joe Tate for Michigan speaker, and it took 15 tries for [U.S. House Speaker] Kevin McCarthy in Congress,” said the Rev. Charles Williams II of the National Action Network Michigan. “Republicans have turned into the party of obstruction and destruction.”

State Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Fort Gratiot) also made a move to introduce the first bill of the new session, getting his measure in before Tate, bucking longstanding tradition. Majority leaders and speakers generally introduce the first bill or defer to another key member of their caucus.

“There’s a speaker’s prerogative” to introduce the first bill, Tate told reporters afterward on Wednesday.

Hall defended Beeler to reporters when asked whether the action is predictive of contention between the parties, saying that Beeler was in the House late Tuesday and early Wednesday to push through his bill cutting the retirement tax — legislation signed by the last GOP governor, Rick Snyder.

Under Beeler’s bill, seniors 67 years and older would be able to deduct $40,000 of all income from the state income tax, or $80,000 for couples filing jointly. Seniors aged 62 to 66 would also be able to deduct retirement income — $20,000 for individuals or $40,000 for joint filers.

On whether the votes against Tate and Beeler’s line-cutting to introduce a bill before Tate are indicative of disrespect toward the new speaker and Democratic majority, Hall said that there are fractures in both parties but he supports Tate’s leadership.

“I voted for Joe Tate, and … I believe that civility is important,” Hall said. “I am coming forward in good faith, wanting to work together to govern in the middle with Joe Tate and the Democrats. But they have to stay focused on these common sense policies that are going to help working families like the ones that we propose today.”

Hall announced on Wednesday that Republicans also want to increase Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). One of Democrats’ first bills also would expand the EITC.

When asked about the eight votes against his leadership on Wednesday, Tate told reporters he is focused on working with everyone.

“My focus is working together and I want to make sure that we’re doing that, Tate said. “So I think all went well today. I know we are going to have different opinions across this entire chamber, but I’m not concerned about that.

“I’m just ready to get to work.”

Advance reporter Ken Coleman contributed to this story.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

‘A dark day for our country’: How the Jan. 6 insurrection changed Michigan politics

It has now been two years since baseless claims of election fraud incited an armed, far-right extremist mob to storm the U.S. Capitol, breaking into congressional chambers and ransacking offices in the name of keeping former President Donald Trump in office.

The events of Jan. 6, 2021, came as a violent result of pro-Trump election misinformation that has continued to permeate Republican politics — with the rhetoric taking over as the new GOP norm in some places, while causing intra-party division in others.

In any case, the political divide in Michigan and beyond seems deeper than ever.

“The insurrection was a dark day for our country,” said Gunner Ramer, political director of the Republican Accountability Project launched by the Washington, D.C.-based Defending Democracy Together. “It was an indictment on the Republican Party and it still is an indictment on the Republican Party.

“ … The idea of overturning a free and fair election — I can’t think of anything less conservative than that. I can’t think of anything less against the Constitution than that.”

The rhetoric that sparked the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol two years ago also sparked a wave of new, election-denying candidates running for office in Michigan and many other key states. Running to oppose Democrats Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson were Republicans Tudor Dixon, Matthew DePerno and Kristina Karamo, respectively. All pushed lies about the 2020 presidential election and promised to make policy changes accordingly if elected.

Ryan Kelley, a GOP candidate for governor who finished fourth in the August primary, participated in the 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and is currently facing charges.

A bevy of congressional and state House and Senate candidates who stoked doubt in election integrity also ran for Michigan office in 2020.

All three top GOP nominees lost, as well as a number of election deniers down the ballot. And although the fact remains that half of Michigan’s GOP state lawmakers are election deniers — and at least two, state Reps. Angela Rigas (R-Hastings) and Matt Maddock (R-Milford), were in D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021 — Democrats were able to win back power in the state House and Senate for the first time in decades, diminishing Republicans’ political influence greatly.

“It’s one thing to win a Republican primary; it’s another to win a general election,” Ramer said. He added that there were enough swing voters — “including a non-insignificant amount of Republican leaning-voters” — to rebuke many of the election deniers.

“They were just very poor candidates. They weren’t able to fundraise in any meaningful way in the general election that allowed for them to hit back on the abortion attacks or the election denialism,” he said.

“The Democrats and outside groups did a very good job of defining these Republicans as too extreme. The Dobbs decision [overturning Roe v. Wade] helped Democrats as a way to really define them, even though voters had these concerns over the economy, crime and inflation.”

Although the U.S. Congress at first failed to meet the moment in the insurrection’s aftermath, the work it accomplished in the past year has left American democracy in better shape than before, according to the nonpartisan, anti-authoritarianism nonprofit D.C.-based Protect Democracy.

Those accomplishments include reforming the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act to patch up vulnerabilities that Trump supporters attempted to exploit, as well as other advances that Protect Democracy says have furthered transparency, accountability and government efficiency.

But the threat has not passed, the nonprofit warns in a report released Wednesday.

“It remains eminently plausible that an authoritarian-minded candidate could return to the White House in two years. The next attack on our democracy may not be as dramatic as armed militia members crashing through windows at the Capitol, but it may be no less damaging,” the report reads.

“Congress, and the American people, should take the success stories of 2022 not as an opportunity to declare victory, but as a hopeful shift in trajectory — a reminder that progress is possible — and an example to build on in years ahead.”

But even with voters’ significant rebuke of election-denying Republican candidates on Nov. 8, Ramer says that many are still in power and causing political discord for both parties.

“There is a lot of dysfunction within the Republican Party,” Ramer said, pointing to the failure of the GOP majority in the U.S. House to elect a new speaker.

The chamber is currently at a standstill until a speaker is chosen; without one, members-elect cannot be sworn in and chamber rules cannot be set. This means that the U.S. House currently has no members nor the ability to advance any legislation.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was the favorite to become the next speaker, and received an endorsement for the position from Trump, but has since faced vehement backlash and opposition from some of the more hardline, election-denying GOP members including U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Without their votes, McCarthy will continue to lose on ballots for speaker.

“The elected Republican members of Congress, a lot of them are still very Trumpy,” Ramer said. “They’re still very MAGA. A lot of them, even if they’re supporting Kevin McCarthy, wanted to overturn a free and fair election in 2020. And I think that overall that’s an indictment on the modern day Republican Party.”

The members that oppose McCarthy represent a “force that [Trump] unleashed on the Republican Party,” he continued.

This force has been a source of concern for election experts for years. The implication has been that, should enough election deniers gain power prior to 2024, the integrity of that presidential election could be compromised.

“I am relieved that Gretchen Whitmer, Jocelyn Benson [and] Dana Nessel easily won reelection and beat these election denying candidates,” Ramer said, adding that he is confident all three will “respect the results of a free and fair election.”

Benson on Friday will receive a Presidential Citizens Medal on Friday from Biden, who cited Benson’s and others’ “courage and selflessness during a moment of peril for our nation.”

Lawmakers and officials in top offices play roles in running or certifying the 2024 elections. Those who occupy the offices of governor, attorney general, secretary of state and congressional seats have significant power over election certification and outcomes.

Had more election deniers been able to fill those seats, the notion of having a free and fair election process could have been thrown into disarray.

“I haven’t had a lot of optimism, but I’d say that what happened in November made me very optimistic for what happened across the country at all levels of government, or at least in a lot of cases,” Ramer continued. “Not every case but in a lot of cases, including in Michigan, election deniers lost.

“Before Nov. 8, I was deeply concerned with the possibility of these election deniers winning.”

Michigan Republican ticket silent on MIGOP co-chair's homophobic tweet

Michigan Republican ticket silent on MIGOP co-chair's homophobic tweet GOP nominees (L-R): Tudor Dixon for governor, Matt DePerno for attorney general and Kristina Karamo for secretary of state | Andrew Roth and Allison R. Donahue photos

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Top Michigan GOPer invokes conspiracy theories and tells offhand toilet story in final Senate speech

The term-limited Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), in his farewell to the Michigan Senate Wednesday night, closed out his years in office by stunning the chamber with a long speech that ventured into outlandish conspiracies, biblically ominous predictions of the future, critiques of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and an attention-grabbing story about testing the Binsfeld Office Building’s toilet water temperature with his hand.

