GOP lawmakers turn on former Michigan House speaker after sex abuse scandal rocks the legislature

State House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare), who succeeded former House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), didn’t talk on Wednesday about the sexual assault accusations against his predecessor. But other GOP House members, including the legislator who took over Chatfield’s seat, are speaking out.

“I know nothing more than anybody else does about this. I’m just disgusted by what I’m reading,” said state Rep. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs), who was elected in 2020 to the 107th House District to take Chatfield’s seat, as the former speaker was term-limited.

Lee Chatfield, who took office in 2015, was elected to lead the lower chamber in 2018 and served until 2020, is accused of sexually assaulting his sister-in-law for more than a decade — beginning when she was a child.

The Michigan State Police (MSP) is investigating the complaint, which was first filed with the Lansing Police Department (LPD) on Dec. 24, 2021. It includes allegations that Lee Chatfield, now 33, began sexually assaulting Rebekah Chatfield, now 26, when she was 14 or 15 years old and continued to until about July 2021.

Lee Chatfield was previously a teacher, coach and athletic director at Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake, where Rebekah Chatfield attended as a student. That’s where she alleges the first assaults took place.

Rebekah Chatfield is married to Lee Chatfield’s brother, Aaron Chatfield, who has supported her in the allegations. Lee Chatfield has denied the allegations through his attorney and characterized their relationship as a consensual, adult “affair.”

The age of consent in Michigan is 16 and that rises to 18 if the perpetrator is an educator at the school.

“I never had any reason to believe any of this stuff was going on at all. Again, I’ve been totally shocked by it, and I’m really horrified by what I’m reading,” Damoose told reporters at the state Capitol Wednesday.

“Literally, what I’m reading, I hate. It’s not what we’re meant to do,” the Republican continued. “… This is a serious job that we need to take seriously.”

State Rep. Robert Bezotte (R-Howell), former Livingston County sheriff, told reporters Wednesday that the allegations are “very disturbing.”

“I’ve handled many of these cases and you have to let the investigation run its course. … In the meantime, from my standpoint in my district. … It’s very embarrassing. It’s unfortunate,” Bezotte said.

“Certainly, when situations like this come up like it has in the past, it’s embarrassing for all of us on both sides of the aisle.”

Bezotte said he thinks there should be an internal investigation in the House into whether Lee Chatfield misused his office resources. Damoose declined to say whether he agrees, but said police are handling the investigation right now and “this is just the beginning of all of this.”

“This has taken all of us by shock here, and we’ll have to let the police do their job and see what happens. But again, I mean, as the details are coming out, I think everybody in this room is a little sick,” Damoose said.

According to Rebekah Chatfield’s complaint, the Capitol was the site of one alleged sexual assault. Lee Chatfield pressured Rebekah Chatfield into sex in his Capitol office while her husband went out to grab pizzas, she told Bridge Michigan.

Wentworth was not available to speak with reporters Wednesday during session, nor was Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), who worked closely with Chatfield in opposing much of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s agenda as they led their chambers during 2019 and 2020. Lee Chatfield, Shirkey and Wentworth were among the lawmakers who met with former President Trump in November 2020, which is now being investigated by the Jan. 6 special U.S. House Committee. Lee Chatfield and other lawmakers were photographed drinking champagne at the Trump Hotel afterward.

Wentworth spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro — who also worked as Lee Chatfield’s spokesperson — said the focus right now is helping police with their investigations.

“At this point, everybody’s trying to gather more information and see what the situation really is. But with MSP and LPD looking into it, the focus is gonna be right now on helping them and getting them whatever they need,” D’Assandro said. “… We want to make sure that no one’s in their way.”

Wentworth has ordered all House members and staff to retain any documents that may be of interest to the pending investigation, including emails, memos, calendars and voicemails.

D’Assandro said the move was “preemptive” to help with the investigations.

“Right now, the focus is on holding that information for any potential investigation by MSP or LPD if they need those records,” D’Assandro said, adding that it is “too soon to say” whether the House will launch an investigation of its own once the other investigations are concluded.

House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) was not available to speak with reporters Wednesday, and instead issued a brief, printed-out statement. “These charges are extremely serious. This investigation must proceed quickly and without impediment,” Lasinski said.

State Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.) elaborated on her Thursday tweet that questioned whether the alleged assaults had anything to do with her sexual assault statute of limitations bills not being taken up for a hearing under Lee Chatfield’s leadership.