Speaking on the challenges posed by COVID-19 since early 2020, Shirkey soon launched into remarks blasting Whitmer’s administration for past efforts it deployed to prevent further spread of the virus. The Republican said that her leadership during the pandemic was “based on a core message of fear,” which “fog[ged] the thinking of everybody.”

A whirlwind of COVID-19 disinformation and QAnon-esque conspiracy theories, Shirkey’s speech was filled with the talking points that have dominated much of the far-right landscape throughout the pandemic.

COVID-19 was a “surprise foreign attack” that was “most certainly planned,” Shirkey claimed without evidence. He alleged baselessly that scientists have ignored COVID-19 data that is not consistent with their “preferred narrative,” while repeating arguments he has previously pushed regarding “natural immunity.”

Shirkey also falsely claimed that COVID-19 vaccines have been proven ineffective and are likely unsafe. He spoke out against “unscientific and unnecessary” social restrictions that Whitmer’s administration put in place during the height of the pandemic, including school shutdowns.

In reality, research has shown that vaccines are both safe and effective. University of Michigan researchers also found in January 2021 that Whitmer’s strict public health measures during the 2020 holiday season likely prevented more than 100,000 COVID-19 cases and thousands of deaths in Michigan.

Shirkey then invoked the Bible while laying out what he sees for the future.

“I carry a burden. … I can see things that are about to happen or going to happen that other people sometimes can’t see,” Shirkey said.

“… We are witnessing 2 Timothy Chapter 3 before our very eyes. COVID was a test. These next challenges will be much more than a test.”

The portion of the King James Bible referenced by Shirkey alludes to “terrible times in the last days.”

Shirkey said that in the “spiritual battle” to come, all elements of life will be under attack as humans worship “little ‘g’ gods.”

“These are the next threats that will make COVID-19 an elementary memory. Little ‘g’ gods like ESG, climate change, gun control, child sacrifice, trans-whatever-we-can-concoct, central bank digital currencies, artificial intelligence, agricultural demonization, Critical Race Theory, and the list goes on,” Shirkey said.

“The intent behind these little ‘g’ gods is to achieve one world governance. One world religion, one world healthcare, one world currency, one world control and the elimination of sovereignty.”

The primary element driving these efforts is the World Economic Forum (WEF), Shirkey claimed, invoking an online conspiracy that claims the global elite — which antisemitic conspirators claim is controlled by Jews — is using COVID-19 to enact a new world order and set up a “one world government.”

GOP former secretary of state nominee Kristina Karamo, whose campaign was built on QAnon-adjacent conspiracies, agreed with the sentiment via Twitter.

“It is to our peril for any of us to ignore their agenda,” Shirkey said. “… The threats you will face in the next four years are real and more dangerous than what we’ve endured these last three years.”

After speaking about the WEF’s “objectives” for some time and the perceived dangers of everything from digital currencies to artificial intelligence, Shirkey then launched into the format of a more familiar farewell speech with thank yous, shoutouts and personal anecdotes.

One of those anecdotes caught the attention of many listening and was fodder for a number of tweets Wednesday night.

Uh.
— Mallory McMorrow (@MalloryMcMorrow) December 7, 2022

Having just moved into the Binsfeld Office Building in 2018, Shirkey said he visited the restroom and thought the temperature of the facilities were unusual. After using the restroom twice more — “I figured it out,” Shirkey said.

“It was the toilet that was warm. And so I put my hand in it. And it was hot water.”

Shirkey said he then called maintenance staff to ask them “why taxpayers are paying for hot water in our toilets.”

me: it’s a lame duck session, so nothing wacky will happen
Mike Shirkey: I stuck my hand in the toilet to see how warm it was https://t.co/o1f8ubsKue
— Seasonal Affective Hard Seltzer 🫒 (@VernorsHerzog) December 7, 2022

During his time as Senate Majority Leader, Shirkey also stirred up controversy with sexist remarks directed toward Whitmer, comparing slavery to abortion, pushing election misinformation, admitting that he advised Michigan militias on messaging while insisting they get a “bad rap,” and more.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Half of incoming Michigan GOP lawmakers are election deniers

Despite a wave of “pro-democracy” candidates winning office on Nov. 8, a large portion of election deniers on the ballot have also secured positions of power in the new Michigan Legislature — as well as two individuals in the state House who were at pro-Trump protests in Washington, D.C., last January.

Attention has mostly been focused on the defeats of election deniers at the top of the ballot, both in Michigan and nationwide. Republican Tudor Dixon lost to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Republican Kristina Karamo was defeated by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Republican Matt DePerno was beaten by Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Democrats also wrested control of both chambers of the Michigan Legislature for the first time in almost 40 years. However, the next class of lawmakers will still include a bevy of election deniers.

Combining both chambers, 50% of incoming GOP lawmakers in Michigan — 36 out of 72 — will have been involved in various efforts to undermine faith in Michigan’s 2020 election that was won by President Joe Biden. Actions range from publicly and baselessly surmising that “fraud” may have occurred to signing onto lawsuits to overturn the election and participating in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“Michigan voters showed up in record numbers on Election Day and made very clear that elections are about protecting our freedom to vote, and they know we still face continued threats to our democracy,” said Dianne Byrum, state lead for the Washington, D.C.-based Defend Democracy Project.

“Michiganders know that politicians who deliberately put up barriers to voting should be held accountable because what they’re trying to do is silence people and have minority rule over the majority.”

Byrum is a Democratic former leader in the Legislature who now chairs the Michigan State University Board of Trustees.

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

With Republicans controlling both chambers for the last session, no members or members-elect who sowed distrust in Michigan’s election system since the fateful 2020 presidential election have faced consequences from GOP leadership for their actions, despite multiple calls from Democrats.

Those include a resolution from incoming House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) urging the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate 11 House Republicans for seditious conspiracy and another condemning fake GOP electors. Current House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) also pushed for a bipartisan panel to investigate Michigan’s role in the insurrection and state Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) introduced a resolution condemning the actions by pro-Trump insurrectionists, among other efforts.

When asked by the Advance if new legislative leadership would take action next term, neither Democratic spokesperson for either chamber offered comment.

State Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall) and state Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), who have been selected to lead each chamber’s GOP caucus in the new Legislature, are also among those who questioned 2020 election results.

Nesbitt signed onto a November 2020 letter from Republican lawmakers to Benson propping up baseless voter fraud allegations and asking for a full “audit.”

Hall presided over a Dec. 3, 2020, committee hearing featuring Trump’s then-personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani took over the meeting, pushed numerous unfounded election conspiracies and questioned “witnesses” without putting them under oath. The hearing was spoofed on “Saturday Night Live.”

House GOP caucus spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro confirmed on Friday that state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), who was removed from the caucus in April amid reports that he shared details from confidential caucus meetings, will be back in the caucus in the new session.

While there’s been a range of efforts by Republicans to deny the 2020 election results, Maddock is one of two incoming lawmakers who hit the road in January 2021 for “Stop the Steal” efforts in Washington, D.C.

Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock and Rep. Matt Maddock at the Michigan Republican Party Endorsement Convention, April 23, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

Maddock is a strong ally of Trump, along with his wife, Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, who was one of the fake GOP electors at the Michigan Capitol on Dec. 14 when the Electoral College met. Matt Maddock also was at that protest where the electors unsuccessfully tried to enter the building where the real Electoral College was meeting.

Maddock signed a letter urging former Vice President Mike Pence to delay certifying the election, has warned of an impending “Civil War” amid false election claims and spoke to a crowd in D.C. the day before Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

Meshawn Maddock organized buses to transport Michiganders to Washington, D.C., for the January 2021 pro-Trump protests. On Jan. 6, she tweeted that the rally included “(the) most incredible crowd and sea of people I’ve ever walked with,” but later said she was not present for any of the violence.

State Rep.-elect Angela Rigas (R-Hastings) was at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol where pro-Trump protesters sought to stop Congress’ certification of Biden’s win. Rigas claims she was tear-gassed within the Capitol grounds and considers being called an “insurrectionist” and “terrorist” a “compliment.”

The riot left more than 140 police injured and five people dead.

The small business owner also participated in a 2020 Michigan Capitol rally against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 health orders. She was endorsed by Trump and joined state Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers) this week for the launch of a far-right Grand New Party independent political action committee.

There are a total of 23 election deniers in the new state House, composing nearly 43% of the 54-member House GOP caucus.

The pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021 | Alex Kent

Besides Hall, Maddock and Rigas, that list includes: Reps.-elect Mike Hoadley (R-Flint), Rachelle Smit (R-Grand Rapids) and Jamie Thompson (R-Dearborn); and current state Reps. Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron), Bob Bezotte (R-Howell), Ann Bollin (R-Brighton Twp.), Ken Borton (R-Gaylord), Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale), Gregory Markkanen (R-Hancock), Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville), Mike Mueller (R-Linden), Pat Outman (R-Six Lakes), Brad Paquette (R-Niles), Bryan Posthumus (R-Cannon Twp.) and John Roth (R-Traverse City); and state Sens. Curtis VanderWall (R-Ludington), Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet), Douglas Wozniak (R-Shelby Twp.) and Dale Zorn (R-Ida).

Smit and Hoadley also were endorsed by Trump.

In the Senate, 13 of the 18 incoming Republicans are election deniers, making up 72% of the new Senate GOP caucus.

Those include Nesbitt, Trump-endorsed Sen.-elect Jonathan Lindsey (R-Sturgis) and incumbent state Sens. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), Kevin Daley (R-Lum), Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton), Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Twp.), Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes), Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) and Roger Victory (R-Georgetown Twp.); state Rep. Joseph Bellino (R-Monroe); and former state Rep. Michael Webber (R-Rochester Hills).

As the Advance reported last week, state officials have indicated that Bumstead is under criminal investigation for allegedly forging signatures on absentee ballots during the 2016 election.

Despite the significant numbers of lawmakers winning who have questioned the results of the 2020 election, Byrum expressed optimism given big victories on Nov. 8 for voting rights and pro-democracy leaders.

“All of us who care about voters’ freedoms and free, fair elections are confident that the passage of Proposal 2 enhancing election security and access, plus new leaders who value our democracy can help us prevail over these anti-voter politicians and their anti-democracy friends,” Byrum said.

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Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Your guide to the election deniers running in top Michigan races on Nov. 8

Even as the Nov. 8 election inches ever closer, many Republican candidates on the ballot in Michigan — a key swing state in presidential elections and the focus of many endorsements from former President Donald Trump — still refuse to accept the results of the 2020 general election that Trump lost.

Aside from outrightly rejecting the reality that President Joe Biden won, which has almost certainly undermined public trust in secure elections, having a litany of 2020 deniers up and down the ballot could have big implications for future races.

Michigan is not alone in having many GOP candidates running for office (see also Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania). FiveThirtyEight reports that 60% of Americans will have an election denier on the ballot this year. And the Washington Post found that the majority of GOP nominees for the House, Senate and key statewide offices have denied or questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Given our status as a key state in 2024 — and having a trifecta of election deniers on the 2022 ballot — leaves the Great Lakes State among the most-watched on Nov. 8.

Experts warn that how votes will be counted and the outcomes of 2024 races — including the presidency — are at stake.

“Repeated false claims about 2020 have made election denial a key issue in many races this year, including for offices that will play a role in running or certifying the 2024 elections,” said Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program.

“We’ve come to a point where each side is saying the other is an existential threat to democracy. But elections don’t work if people don’t trust the result, so this rhetoric risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy if it shakes voters’ confidence in democracy.”

Whoever occupies the offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state has significant power over election certification and outcomes. So do members of Congress.

The secretary of state —the chief election official — has the most direct impact on elections in most states. Governors can sign or veto legislation dictating the administration of elections, which could affect which voters are able to cast ballots and more. Executive orders concerning election administration in emergency situations could also come into play.

How much of a part governors play in the certification of electoral votes varies among states, but governors in every state are required to transmit those votes to Congress. If a governor chose to certify their state’s electors with fewer votes, the final say on certification would then go to state and federal courts.

Governors could also be empowered to select their state’s presidential electors in a new way if Congress were to reform how electoral votes are counted.

Repeated false claims about 2020 have made election denial a key issue in many races this year, including for offices that will play a role in running or certifying the 2024 elections.

– Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program

Members of Congress are charged with certifying electoral votes — the process that insurrectionists disrupted on Jan. 6, 2021. After pro-Trump rioters breached the U.S. Capitol, 147 Republicans, including three from Michigan, voted to overturn the election results.

A recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Defend Democracy Project also named Michigan’s GOP nominees for governor, secretary of state and attorney general — Tudor Dixon, Kristina Karamo and Matt DePerno, respectively — as among the top threats to democracy statewide.

But it doesn’t stop there. Aside from the top three statewide posts, there are at least three dozen candidates for Congress and the Legislature in Michigan who still doubt — to varying degrees — that the 2020 election was anything but safe and secure.

“Michigan’s slate of anti-democracy Republican candidates is incredibly concerning,” said Gunner Ramer, political director of the Republican Accountability Project launched in May 2020 by the Washington, D.C.-based Defending Democracy Together. “Having these types of Republicans, who continue to sow distrust in our electoral system, play any part in election administration could be potentially catastrophic for our democracy.”

Members of the pro-Trump mob destroy multimedia equipment. | Alex Kent

Here is the Advance’s roundup of all such candidates running for top offices and congressional seats.

Governor and lieutenant governor

Former right-wing commentator Tudor Dixon has repeatedly vocalized doubt in the 2020 election by accusing Democrats of “sloppy and obvious” voter fraud just days after the election.

“Steal an election then hide behind calls for unity and leftists lap it up,” Dixon tweeted in a Nov. 8, 2021, reply to a tweet from Trump.

She has publicly and falsely claimed that Trump won in Michigan as recently as May of this year.

Dixon was far from the only election denier running for governor. Other candidates, including Garrett Soldano and Ryan Kelley, falsely claimed that Trump won in 2020. Kelley was also present at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in D.C. He is fighting misdemeanor charges stemming from his participation in the mob after being arrested by the FBI this summer.

Dixon is challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for the state’s top office. Whitmer has said she will accept the outcome of Michigan’s November election, whereas Dixon has not.

Dixon’s running mate, former state Rep. Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron), also signaled doubt in the 2020 election by signing onto a letter calling for a so-called “forensic audit” of the process while he was still a state legislator, a popular idea from Trump supporters who don’t accept his loss.

More than 250 official state and local audits were conducted in Michigan in the wake of the 2020 election. Each uncovered no evidence of fraud or election security issues, but right-wing election conspiracists have continuously pushed for a more widespread audit.

“Should Republicans keep their majorities in the state Legislature, and Tudor Dixon wins, she could work with ‘Stop the Steal’ Republican state legislators to pass election-related legislation ahead of the 2024 election that negatively affects the voting process,” Ramer warned.

Republican nominee for Michigan governor Tudor Dixon and her running mate, Shane Hernandez, campaign in Lansing on Aug. 27, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Attorney general

GOP Attorney General nominee Matthew DePerno has made no shortage of statements calling into question the integrity of the 2020 election.

DePerno has claimed there were rigged voting machines in Michigan, has repeatedly and falsely stated that Trump was the true winner in 2020, said he plans to prosecute his opponent, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, for a number of baseless claims and more.

DePerno was the attorney behind a failed 2020 civil lawsuit claiming that a vote-tallying issue in Antrim County was evidence of possible widespread fraud. In it, DePerno incorrectly surmised that some voting machines in the county had been “compromised.” The issue was, in fact, found to be due to human error, which had been quickly resolved at the time. The suit was dismissed.

The lawyer has also been active in so-called “forensic audit” efforts in both Michigan and Arizona.

He is now under criminal investigation regarding his alleged participation in an effort to tamper with voting tabulator machines following the 2020 election, which he denies.

Nessel has spoken out against election misinformation and has said that any claims that call into question the security and fairness of Michigan’s election process are “wholly without merit.”

“If Matthew Deperno wins, he would be the leading legal official in the state and could open up investigations into the 2024 election results that would continue to sow distrust in our electoral system,” Ramer said.

Republican nominee for Michigan attorney general Matthew DePerno campaigns in Lansing on Aug. 27, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Secretary of state

Running to oversee Michigan’s elections is Republican Secretary of State nominee Kristina Karamo, a former community college lecturer, who is also Trump-endorsed and has said she still has “major questions” about who won the presidency in 2020.