“Those comments are tongue-in-cheek. … I don’t have any personal knowledge of anything; I never had any personal conversations with him, so I think it’s probably not appropriate for me to comment on anything that he did in relation to the bills,” Brixie said.

“… But it does make you scratch your head and wonder, ‘Why aren’t we doing anything about this?’”

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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

New Kellogg offer gives ‘no gain overall’ for workers, per plant manager’s leaked email

Publicly, cereal giant Kellogg has insisted that it has “made every effort to reach a fair agreement” with its 1,400 striking union employees, boasting each time that the tentative agreements include “no concessions or takeaways” from the union.

But a leaked email obtained by the Advance Friday from a plant manager in Battle Creek frames the latest tentative offer announced Thursday much differently. Union workers, who have been on strike since Oct. 5, are expected to vote this weekend.

“In short, [the] overall bucket of money (cost) stays the same. Just shifts money from one bucket to another. No gain overall for them with 3 more weeks of strike and no income. No ratification bonus,” the Friday email from plant manager Gregory Jackson reads.

Kellogg faces pushback from Biden, Redditors as union strike continues

“… I know everyone is tired and tense in the plant, please try to focus on what we need to do. Please try to keep negotiations talk to a minimum in the plant around the workers.”

Jackson had ostensibly sent the message to just his immediate staff and supervisors below him, but several Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) workers on strike also obtained the email and shared it with the Advance on Friday. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) held a rally in Battle Creek to support the strike that afternoon.

“My characterization of the deal was taken out of context. But let me be clear, the tentative agreement is more than fair and should be ratified,” Jackson said in an emailed statement provided by Kellogg Friday night.*

The BCTGM employees at four Kellogg plants, including 325 in Battle Creek, primarily seek an end to the company’s two-tier wage and benefits system, with newer workers receiving far less than their more experienced counterparts.

None of the company’s seven offers so far have included that concession. Union workers already voted down one offer earlier this month.

Donivan Williams, a member of the BCTGM Local 3G Executive Board, said Jackson’s words “don’t surprise me at all.”

“It’s appalling. But I’m not surprised at all,” Williams said, adding that it appeared Jackson was “comforting them [his staff] with our [union workers’] pain.”

“The strike vote went over so easily because of the way that people have been treated, and people are just being tired of being treated in that way,” he said.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Jackson has worked for Kellogg in some capacity since 2006. He has previously worked at the company’s locations in Ohio and Tennessee before becoming the Battle Creek plant manager in 2019.

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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Federal gov. launches first-ever database for missing and murdered Indigenous people

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has launched a new website dedicated to investigating missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native people around the country, the first of its kind offered by the federal government.

In Michigan and elsewhere, Native American murders are the least likely of any racial group to be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Before the BIA’s announcement Friday, there existed no national database of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

At the same time, Native Americans face disproportionately higher rates of murder, violence and sex trafficking; Indigenous women face a murder rate 10 times higher than the national average, while about 84% experience some form of violence in their lifetimes.

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland created the Missing and Murdered Unit (MMU) within her department in spring and has since made the issue a top priority. Haaland is the first Indigenous person to lead the agency.

BIA Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland, a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan, also has been working on the issue closely.

In the new database, viewers can see a list of missing or murdered cases around the country along with case details and photos of each individual submitted by their family. There are also links to submit a tip or report information for a case, as well as information about the crisis.

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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Union workers ‘overwhelmingly’ reject latest Kellogg deal

The nine week-long workers’ strike against cereal giant Kellogg is set to continue, following a weekend vote in which 1,400 Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) employees “overwhelmingly” rejected the company’s latest proposal.

That tentative deal reached on Wednesday had proposed 3% raises, enhanced benefits and an “accelerated” path for new workers to secure their spot as “legacy” rather than “transitional” employees.

But the union workers at four cereal plants around the country, including 325 workers in Battle Creek, have been striking primarily for the permanent end of that two-tier system. They rejected the deal on Sunday.

“The members have spoken. The strike continues. The International Union will continue to provide full support to our striking Kellogg’s members,” BCTGM International President Anthony Shelton said Tuesday.

The union workers in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Tennessee have been on strike since midnight on Oct. 5 when their master contract with Kellogg expired.

As Kellogg strike stretches past 3 weeks, workers say they’ve noted lack of GOP lawmaker support

“After weeks of negotiations, members were given the opportunity to vote on a tentative agreement to end the strike and they overwhelmingly voted it down,” said BCTGM Local 3G President Trevor Bidelman.