She is challenging Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic incumbent who has repeatedly noted the state’s election process is safe and secure and pointed to the more than 250 state and local audits confirming there was no widespread election fraud and confirming the 2020 election results.

In contrast, Karamo has repeatedly called the validity of the process into question and has falsely claimed that Trump won.

As a poll challenger in 2020, Karamo claimed in an affidavit that she saw voter fraud firsthand in Detroit, but she has not provided evidence. She has also criticized Benson for practices that have made voting in Michigan more accessible, like mailing out absentee ballot applications to all residents.

“The election of Kristina Karamo is dangerous to our democracy for two main reasons,” Ramer said. “As Michigan’s chief election officer, she could change the election process ahead of the 2024 election and she would have to certify the 2024 election results. Should a Democratic presidential candidate win the state of Michigan in 2024, Karamo has given no indication that she would certify the election results.”

Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock and SOS nominee Kristina Karamo at the Michigan Republican Party Endorsement Convention, April 23, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

Congress

Here is a roundup of election deniers running for Congress in Michigan:

Jack Bergman — 1st Congressional District

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) is one of four congressional Republicans who signed onto a legal brief in support of a lawsuit that attempted, and ultimately failed, to delay the 2020 Electoral College vote to solidify Biden’s win. Bergman also voted not to certify some election results on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to deny Biden the presidency.

In addition to being involved in the Antrim County lawsuit with DePerno, Bergman has also claimed “voting irregularities,” “fraud” and a “lack of security in absentee voting” were at play in the 2020 election.

Bergman also voted against the Presidential Election Reform Act, which was passed by the U.S. House last month to reform the Electoral Count Act and prevent the subversion of future presidential elections.

He faces Democrat Bob Lorinser on the ballot for Nov. 8. Michigan’s new 1st District includes the whole of the Upper Peninsula and the northern swatch of the Lower Peninsula.

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman at the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference | Andrew Roth

John Moolenaar — 2nd Congressional District

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland) also signed onto the failed federal lawsuit challenging the 2020 election. He has since accepted the results of the election, with some reservations.

Moolenaar voted “no” on the Presidential Election Reform Act that seeks to reform the Electoral Count Act.

The incumbent faces Democrat Jerry Hilliard in November. Michigan’s 2nd District includes the west and central Michigan cities like Mount Pleasant, Manistee and Ludington.

John Gibbs — 3rd Congressional District

Small business owner John Gibbs is running for the new 3rd Congressional District in the Grand Rapids area against immigration attorney Hillary Scholten, a Democrat.

Gibbs also received an endorsement from Trump before ousting U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) in the August Republican primary.

Much like his high-profile endorser, Gibbs has often called into question the results of the 2020 election, particularly with a focus on the merits of absentee ballots.

“What I want to do, two weeks from now, is win [the primary] by a large enough margin that we beat the cheating,” Gibbs said earlier this summer.

Gibbs pulled out a narrow win with a roughly 3.5% margin over Meijer, who did not contest the results.

Michigan’s 3rd District includes Grand Rapids, Grand Haven and Muskegon.

Bill Huizenga — 4th Congressional District

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) also signed onto the brief challenging the Electoral College vote. He has raised reservations about the 2020 election but has not fully denied Biden’s win. He is challenged by Democrat Joseph Alfonso.

Huizenga voted against reforming the Electoral Count Act.

Michigan’s 4th District encompasses cities including Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor and Holland on Michigan’s West coast.

Tim Walberg — 5th Congressional District

Along with Bergman, Moolenaar and Huizenga, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) also signed onto the legal brief in support of challenging Biden’s win. He has publicly claimed that the 2020 election contained “irregularities” and voted not to certify election results on Jan. 6, 2021 in key states.

Walberg also voted against the Presidential Election Reform Act.

Walberg will face Democrat Bart Goldberg on Nov. 8. Michigan’s 5th District includes a swath of southern Michigan and cities like Hillsdale, Jackson and Monroe.

Tom Barrett — 7th Congressional District

State Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) for the newly drawn 7th Congressional District. Barrett was one of 11 state senators who signed onto a 2021 letter urging members of Congress to examine baseless claims of voter fraud.

A leaked version of the letter asked Congress to delay election certification “in the name of national unity” ahead of the Electoral College’s vote to certify Biden’s win, but that was not sent.

The 7th District now encompasses the Mid-Michigan cities of Lansing, Eaton Rapids and Owosso.

Republican congressional candidate Tom Barrett attends a Republican gubernatorial in Howell on May 13, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Lisa McClain — 9th Congressional District

Running for the newly drawn 9th District is U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Romeo), who is among the Republicans who supported an investigation into the 2020 election.

She was elected for the first time in 2020, but claimed there were “deep flaws” and “irregularities” in the election process, despite no evidence to back up the claim. Along with Walberg and Bergman, she voted not to certify election results on Jan. 6, 2021 in some states.

McClain also voted “no” on the Presidential Election Reform Act.

Democrat Brian Steven Jaye is also vying to oust McClain to represent the district that includes some of Macomb County and much of Michigan’s Thumb area.

John James — 10th Congressional District

John James, a two-time former U.S. Senate candidate who previously lost against incumbents Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), announced in January that he was again running for office, this time for Michigan’s 10th U.S. House District.

The seat is open after Democratic U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Waterford Twp.) and Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) both decided to run for the new 11th Congressional District, which Stevens won in the August primary.

Like other Trump-endorsed candidates, James has publicly doubted the integrity of Michigan’s election system and called for an investigation into the election results after his 2020 loss to Peters.

He had even prematurely declared victory, with former campaign strategist Stu Sandler writing in a since-deleted tweet that James had become Michigan’s first Black senator.

James is running against Democrat Carl Marlinga for the Macomb County-based district that includes Warren and Clinton Charter Township.

John James at President Donald Trump’s Battle Creek rally, Dec. 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Other candidates

In addition to these candidates, two more have not yet provided a stance either way on the 2020 election.

Those include Whittney Williams, a Republican seeking to oust incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District; and Steven Elliott, a Republican challenging incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) for the 12th Congressional District.

GOP congressional candidates who do accept the election results are: Paul Junge, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) for the 8th Congressional District; Mark Ambrose, who is running against Stevens for the 11th Congressional District; and Martell D. Bivings, challenging U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) in the 13th Congressional District..

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Sexual assault investigation against former GOP lawmaker turned over to Michigan Attorney General

The Michigan State Police’s nine-month sexual assault and financial misconduct investigation into former House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) has concluded and has been turned over to Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Chatfield, who was Michigan’s youngest-ever House speaker when he was elected to the position in 2018, served until 2020. He is accused of sexually assaulting his sister-in-law for more than a decade starting when she was a child, but has denied the allegations, characterizing the relationship as a consensual “affair.”

The Michigan State Police (MSP) has been investigating the complaint since December 2021, when it was filed with the Lansing Police Department. The MSP wrapped most of that probe in May, submitting a preliminary report to Nessel, then offering additional information in August.

“MSP is no longer investigating this matter as it has been turned over to the AG’s investigators for completion,” MSP spokesperson Shanon Banner said in an email Monday. “Any further information or updates will come from the AG’s Office.”

The MSP has not made recommendations on charges, but has presented all evidence to Nessel for her office to potentially file them. It is working in partnership with the AG to help conclude her end of the investigation, according to the Detroit News.

That portion of the investigation looks into allegations of campaign funds directed to family members and legislative staffers, hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded bonuses given to Chatfield’s staffers and more financial improprieties.

Police searched the home of two of Lee Chatfield’s former top staffers in February.

Chatfield’s attorney, Mary Chartier, did not respond to a request for comment.

Nessel’s office is reportedly still continuing its part of the investigation into allegations involving financial improprieties when Chatfield was speaker. A spokesperson for Nessel did not immediately respond for comment.

Rebekah Chatfield, now 26, alleged last year that the assaults began when she was about 14 or 15 as a student at Burt Lake’s Northern Michigan Christian Academy and continued until about July 2021. Lee Chatfield was a teacher, coach and athletic director at the school before taking office in 2014. He is married with five children.

Rebekah Chatfield is married to Lee Chatfield’s brother, Aaron Chatfield, who has supported her in the allegations.

The MSP’s report included interviews and search warrants from late winter through early spring. Among the interviews are those with Rebekah Chatfield; Aaron Chatfield; Lee Chatfield’s brother, Paul; and Lee Chatfield’s wife, Stephanie. Lee Chatfield reportedly declined to interview with the police but his lawyer responded via email to some questions from investigators.

Search warrants detailed in the report include preservation notices sent to Snapchat, several phone seizures, three school computers, warrants at Northern Michigan Christian Academy, yearbooks and student records.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Dixon clinches early win in GOP gubernatorial primary

Right-wing commentator Tudor Dixon has a big lead Tuesday night in Michigan’s GOP gubernatorial primary, likely setting her up to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the Nov. 8 general election.

Dixon’s primary lead comes after a last-minute endorsement from former President Donald Trump on Friday amid a campaign season rife with Trumpian talking points and right-wing rhetoric.

“God is good. Thank you, Michigan,” Dixon told a Grand Rapids audience of supporters around 10 p.m.

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday with 39% of precincts reporting, according to unofficial returns, Dixon has amassed 40.1% of the vote.

With just 23% in around 10 p.m., Dixon took a clear lead with 40.9% of the vote, but the Michigan Republican Party already declared her the winner. The party said on Twitter at 9:08 p.m. that she was “our candidate for governor” — which Dixon later retweeted.

Some analysts had called the race for Dixon before polls closed at 9 p.m. in four western Upper Peninsula precincts.

The Associated Press called the race for Dixon at 9:41 p.m.

Garrett Soldano, the Rev. Ralph Rebandt, Ryan Kelley and Kevin Rinke participate in a GOP gubernatorial debate on WKAR’s Off the Record, July 15, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Trailing behind are businessman Kevin Rinke with 20.9%, chiropractor Garrett Soldano with 19.2%, far-right activist Ryan Kelley with 15.6% and the Rev. Ralph Rebandt with 4.1%.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Michigan GOP abruptly canceled a watch party at a Lansing restaurant due to what spokesperson Gustavo Potela said were multiple threats to its building and staff.

Portela, who said that a bystander near the GOP party headquarters in Lansing threatened to shoot and burn the building down Tuesday morning, did not respond to a request for comment from the Advance asking whether the party has filed a police report about the alleged incidents.

Soldano conceded the race around 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, telling supporters at his watch party, “I didn’t win.”

“As I have stated from the beginning, Republicans throughout the state must be focused on retiring Gretchen Whitmer,” Soldano said in a subsequent statement. “I will be casting my vote for Tudor Dixon in November. I call on all Republicans to continue fighting, and together we will defeat Gretchen Whitmer in November.”

Rinke also conceded in a Twitter statement.

“While tonight’s results are not what we had hoped for, the people of Michigan have decided on another candidate, and I want to congratulate @TudorDixon on her victory,” Rinke wrote. “My hope for the state of Michigan remains unchanged and I look forward to continuing our family’s work of bettering the state we love so much.”

During her victory speech, Dixon thanked Rinke, Soldano, Kelley and Rebandt for “running a very spirited campaign.” She spent much of her speech railing against Whitmer for everything from COVID-19 health policies to water issues in Benton Harbor.

“This is going to be an epic battle between a conservative businesswoman and mother, and a far-left birthing parent and career politician,” Dixon said.

Whitmer is a mother of two daughters. The “birthing parent” remark was ostensibly meant to be a jab at some on the left, including President Joe Biden, who have started to embrace more gender-neutral terms as a move toward LGBTQ+ inclusivity.

In a statement, Whitmer said Dixon has “made clear that she will drag Michigan backwards.”

“Dixon’s plans to ban abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, or health of the mother and throw nurses in jail, gut funding for public education, reverse progress rebuilding Michigan’s infrastructure and sow district in our democracy are dangerous for Michigan women and families,” Whitmer continued.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the State of the State address, Jan. 29, 2020 | Andrew Roth

Dixon is one of just five GOP gubernatorial candidates to make it onto the Aug. 2 ballot, after the state Bureau of Elections (BOE) kicked off five more gubernatorial hopefuls whose signature collecting campaigns were marred with fraud.

Financial adviser Michael Markey, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, businesswoman Donna Brandenburg, self-described “quality guru” Perry Johnson and Michigan State Police Capt. Michael Brown did not make it onto the ballot.

Dixon has been routinely criticized by her fellow GOP contenders for being “establishment,” as she has landed the endorsement and financial backing — to the tune of about $1 million — of the wealthy and politically influential DeVos family.

She also gained endorsements from GOP former Michigan Gov. John Engler, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), as well as powerful right-wing groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Right to Life of Michigan.

While other candidates vied for the Trump endorsement, Dixon was the only GOP gubernatorial candidate Trump mentioned by name during an April rally in Michigan. Trump praised her again during a fundraiser for Dixon in February.

All candidates have parroted Trump’s repeated lie that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Most, including Dixon, have falsely claimed that the election was stolen from Trump.

“Tonight we are dismayed to see the GOP celebrate and validate the gubernatorial candidacy of a well-known election denier, who has repeatedly shown she is a danger to our democracy,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of the nonpartisan group Voters Not Politicians.

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Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump and 11 other Republicans should be investigated for  seditious conspiracy — according to the former Michigan GOP director

State Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) joined the former head of the Michigan GOP and a national elections expert on Thursday to talk Jan. 6 committee hearings in the U.S. House, while doubling down on his call to have some of his GOP colleagues investigated.

“An assault on our democracy, to steal the vote from the people and subvert our election results in Michigan, is an assault on our nation and its founding ideals,” Tate said.

The Democrat joined Jeff Timmer, former Michigan GOP executive director who is now a consultant for both the Lincoln Project and Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s campaign; and Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) for the virtual press conference.

Tate last week introduced a House resolution urging the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate 11 Republican House members for the crime of seditious conspiracy.

State Reps. Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair Twp.), John Reilly (R-Oakland Twp.), Julie Alexander (R-Hanover), Matt Maddock (R-Milford), Daire Rendon (R-Lake City), Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan), Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton), Brad Paquette (R-Niles), Rodney Wakeman (R-Saginaw Twp.), Greg Markkanen (R-Hancock) and Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) all put their names to briefs in a failed lawsuit that sought to overturn election results.

Maddock, Rendon, Reilly, Griffin and Alexander also attempted to enter the Michigan Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, with a slate of 16 fake Republican electors.

During the virtual press conference Thursday, Tate said he has only had “brief interactions” with the Republicans who were named in his resolution since introducing it, but “nothing in terms of substance.” He did not elaborate what the interactions entailed.

When pressed on why he specifically believes the 11 state representatives may have committed the crime of seditious conspiracy — a federal offense that carries up to 20 years in prison — Tate said the members went against their oath of office to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution.

“For us not to look into this … it reduces the faith and confidence in our elected system as well as our democratic institutions,” Tate said.

Tate, Timmer and Bookbinder also discussed how former President Donald Trump and his allies, including in key states like Michigan, attempted to illegally overthrow the election in his favor. They cited the Jan. 6 House panel, which recently held its final hearing this summer and showcased what Trump failed to do during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The press conference was hosted by the Defend Democracy Project.

“I, at least, have been blown away by how much we have learned at every single one of those eight hearings, and particularly what we’ve learned in terms of the vast evidence of what Donald Trump and his allies knew,” Bookbinder said.

Reiterating that Trump knew he had rightfully lost the election but chose to pursue the election anyway, Bookbinder added: “When you have a president who seeks to stay in power, despite losing an election, despite the will of the people, that is an attempt to install a dictator. That is an attempt to install a dictatorship.”

Timmer served as the Michigan Republican Party Executive Director from 2005 to 2009. He left the party during the Trump era.

“I never thought I would have to be standing here, telling my former Republican colleagues that truth and facts matter,” Timmer said.

He shared that within conversations he’s had with high level officials in the Republican Party, those officials say that the “rhetoric from Trump on down about the stolen election has left them with no choice but to continue this … façade.”

“They know that there wasn’t fraud, that there weren’t irregularities, but they feel that they have no choice given where their base, where their voters come down on this issue.”

Timmer emphasized that this effort did not stop after Jan. 6, 2021, but it is a process that is “continuing.”