“Our members are strong-willed, and they understand the importance of fighting for a truly FAIR contract. They will not be deterred until our demands for better wages, safer working conditions, and an end to the two-tiered wage system are met. One day longer, one day stronger.”

Ron Beiber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, said the state federation of labor “is dedicated to stand with our BCTGM brothers and sisters through the Kellogg Strike, no matter how long it takes.

“Strikes are tough, but the solidarity of Michigan’s labor movement is powerful and this was proven by the constant visits to the Battle Creek picket line, and countless monetary, food and goods donations made to Local 3G. We’re damn proud of the solidarity shown by Michigan’s labor unions, and that solidarity will continue until BCTGM members have a fair contract,” Beiber continued.

The AFL-CIO is the state federation of labor that represents about one million active and retired members of 59 unions in Michigan.

In a statement on its website, Kellogg said it is “disappointed” that the tentative agreement was not ratified by employees and argued that the proposed deal “included no concessions or takeaways.”

“We have made every effort to reach a fair agreement, including making six offers to the union throughout negotiations, all which have included wage and benefits increases for every employee. It appears the union created unrealistic expectations for our employees,” Kellogg said.

The company once again emphasized that it is actively looking to hire permanent replacement workers in positions vacated by striking employees.

As of Tuesday, there are no further meetings or bargaining sessions scheduled between the parties.

“Given that the strike will continue, our focus must continue to be on executing the next phase of our contingency plan,” Kellogg said.

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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Kellogg talks to resume Tuesday as union strike nears 8 weeks

Negotiations between union workers and cereal giant Kellogg are set to restart this week, as workers at the company’s four cereal plants in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Tennessee near two months of striking for better wages, better hours and the end of a two-tier pay scale.

Prior to the day before Thanksgiving, talks had come to a standstill between the two parties. Kellogg’s “last best final offer” to the union expired without a vote just before noon on Nov. 11 without plans for further negotiation, while the company announced that it was seeking to permanently hire replacement workers.

According to the company’s website, the union reached out to Kellogg the morning of Nov. 24 to offer new dates for negotiations. Kellogg said it agreed to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Kellogg strike encompasses about 1,400 union workers at four cereal plants around the country, including 325 workers in Battle Creek. The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) employees began striking at midnight on Oct. 5 as their master contract with the company expired.

Last week, the Michigan AFL-CIO released a statement highlighting the pay disparity between Kellogg CEO Steve Cahillane and a median worker at his company before the Thanksgiving holiday.

“With the substantial pay disparity, CEO Steve Cahillane can afford to buy Thanksgiving dinner for all 31,000 employees of Kellog for the next seven years on his personal salary alone,” the release notes, citing the AFL-CIO’s annual Executive Paywatch Report revealing that Cahillane was paid 279 times more than the median worker at Kellogg ($11,663,852 in 2021 versus $41,815).

Picketing workers are fighting to get rid of a two-tier wage and benefits system between “legacy” workers and newer “transitional” employees, as well as better work schedules.

The last offer from Kellogg that expired on Nov. 11 had still included a two-tier system, albeit a more temporary version, along with enhanced benefits and wage increases for all employees.

A union vote was not taken on that offer.

There has been support from some lawmakers and officials, mostly Democrats, as workers battle to keep pressure on Kellogg.

“Good morning @KelloggCompany, please give your workers a fair contract,” tweeted state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) on Monday, adding that Crispix cereal “won’t taste the same” without BCTGM.

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) retweeted Irwin’s video, asking Kellogg to “do the right thing … your workers deserve a fair contract! #Solidarity.”

Support has also come from Attorney General Dana Nessel, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and Bernie Sanders; (I-Vt.) and more than a dozen state lawmakers.

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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP-led Michigan Senate passes measure slamming DOJ probe of school board threats

On a party-line vote, the Michigan Senate on Tuesday adopted a GOP measure condemning the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for investigating and strategizing about how to deal with increasing threats to school board members and teachers.

The threats and harassment by right-wing protestors at schools have largely centered around their opposition to mask requirements and discussions of race in school. Prompted by a since-revoked letter from the National School Boards Association asking President Joe Biden for help, the DOJ on Oct. 4 directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to coordinate with local law enforcement to look into threats, intimidation and harassment targeting school officials and teachers.

Senate Resolution 86 defends the protestors, arguing that such a probe “inhibit[s] parents' constitutional right to free speech."

“Instead of going after marginalized parents for exercising their First Amendment rights to express themselves and petition their government, we should be listening to them and rooting out divisive critical race theory and forced mandates that threaten our students' education," said state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), the bill's sponsor.