“There are still efforts being made to install election deniers in these county canvassing positions or equivalent in other states, where they’re looking to put in place people who will throw wrenches into the certification of the 2022 election and the 2024 election, depending on whether or not their side wins or loses.

“If democracy has to rely on who is counting the votes, rather than we all trust in the fairness of who’s counting the votes, we’re in real trouble.”

On Tate’s resolution to investigate the Michigan representatives, Bookbinder zeroed in on Maddock, Rendon, Reilly, Griffin and Alexander and said they could be particularly exposed to possible charges since they attempted to push through the slate of false electors.

“It is clear that the fake elector scheme is one that is of central interest to the Department of Justice,” Bookbinder said.

“The efforts to substitute false slates of electors seems straight down the middle violation of that federal offense, at the very least. So I think for Michigan state representatives who were centrally involved in those efforts to push through a false slate of electors, there really could be some exposure there.”



Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Mallory McMorrow drops the hammer with massive fundraising haul to flip Michigan state Senate: report

Following an eventful few months in the national spotlight, state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) announced Thursday that she has pulled in a more than $1 million fundraising haul to flip the GOP-controlled Michigan Senate.

Those funds from more than 11,000 donors came in over the last three months, McMorrow said.

“The Michigan Senate has been under GOP control longer than I’ve been alive,” she said in a statement. “Michiganders are sick and tired of an extremist minority rigging the system to hold onto power. With fair maps that finally align with the makeup of the state, we’re going to flip the Michigan Senate to give the power back to the people.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has highlighted both chambers of the Michigan Legislature as top national targets for Democrats to flip after the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) completed new maps for each of Michigan’s congressional, state Senate and state House districts months ago for the first time.

McMorrow is currently running for her second Senate term in a primary that pits her against state Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit), the only Michigan race that involves two sitting senators. The Royal Oak Democrat flipped her district blue when she won in 2018.

She became a burgeoning national figure in April, when her floor speech — hitting back against state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) for baselessly accusing her of sexualizing children by standing up for LGBTQ+ issues — went viral. The video now has more than 15.2 million views.

McMorrow received a supportive phone call from President Joe Biden several days later and has been featured in many national media stories.

Last week, she spoke at a U.S. congressional hearing about the dangers of a post-Roe v. Wade country. The senator had undergone a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure last year to remove a displaced IUD that had punctured through her uterus, and testified that she might have died if not for the physicians who knew how to perform abortion procedures.

McMorrow is also traveling to Iowa next month as a star guest at a Democratic fundraiser.

Political figures visiting Iowa usually sets off speculation about a possible presidential run.

The more than $1 million she has raised will be split between the Michigan Senate Democratic Fund, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, McMorrow’s leadership fund A More Perfect Michigan and McMorrow’s own candidate committee.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Michigan GOP gov. candidates infuse debate with conspiracies about Whitmer, voting and COVID

Four of the five remaining GOP candidates for governor squared off for a debate Thursday on Mackinac Island, with the discussion running the gamut from banning abortion to mass shootings, and from election fraud claims to slashing state spending.

Since the GOP gubernatorial candidates are unvaccinated against COVID-19, the event was held in an outdoor tent on the front lawn of the Grand Hotel as part of the Mackinac Island Policy Conference. Far-right activist Ryan Kelley boycotted the event in protest of the conference’s vaccine requirement, even though it had been waived for gubernatorial candidates and debate attendees.

Businessman Kevin Rinke, right-wing media personality Tudor Dixon, chiropractor Garrett Soldano and the Rev. Ralph Rebandt participated in the debate. The winner of the GOP primary will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 8.

Five candidates — financial adviser Michael Markey, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, businesswoman Donna Brandenburg, self-described “quality guru” Perry Johnson and Michigan State Police Capt. Michael Brown — have been kicked off the ballot as of now for not submitting enough valid signatures.

Following recent mass shootings like those in New York and Texas last month, the candidates were asked about guns in schools. They emphasized militarizing schools and tackling mental health issues as topline solutions to prevent further deaths instead of taking action on guns.

Polling has consistently shown support for gun control, such as a new Politico/Morning Consult survey showing 88% support universal background checks, 67% support an assault weapons ban and 84% support “red flag” laws.

“Our schools right now are a soft target. We have to make sure we harden our schools,” Dixon said, suggesting that some of the unused COVID-19 funds should be put toward that end.

Rinke suggested that former military members should train hall monitors, while Soldano said teachers should be armed and schools should only have one point of entry.

“We don’t have a gun problem; we have a mental health crisis,” Soldano said.

Rebandt took a different route and said that the issue of mass shootings stems from the fact that “we’ve taken God out of the classroom.”

Candidates also backed the Secure MI Vote initiative, which Republicans rolled out after Whitmer vetoed a slew of voter suppression bills put forward by the GOP-led Legislature. As many did at a debate in Livingston County last month, several hopefuls continued to espouse conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election that former President Donald Trump lost.

COVID-19 conspiracies also abounded, with most of those casting a negative light on Whitmer, similar to comments made at the Livingston County forum.

Soldano noted that in addition to supporting medical and religious waivers for COVID-19, he would add a “philosophical waiver” as an option to refuse the vaccine.

Dixon pledged to make sure all of the bills pass if she becomes governor.

Abortion was another area with little disagreement among the GOP candidates, who all oppose a ban and described themselves Thursday as “unapologetically pro-life.”

Earlier on Thursday, Whitmer was enthusiastically cheered by business leaders, lobbyists and lawmakers when she vowed in her keynote address to continue her fight for reproductive rights.

Michigan GOP gov. candidates infuse debate with conspiracies about Whitmer and voting

Four of the five remaining GOP candidates for governor squared off for a debate Thursday on Mackinac Island, with the discussion running the gamut from banning abortion to mass shootings, and from election fraud claims to slashing state spending.
Since the GOP gubernatorial candidates are unvaccinated against COVID-19, the event was held in an outdoor tent on the front lawn of the Grand Hotel as part of the Mackinac Island Policy Conference. Far-right activist Ryan Kelley boycotted the event in protest of the conference’s vaccine requirement, even though it had been waived for gubernatorial candidates and debate attendees.

Businessman Kevin Rinke, right-wing media personality Tudor Dixon, chiropractor Garrett Soldano and the Rev. Ralph Rebandt participated in the debate. The winner of the GOP primary will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 8.

Five candidates — financial adviser Michael Markey, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, businesswoman Donna Brandenburg, self-described “quality guru” Perry Johnson and Michigan State Police Capt. Michael Brown — have been kicked off the ballot as of now for not submitting enough valid signatures.

Following recent mass shootings like those in New York and Texas last month, the candidates were asked about guns in schools. They emphasized militarizing schools and tackling mental health issues as topline solutions to prevent further deaths instead of taking action on guns.

Polling has consistently shown support for gun control, such as a new Politico/Morning Consult survey showing 88% support universal background checks, 67% support an assault weapons ban and 84% support “red flag” laws.

“Our schools right now are a soft target. We have to make sure we harden our schools,” Dixon said, suggesting that some of the unused COVID-19 funds should be put toward that end.

Rinke suggested that former military members should train hall monitors, while Soldano said teachers should be armed and schools should only have one point of entry.

“We don’t have a gun problem; we have a mental health crisis,” Soldano said.

Rebandt took a different route and said that the issue of mass shootings stems from the fact that “we’ve taken God out of the classroom.”

Candidates also backed the Secure MI Vote initiative, which Republicans rolled out after Whitmer vetoed a slew of voter suppression bills put forward by the GOP-led Legislature. As many did at a debate in Livingston County last month, several hopefuls continued to espouse conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election that former President Donald Trump lost.

COVID-19 conspiracies also abounded, with most of those casting a negative light on Whitmer, similar to comments made at the Livingston County forum.

Soldano noted that in addition to supporting medical and religious waivers for COVID-19, he would add a “philosophical waiver” as an option to refuse the vaccine.

Dixon pledged to make sure all of the bills pass if she becomes governor.

Abortion was another area with little disagreement among the GOP candidates, who all oppose a ban and described themselves Thursday as “unapologetically pro-life.”

Earlier on Thursday, Whitmer was enthusiastically cheered by business leaders, lobbyists and lawmakers when she vowed in her keynote address to continue her fight for reproductive rights.