Theis went on to say the DOJ's memo is a “scare tactic" that would “weaponize" the FBI against concerned parents.

“They aren't terrorists," Theis said, adding that she thinks the probe would undermine and have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

State Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia), last month introduced Senate Bill 689 to increase penalties for anyone who assaults or endangers school staff or school board members. Polehanki's bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on Oct. 14.

She released a statement after Tuesday's vote pushing back against Theis' resolution.

“Educators, administrators, and school board members across our state and country have faced a near impossible task because of a pandemic my Republican colleagues have refused to fully acknowledge, and this resolution outright endorses the hostility they face now, too," Polehanki said.

“When it comes to wearing masks, encouraging students to learn about all aspects of our nation's history, or protecting students who identify as gay or trans, it is clear my Republican colleagues' reaction with rage, rather than reconciliation, has no end. This divisive discourse needs to stop."

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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Republicans parrot conspiracies at Trump-endorsed Michigan rally for so-called election 'audit'

At the urging of former President Donald Trump, a crowd of about 400 supporters flocked to the Michigan Capitol steps Tuesday to spend the cloudy afternoon demanding a “transparent forensic audit" of the 2020 presidential election that the one-term GOP president lost.

GOP activists in Michigan and other states have called for an Arizona-style audit. Experts said the chaotic and often opaque process did not meet professional standards. But it (again) found no evidence of fraud and that now-President Joe Biden won the state, even though Trump and other supporters have lied that it did.

Biden defeated Trump by more than 154,000 votes in Michigan.

According to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office, more than 250 state and local audits have confirmed the accuracy and integrity of Michigan's election, and none have come up with any evidence of widespread voter fraud.

The Lansing event featured familiar figures from conspiracy-laden events committee hearings thanking “patriots" for their Trump votes and repeatedly calling for the state's long-confirmed election results to be reexamined.

They included state Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), who has introduced legislation for an “audit"; state Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City); ex-state Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton), who has championed himself as an expert while propping up debunked election conspiracies; right-wing talk show host Randy Bishop, a.k.a. “Trucker Randy"; and so-called “Dominion whistleblower" Mellissa Carone, who testified to state lawmakers alongside Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani in December.

The rally was emceed by Janice Daniels, a former Troy mayor who was elected during the tea party wave, but was successfully recalled after making a series of homophobic comments.

Speakers and attendees repeated false claims about 5G “chips" in voting software, conspiracies about the voting software company Dominion being in on an effort to fix the vote, so-called “phantom voters" and more “evidence" that speakers say points to Democrats stealing the election from Trump.

Messages on signs ranged from “Trump won" and “F-ck Biden" to anti-mask and anti-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sentiments. Some depicted Whitmer as Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler, while others showed Biden's face transposed onto images of the late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Speakers told the more than 300 attendees to not give up on their efforts to support Trump and demand a full election audit.

At one point, speakers announced that Benson was “in the audience" and offered that she take the mic and explain the so-called voter fraud. Some audience members held up signs scrawled with messages like “Benson for prison," while event organizers repeatedly and baselessly insinuated that the Democratic official willfully broke election laws.

Benson was not present and a spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment. It appears that attendees mistook her for House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.), who was screamed at and booed by Trump supporters on her way into her Capitol office.

“Today, we heard state elected officials wearing QAnon insignias spew the same kind of inflammatory rhetoric that brought men armed with assault rifles to these very steps last year," Lasinski said in a statement afterwards.

“… The behavior we saw today is not just embarrassing for our state, it's downright dangerous. Efforts like this to undermine faith in our democracy are no longer just about overturning the 2020 election, they're about eroding trust and laying the groundwork to overturn the next election," Lasinski continued.

According to the Detroit News, Rendon was seen wearing a pin with a “Q" flag symbolizing the pervasive right-wing QAnon conspiracy theory that is rooted in anti-Semitic tropes and revolves around Trump hunting down and eventually killing Democratic politicians and wealthy liberals who lead double lives as Satan-worshipping cannibals running a child sex trafficking ring.

“Now we've seen the evidence [of election fraud]. … We've seen a lot of evidence. Why doesn't anyone else want to see it?" Rendon said on stage Tuesday, without offering details of the evidence.

Rendon was one of several Michigan lawmakers who sought to disrupt the state's Electoral College vote in December by submitting an illegal slate of GOP “electors." She has also been involved in legal efforts to overturn the election and challenge election results.

Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Lavora Barnes released a statement Tuesday excoriating the rally and attaching a picture of Rendon wearing the QAnon flag pin during what appears to be a legislative committee hearing.

“Representative Rendon simply continues to spiral further into bogus, dangerous, and violent conspiracy theories about the 2020 election," Barnes said. “… If she is so convinced by her own bogus conspiracy theories about the 2020 election results, then she should just resign. Michiganders and our democracy would certainly be better for it."

The House and Senate did not hold regular sessions with attendance and votes on Tuesday. Spokespersons for both Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) said the decision was not related to the coinciding Trump rally outside.

“Not in the least," Shirkey spokesperson Abby Mitch told the Advance in an email Monday. “Both caucuses' floor leaders made it clear they had members who wanted to attend the funeral of Rep [Andrea] Schroeder [R-Independence Twp.]," Mitch said.

Schroeder died of stomach cancer on Oct. 1.

Colbeck, as he has done before at legislative committee hearings since the 2020 election, repeated unsubstantiated claims to the crowd about Democrats purposefully exploiting weaknesses in the election system to change the votes.

“That allows one person with an IV drip of Red Bull to go off and modify and select the next leader of the free world," Colbeck said. He went on to characterize Benson's efforts to send out absentee ballot applications — not ballots themselves — as “good old-fashioned ballot stuffing."

Trump-backed Kalamazoo attorney Matthew DePerno also spoke. DePerno, who plans to run against Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel in 2022, said Nessel worked with Benson to orchestrate a scheme and fraud the election.

“I have been threatened by Dana Nessel," DePerno said, without evidence, amid chants of “lock her up," before launching into talking points that ranged from blasting “socialism" to ending critical race theory, which is not part of the curriculum in Michigan schools.


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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Pro-Trump attorney helps Michigan poll challengers sue Dominion over cease and desist letters

With the help of a pro-Trump attorney, a group of disgruntled former 2020 Michigan poll challengers has launched a lawsuit against voting machine company Dominion for allegedly harming them with cease and desist letters.

Kurt Olsen, a Maryland lawyer who aided attempts to illegally overturn the 2020 election for former President Donald Trump, is leading the effort. Olsen was allegedly dumped by his former law firm this summer.

Dominion, a voting hardware and software manufacturer that provides vote tabulator machines to most counties in Michigan, has been the target of attacks and conspiracy theories from Trump supporters since the ex-GOP president lost to President Joe Biden in November. The company has since sued figures and networks that have propped up those conspiracies, including Fox News and former Trump attorney Sidney Powell.

The company has not, however, sued any of the eight plaintiffs involved in the new case. The former Michigan election challengers instead argue that Dominion sent them harmful cease and desist letters warning them against “defaming Dominion" after the plaintiffs voiced their concerns about the voting process in affidavits, but allegedly did not mention Dominion.

The notices they received from Dominion left them “consumed with a sense of fear," the lawsuit reads, and “clearly damaged."

Litigant Kathleen Daavettila writes in the complaint that she was “in fear of her life and that of her unborn child" upon receiving a letter.

Dominion also sent a notice to former state Sen. Pat Colbeck (R-Canton) at the time — a primary figure in the right-wing effort to sow doubt in Michigan's 2020 election process — warning Colbeck to retract his remarks in lawsuits that falsely blamed Dominion for stealing the election from Trump.

The new lawsuit against Dominion alleges that the company violated the civil provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, engaged in a civil conspiracy and deprived the litigants of numerous constitutional rights.

Celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz is also reportedly an advisor and consultant on the case. Dershowitz served on Trump's legal defense team during the former president's 2020 impeachment trial.

Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who continues to push 2020 election conspiracies, is named on the affidavit as an alleged victim of Dominion's cease and desist action, though he is not formally listed as a party on the case.

Olsen, the lead attorney for the lawsuit, had unsuccessfully attempted to convince former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to help overturn the 2020 election for Trump at the U.S. Supreme Court.

A spokesperson for Dominion did not immediately return a request for comment.

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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Nurse with breakthrough COVID says Michigan GOP has turned pandemic into a 'bloodsport'

Julia Pulver, a registered nurse from West Bloomfield who's twice run for the Legislature as a Democrat, already had a lot to say about public health policy.

Now, after emerging from a breakthrough COVID-19 case last week, Pulver talked to the Advance Monday about how individual health choices affect the public, the importance of vaccinations in the face of “inevitable" exposure to COVID-19, the politicization of the virus and anti-vaxxers in the medical field.