GOP candidates deemed ineligible as massive signature fraud scandal upends Michigan gubernatorial race

The state Bureau of Elections has recommended that five of the 10 Republican candidates hoping to oust Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should be kicked off the ballot prior to the Aug. 2 primary due to tens of thousands of forged signatures.

In total, elections staff identified 36 individual petition circulators who submitted fraudulent petition sheets with invalid signatures in at least 10 petition drives — submitting at least 68,000 invalid signatures total. Those petition drives included those for governor, circuit judge and district judge.

Staff are working to refer incidents of apparent fraud to law enforcement for criminal investigation.

This comes after many Republicans — including many in the GOP gubernatorial field — have questioned whether former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, despite President Joe Biden winning by more than 154,000 votes in Michigan. Many have spread conspiracy theories about unproven election fraud.

The bureau’s unprecedented report Monday night has already prompted at least one candidate, Michigan State Police Capt. Michael Brown, to formally withdraw from the race.

“It appears that after my campaign’s signature gathering was complete, individuals independently contracted for a portion of our signature gathering and validation jumped onto other campaigns and went on a money grab,” Brown said in a statement Tuesday morning, after his campaign manager initially contested the report the night before.

“I cannot and will not be associated with this activity. … I will exit the race for Michigan’s Governor with my integrity and this principle intact,” Brown said.

Brown, as well as financial adviser Michael Markey, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, businesswoman Donna Brandenburg and self-described “quality guru” Perry Johnson, all had signatures that the bureau recommended to be deemed insufficient as many were fraudulent.

Craig’s signatures had been challenged by Democrats and a superPAC supporting right-wing media personality Tudor Dixon. Democrats also challenged Johnson’s petitions.

The bureau OK’d petitions for Dixon, who is being backed by the billionaire DeVos family and had signatures that also were challenged by Democrats. Businessman Kevin Rinke, chiropractor Garrett Soldano, far-right activist Ryan Kelley and the Rev. Ralph Rebandt were the only other candidates to have their petitions recommended as sufficient.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers — which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans — is set to meet and take up the recommendations Thursday morning in what’s expected to be a contentious meeting in Lansing.

A Livingston County GOP debate earlier this month featured eight of the 10 candidates, with Craig and Brandenburg not attending. During a lightning round, hopefuls were asked if they “believe Donald Trump legitimately won the 2020 election.” Dixon, Kelley, Johnson, Rebandt and Soldano all said that he did.

Rinke and Johnson declined to answer with a simple yes or no, eliciting boos from the audience. Brown and Markey directly said he did not win the election.

The filing deadline for the signatures was April 19. The bureau said staff began to review nominating petitions at the end of March, and discovered early on that a large number of petition sheets submitted by certain circulators appeared fraudulent. Some consisted entirely of forged or otherwise invalid signatures.

Because of this, the bureau took on a more intensive process of review and released a supplemental report on the fraudulent activity Monday night.

Previously, signatures of dubious authenticity have been “scattered throughout petitions and relatively small in number.”

“The Bureau is unaware of another election cycle in which this many circulators submitted such a substantial volume of fraudulent petition sheets consisting of invalid signatures, nor an instance in which it affected as many candidate petitions as at present,” the bureau’s report reads.

Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Lavora Barnes issued a statement Tuesday morning calling for all candidates whose campaigns were touched by the fraud, including Dixon, to drop out.

“Their refusal to adhere to Michigan election law is disqualifying,” Barnes said. “If they refuse to withdraw, the Board of Canvassers should … [refuse] to certify these candidates. Michigan families deserve better than an irresponsible, radical slate of candidates who have repeatedly refused accountability for their lawless campaigns.”

The bureau noted in the report that there is currently no reason to believe that any of the candidates or campaigns were aware of the fraudulent activity. It went on to recommend that candidates and campaigns implement a quality control process prior to filing petitions.

A number of nominations for circuit judges, district judges and congressional races were also deemed insufficient. Paul Junge and state Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte), Republicans who are both running for the U.S. House, cleared the elections bureau hurdle and are recommended as having sufficient petitions.


Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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GOP lawmakers inject abortion fight into budget bills

The Michigan House and Senate passed a slew of budget bills this week, but not without Democratic pushback on controversial measures included by Republicans lawmakers.

One of the main sticking points for Democrats: Proposed budgets for Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that would greatly restrict abortion access and funding, as well as anti-trans language contained in another budget bill.

A leaked draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week indicated that the court’s GOP majority is likely to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that guarantees the right to safe abortions. Many Republicans have celebrated the draft opinion, while Democrats have made it clear that they intend to fight back on the state level.

That divide trickled into Michigan’s budget process this week.

Under the GOP House plan, state and federal funding would not be allocated to abortion providers and money would be funneled into promoting abortion “alternatives” like childbirth and adoption.

“With the U.S. Supreme Court possibly poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, these investments are even more urgent and necessary. It literally is a matter of life or death,” said House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell).

“We are offering a pro-life plan that supports pregnant mothers, including those with crisis pregnancies, and provides them with all their choices — not just the one ‘choice’ promoted by abortion advocates.”

However, Democrats lambasted Republicans’ “extremist political agenda.”

“The health and well-being of all Michiganders is our top priority,” Michigan House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, Republicans would rather use this budget to push an extremist political agenda, including restricting access to women’s health care.”

Bobby Leddy, a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who strongly backs abortion rights, declined to comment on budget negotiations and bills passed so far. He instead deferred to the budget office, which did not return a request for comment.

Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland) said this week that he expects the budget to be completed by late June or early July.

Michigan’s new budget year starts Oct. 1.

House Bill 5784 includes roughly $20 million for marketing and programs that promote childbirth and adoption as alternatives to abortion. It also prohibits using state funds to fund “any elective abortion,” and contains a number of additional measures that restrict health funding around abortion care.

But as state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) noted on Twitter, Republicans are seeking to greatly restrict one of those choices.

One amendment to the DHHS budget would suspend all Medicaid payments unless a measure is passed that removes abortion providers’ licenses. It passed along party lines.

“This is flat-out disgusting. I’m voting no,” Pohutsky tweeted.

Similarly, the Senate version of the DHHS budget bill (SB 828) contains language that would prohibit funding to entities providing elective abortion services, abortion counseling or abortion referrals. Subcontracts with entities that provide those services would also be blocked from receiving state funds.

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) attempted to have the language removed from the bill. Her amendment was struck down along party lines.

Whitmer is expected to reject the language in negotiations. She recently brought a lawsuit that she hopes will lead to the Michigan Supreme Court preserving abortion rights in the state, regardless of the fate of Roe v. Wade.

Democratic legislators speaking out against the bills on the floor also faced pushback during their remarks. State Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit) was gaveled down Wednesday by state Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.) for attempting to speak on the issue.

A similar incident in 2012 occurred when two Democratic former state representatives — also protesting highly restrictive abortion bills pushed by the GOP majority — were barred from speaking on the House floor for a day after speaking about vasectomies and saying the word, “vagina.”

The incident became known as “Vaginagate.” As Senate minority leader, Whitmer then helped organize a reading of “The Vagina Monologues” with playwright V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, on the Capitol lawn.

Lawmakers in the Senate began to pass budget bills Tuesday and finished adopting all 17 on Wednesday. Tuesday in particular was marked by Republicans striking down the vast majority of Democratic amendments, of which there were many.

All 17 Senate budget bills make up a total of $74.2 billion in gross spending. Many bills were adopted along or close to a party-line vote.

The School Aid fund (SB 832) comprises $17.9 billion of that total. Out of nearly a dozen Democratic House amendments put forward, only one was successfully adopted: A measure from state Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) to restore funding for Oxford Community Schools following last year’s mass shooting that left four teenagers dead.

That amendment, which would allocate $6 million to the schools, passed unanimously.

Other failed amendments to the School Aid fund include a measure to increase per-pupil spending by $1,000 and amendments to fund Whitmer’s budget recommendations for special education programs, teacher recruitment initiatives and school safety programs.

At one point, state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) lauded Republicans for their “attack on poor people and minorities” by rejecting amendments that would have addressed racial disparities in birth outcomes and more.

Senate Democrats offered 57 amendments to the Senate budgets on Tuesday alone. Among those, only eight were adopted.