“We had one shot," Pulver said. “This past year was our one shot, ever since the vaccine became widely available, to tamp it down and shut it down and make sure it didn't continue to have different variants. … [But] this virus is winning."

Pulver, who has four children aged 14,13, 12 and 9, was immediately worried when her husband, Ben, contracted the virus at work. He's a personal chef and had worked in moderately close contact with a new, unvaccinated chef for about 10 hours.

Drawing on her medical expertise, Pulver diligently kept a family health chart to monitor everyone's symptoms and vitals. But as her husband began to feel better, Pulver realized she was becoming symptomatic herself.

“I'm happy to report that [Ben and I] were able to contain it to just the two of us. And it did not spread anywhere else. We made sure our COVID died with us," she said.

The Pulvers and their three oldest children are all fully vaccinated, but their youngest isn't, as children under 12 years old have not yet been approved to receive shots.

“It's sort of inevitable, and that's where we're at right now. It's not a matter of if you encounter COVID; it's when. It's when you encounter COVID, and are you protected," Pulver said.

Someone is considered to have a COVID breakthrough case upon receiving a positive test 14 or more days after being fully vaccinated. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 14, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reports that less than 1% of Michiganders who were fully vaccinated met this case definition — 28,974 individuals.

Health experts warn cases like these are to be expected, as no vaccine is 100% effective at preventing illness and the highly contagious Delta variant has spread across the country. But vaccinations typically make illness less severe for those breakthrough cases, in addition to lowering the risk of infection, hospitalization and death.

As of Monday, a total of 1,015,802 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 20,898 have died from the virus.

Pulver counts herself and her husband lucky. As they were both fully vaccinated, they each only experienced the worst symptoms in a span of about six days and did not need hospitalization. For the unvaccinated, those symptoms are more likely to be more severe and prolonged.

But the experience also made her brutally aware of the far-reaching consequences that just one unvaccinated person can pass on to many others.

When you overrun a hospital system, it's not just the COVID patients that suffer. It's everyone else.

– Julia Pulver

“This has now made a profound impact on our family," Pulver said. “And it was because that one person decided that he didn't want to get vaccinated, and he wanted to go hang out with his other family who were likely unvaccinated and then come to work with my husband. So he made that choice for us."

The school guidelines for Pulver's youngest daughter also require that a student living in a house with COVID-positive people cannot return to school for 20 days.

“He made the choice for us to get sick and to keep my kid out of school for three whole weeks of fourth-grade education," Pulver said.

Pulver first ran for the state Senate in 2018, losing to state Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake). Last year, she unsuccessfully challenged state Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.), who has said he's running for attorney general in 2022.

She said she's dismayed by Republicans' approach to the pandemic, arguing that “they don't know how to deal with this."

“Things that were at one point controversial are now just completely common and common sense. And we're at one of those junctures again, but the scary part is not everybody has the same goal," Pulver said. “And that is what is terrifying to me. … The Michigan GOP have turned this into a bloodsport."

Using science to combat COVID-19

As an RN, Pulver's view of ideal public policy while staring down the barrel of a deadly pandemic is methodical: Vaccinate; test; trace; isolate; repeat.

“That is how we get this thing down to where we can snuff it out," and only have small pockets of the virus pop up, Pulver said. “But people have to be willing to do the work — which is not even that much to ask. [Vaccines are] free. It's convenient."

Pulver received her bachelor of science degree from Western Michigan University and is currently working on a master of science in nursing administration from Capella University.

She has worked at many different medical posts since 2006 — from being a nurse in several different hospitals and newborn intensive care units (NICUs) to currently being one of three co-founders and managing partners of a hospital consulting company.

With her medical background, public health policy was Pulver's primary platform during both of her runs for state office.

A large part of her current frustration is the wealth of misinformation about COVID-19 that continues to hinder progress on eradicating it. That includes conspiracy theories about the safety and efficacy of vaccines — even, inexplicably, from some nurses and doctors.

“This is not new. This is not new technology," Pulver said of vaccines. “This is not even a new concept; we have eradicated so many preventable diseases with vaccines. But you would think that this was a novel idea. And it's not. It is a centuries old idea that is proven, and it works. And we have successfully rid the world of certain diseases because of really great vaccine programs. Let's do that again."

To target some Michiganders' hesitancy to vaccinate or even wear face masks, Pulver said she wishes public officials would frame things like mask mandates as a positive way to take care of your community and family, as opposed to something the state is forcing individuals to do.