While Republican senators were pleased with the outcome of the budget bills this week, Democrats and environmentalists also took issue with the lack of funding for environmental protections.

The GOP-led Senate’s proposed budget plans for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) — Senate bills 839 and 840— are nearly $150 million less than what Whitmer recommended in her budget proposal earlier this year.

“By voting to approve this version of the budget, some of our elected officials are making it clear that they value the wealthy individuals and corporations who fund their political action committees more than making our state a prosperous place for all,” said Mary Brady-Enerson, Michigan director of the Ann Arbor-based Clean Water Action.

The state House met Wednesday and Thursday. Most budget bills were similarly passed along party lines.

As in the Senate, many Democratic House amendments were shot down that would have funded initiatives to combat race-based health disparities, retain and expand the state’s behavioral health care workforce, support jail diversion programs and more.

House Republicans also rejected amendments to House Bill 5783, the “general government” budget, which Democrats say would have protected reproductive freedom.

“These budgets reek of political posturing and point-scoring from top to bottom,” Lasinski said. “We can pass budgets that work for the hardworking families in Michigan — we’ve done it before as a bipartisan body and with the same divided government.

“… But the Republican majority is more interested in cramming these bills with divisive, incendiary language intended to drum up the extremists in their base and those hellbent on stoking a culture war in this country than they are in working to support Michigan’s communities,” Lasinski continued.

House Democrats also decried anti-trans language written into the chamber’s School Aid budget plan. House Bill 5795 would revoke a school district’s annual funding if it allowed transgender girls from participating in school sports with their peers.

It is not the first piece of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation proposed by GOP lawmakers this year.

“This is a blatant attack on the very basic rights of all kids and is a cynical maneuver by extremists in our legislature to score political points at the expense of kids,” said Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan.

Albert said in a statement Thursday that the House budget proposal pays down debt, invests in schools and more.

“The old saying goes ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst’ — this budget plan does both,” Albert said. “It provides what Michiganders need right now to battle inflation, help kids catch up on lost learning, and put families in the best position for success. It also is a financially sound plan that will benefit schools and communities for years to come without burdening our children and grandchildren with massive debt.”

The House plan also sets aside $750,000 in the general government budget for the Legislature to defend MCL 750.14, Michigan’s 1931 abortion law that will spring back into effect if Roe is overturned.

The law bans abortions in the state under all circumstances except to protect the life of the mother.


Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump-loving candidate blames election loss on 'coup' from 'RINO establishment'

The day after far-right Republican Robert Regan lost a special state House election Tuesday in a surprise upset, Regan blamed establishment Republicans for his loss during a radio talk show appearance.

“This was a big, big win for … quite frankly, the RINO [Republican in Name Only] establishment, who’s proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they would rather have a Democrat in office than an American-first Republican candidate like me,” Regan said on “Trucker Randy” Bishop’s radio show Wednesday.

Bishop, a longtime GOP activist who filed to run for state Senate as a Democrat, agreed and said there was a “coup” to make sure Regan didn’t win on Tuesday.

Regan faced backlash and lost some GOP establishment support during his campaign after saying that he tells his daughters “if rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it.” He also called the war in Ukraine “a fake war just like the fake pandemic,” and shared a meme claiming that feminism is a “Jewish program to degrade and subjugate white men.”

Democrat Carol Glanville defeated Regan on Tuesday. She said the Republican’s “extreme, violent and antisemetic views” have no place in the House district that includes suburbs around Grand Rapids like Grandville, Rockford and Walker.

The House seat had been left vacant after former state Rep. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) won a special Senate election in 2021. Glanville’s win in the heavily red district marks the first state legislative flip of 2022 nationwide.

While speaking on Bishop’s show Wednesday, Regan said “establishment” Republicans are “trying to destroy” him.

In contrast, Regan said he and others like him are “street fighters” who “don’t mind getting dirty.”

“We need men and women that are willing to get dirty, get down in there and really go after these people. Because that’s what it’s gonna take,” Regan said. “Kind of how [former President] Donald Trump was, you’ve got to be willing to take and throw punches and go after these people.

“… You have to be willing to fight these people because they are downright evil, and they do not have our best interests at heart and they want to destroy our republic,” he added.

Regan also spoke at length about the long-debunked conspiracy theory that President Joe Biden did not rightfully win the 2020 presidential election.

“There is no way that Joe Biden won Michigan,” Regan falsely claimed.

Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes.

Regan then claimed that he is in contact with active and retired “constitutional sheriffs around the state,” like Barry County’s Dar Leaf, who are planning to hold state officials accountable for widespread election fraud (which does not exist).

So-called constitutional sheriffs are anti-government, militia-friendly sheriffs that have openly declared their refusal to uphold state orders like guns at polls, COVID-19 orders and more.

“We’re working with the sheriffs and we’re working from the legal aspect to hold their feet to the fire because clearly, our RINO elected legislators, they’re not doing anything,” he said.

Regan said he plans to connect with far-right commentator Dinesh D’Souza and “his investigators” to dig up evidence for the sheriffs.

He also said his supporters are planning to “take over” the Kent County Republican Party via precinct delegate elections on Aug. 2.

In response to Regan’s radio appearance, Michigan GOP spokesperson Gustavo Portela tweeted Wednesday that Regan was “possibly the worst candidate I’ve ever seen.”

“There’s no room in our party for someone like him, advocating for violence against women,” Portela said, adding that Republicans will “win this seat back.”


Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican Lana Theis defends targeting McMorrow in fundraising email with anti-LGBT attack

State Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) on Thursday defended her fundraising email Monday that accused state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) and other Democrats of “grooming” and “sexualizing” children. But she briefly admitted during a radio appearance that the language was “clunky” and could have been “written differently.”

Still, Theis — who quipped she is “having an interesting week” — told WJR-AM radio hosts Tom Jordan and Kevin Dietz Thursday that she stands by her accusation of Democrats being “groomers” for being willing to teach their children about LGBTQ+ issues.

“People get so upset about that word, and they try to redefine it as ‘pedophile,’” Theis said. “… I’m sorry that the left has tried to spin it.”

Theis sparked days of headlines when she gave an invocation last week prior to session, claiming children are “under attack” from “forces that desire things for them other than what their parents would have them see and hear and know.”

McMorrow and other Democrats walked out in protest and spoke out on Twitter about the remarks, which referenced the nationwide GOP effort to crack down on teachings that reference LGBTQ+ issues.

Theis then specifically named McMorrow in a fundraising email Monday that insinuated she and other Democrats groom and sexualize children. The language echoed ideas aligned with the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory.

“Progressive social media trolls like Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Snowflake) who are outraged they can’t … groom and sexualize kindergarteners or that 8-year-olds are responsible for slavery,” the email reads.

McMorrow denounced the email in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, earning her viral status on Twitter, a retweet from the likes of Hillary Clinton, several media appearances on MSNBC and almost $300,000 donations to her campaign, per Politico.

McMorrow said Wednesday that Theis has not reached out to her. She did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Theis has not responded to numerous requests for comment from the Advance and has not spoken with reporters in person about the incident.

She ducked out of session early on Wednesday, took a phone call after a committee hearing Thursday morning, left the chamber promptly after a quick session that afternoon and was absent for her second committee meeting of that day.

However, Theis did speak to WJR Thursday morning. She said she defines “groomers” as “people who are working to desensitize the sexualization of children, creating comfort in the child for sexual issues and working to create a rift between the child and the parent so the children’s protective system is no longer available to them.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, grooming is a method used by offenders that involves befriending and building trust with a child and the adults around them with the goal of sexually assaulting or abusing the child.

“I would have had that language to be written differently,” Theis admitted regarding the email. “… But you should never be providing inappropriate sexual content to a child.”

She falsely claimed that parents who support teaching children about LGBTQ+ issues want libraries to have “pornographic material in them,” and “[make] those required reading for our children.”

“… [McMorrow] walked out on my prayer where I was asking for God’s protection on our children,” Theis said.

“She’s earning money off it, so OK, I guess, but I’m still going to stand with the parents. … I’m not going to back down from that.”

Theis, who is facing a tough primary challenge from former President Trump-endorsed Republican Mike Detmer, has previously introduced anti-trans legislation to require high schools to ban transgender boys from cisgender boys’ sports teams and transgender girls from cisgender girls’ teams.


Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.