She also would like to see more pushback on COVID-19 misinformation, particularly when it is coming from the mouths of officials who residents look up to for guidance.

Your immune system is your own personal army. And if you're not giving them the training (vaccines) they need to kill the enemies, then you just led your soldiers into an ambush.

– Julia Pulver

For those vaccine-hesitant Michiganders who don't view a vaccine as worthwhile if there is still a chance to contract a breakthrough case, Pulver says to them: “We're still here. That's the difference."

Pulver said she knew a woman who caught COVID-19 around the same time she did. She was roughly the same age and also was the mother of four children around the same age as Pulver's brood.

“The difference is, I'm alive and talking to you right now. And that woman is unfortunately dead and has left four kids behind," Pulver said. “And she's not alone — we keep seeing cases like this over and over again."

Since COVID-19 and variants are so widespread across the state and the rest of the country, Pulver said it is essentially a “mathematical certainty" that everyone comes into contact with the virus at some point.

And when they do, she said it all comes down to the question of whether your body is prepared for the fight.

“The best way you can be prepared to fight it is to be vaccinated. Give your immune system training on how to beat this thing, because that's what a vaccine is," Pulver said. “… Your immune system is your own personal army. And if you're not giving them the training they need to kill the enemies, then you just led your soldiers into an ambush."

The politics of COVID-19

The moment former President Donald Trump began politicizing COVID-19 in 2020, going after Democratic governors like Gretchen Whitmer, Pulver said she felt her heart in her throat and immediately knew what the ripple effect would be.

“I had one of those very crestfallen moments where I realized I could see exactly what was coming," she said. “I thought, 'Oh, no, they're making this political. This is going to get so many people killed.'"

With Trump's framing of the pandemic, Republican leadership all over the country — Michigan included — soon began to follow the Republican president's lead by giving voice to anti-vaxxers and providing credence to conspiracy theories. Pulver said the Michigan GOP's policy response to COVID-19 has left her with “sheer frustration and heartbreak."

The latest COVID-related bills being pushed by GOP state lawmakers include legislation to prohibit schools from requiring students to be vaccinated or wear face masks.

At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has pushed back against Whitmer's health orders since spring 2020, joined a lawsuit to strip her emergency pandemic powers, opposes school mask mandates, and has repeated false claims about “natural immunity" while refusing to be vaccinated himself.

“It's been a battle to try to depoliticize this, to provide rational, fact-based, science-based information, which is a struggle in any public health campaign," Pulver said.

That struggle is made even more complicated by a small portion of nurses and doctors who, despite their medical training and knowledge, have publicly aligned themselves with anti-vaccine and anti-mask activism.

“Unfortunately, because [COVID-19] has become so politicized, that trumps their training and their skillset, which is very sad," Pulver said.

“They have no excuse. Other people who are being led astray who don't understand what's going on, you know, I can have some empathy, sensitivity for them. But [for those trained in the medical field], you know better. You absolutely know better. If you decide that this is the hill you want to die on, fine. But you don't get to work here. You don't get to put our patients in jeopardy," she said.

Pulver added that she would like to see more disciplinary action for the medical professionals who refuse vaccines and espouse information about the virus that has claimed nearly 21,000 lives in Michigan.

“If I make a conscious decision to endanger my patient's life, I should be held in front of the Michigan State Board of Nursing to explain why I made the conscious decision to risk my patient's life," she said. “This isn't a game."

The decision to not get vaccinated causes “collateral damage," Pulver says: “When you overrun a hospital system, it's not just the COVID patients that suffer. It's everyone else. … It's all connected."

The politicization of COVID-19 and the lens many GOP politicians see it through manifests itself in many detrimental ways, Pulver says, from legislators downplaying the severity of the virus to being more concerned about protecting their public image than following COVID-19 protocols of tracing and isolating.

“When they test positive, then it becomes a PR issue instead of a public health issue," she said. “That needs to stop. There's not two sides to this, or it's not the two sides that are presented. The two sides to this are honestly life and death."

When asked whether she intends to run for office a third time, the Democrat told the Advance Monday she won't completely rule it out.

“I have no plans to run in 2022 or 2024," she said. “I got into all of this, and advocacy and everything, because I really wanted to make an impact on public health, on patients' health, on patient advocacy. I tried to do that through electoral means and wasn't successful. … But I'm pursuing other avenues to try to make a more direct impact.

“So I'm not planning on running anytime in the near future, but I never say never," Pulver added.

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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

'A cancer in this country': Former Trump official spars with former RNC chair on the future of the GOP

The Republican Party looks a lot different to some these days, particularly following the tea party movement of the Obama era, former President Donald Trump's single-term presidency and all the changes that came with it.
Those changes, and what the future may hold for the modern-day GOP, were discussed Wednesday during a roundtable at the Mackinac Policy Conference. Robert C. O'Brien, former National Security advisor for the Trump administration from 2019 to 2021, spoke alongside Michael Steele, MSNBC political analyst, former Republican National Committee (NRC) chair and former Maryland lieutenant governor.

When asked by Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah whether today's Republican Party seems fundamentally different from the party they grew up with, O'Brien and Steele offered differing opinions. O'Brien said today's GOP looks to him largely like the party of former President Ronald Reagan, while Steele spoke about the increasingly stark changes he has noticed over the years.

Particularly back in 2009 and 2010, Steele said, “I began to see these strains emerge within the party.

“I think that we have become a party that talks less about what we believe in and why you, as citizens, should trust our leadership. … It is much easier for us to lay blame and to take out the Democrats. That's not leadership. That's a bar fight," Steele said.

“I think the Reagan spirit that you speak to is the animating force that is no longer driving energy for the party," he said to O'Brien.

The Republicans also spoke about “cancel culture" and its consequences for the party. The notion comes from the act of “canceling" someone, often a celebrity, who has acted or spoken in a problematic manner via boycotting or shunning them from society.

O'Brien called “wokeness" a “cancer in this country" that ultimately hurts the GOP from the outside. Being “woke" is a term coined by African Americans indicating an awareness of racial prejudice and other issues about social inequality that has now often been appropriated by the right.

But Steele countered that it also hurts the party from within, saying that he has been called a “RINO" (Republican in name only) by members of his own party. He said that Republicans should be more mindful about these things before casting aspersions toward the other side of the aisle.

Speaking on the shrinking number of so-called “moderate" Republicans, O'Brien brought up U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who was removed from a leadership position by her party after voting for Trump's second impeachment in January for inciting the U.S. Capitol insurrection.

“Liz decided to start attacking other Republicans. … Liz is a strong woman, she's got very strongly held opinions and she should be able to do that, but you can't be a leader of a party if you're going after the folks — the president and the leadership of the party — that most members of your party are supporting," O'Brien said.

Steele told Baruah that he is exploring a possible run for Maryland governor in 2022 but is still undecided. Current Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican, is in his second and final term in the mostly Democratic state.

“What does it mean to be a Republican in the 21st century? — Remember the Whigs? Nobody does," Steele said, addressing his hesitancy to run in a Republican primary.

O'Brien has been floated by some as a possible contender for the 2024 presidential election. He declined to speak on that possibility directly, instead emphasizing that his current focus is helping House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in his efforts to flip the House in 2022.

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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

'Shameful' Michigan Republicans face backlash after legislature holds conspiracy-filled hearing on vaccines

A GOP bill to preemptively prohibit mandatory employee vaccinations saw the light of day Thursday, in a House committee hearing saturated with COVID-19 conspiracy theories and anti-vaxxer rhetoric.

This article was originally published at Michigan Advance

House Bill 4471, introduced by state Rep. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine), would create the “informed consent in the workplace act" to prevent employers from “discriminating" against individuals who have refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, influenza, tetanus, diphtheria and/or pertussis.

The state has not issued vaccination mandates. Some employers, including Spectrum Health and Henry Ford Health System, have issued their own vaccine requirements for employees.

The hearing comes as COVID-19 cases are again jumping in Michigan, mostly due to the more contagious Delta variant. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported Wednesday that a total of 925,377 Michiganders have tested positive and 20,076 have died from the virus.

“We're now [at] over 100 cases per million people, which is 600% more than we were when we were at our June 26 low. More than half of the counties in the state are at high transmission level and most others are at substantial," Sarah Lyon-Callo, DHHS director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health, said during a Wednesday briefing.

The legislation was originally introduced on March 9 before being referred to the House Committee on Workforce, Trades and Talent, chaired by state Rep. Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan). The committee discussed and heard testimony about the bill for nearly two hours on Thursday, but did not ultimately hold a vote.

“My constituents, and people around the state are being mocked, threatened and harassed and shamed because they are exercising their right to not be forced to put something into their body," Griffin said. “Fear is a powerful thing.

“My constituents have been calling me in tears … and they're angry because apparently only one side of this vaccination issue and discussion is acceptable," Griffin added.

Employers would also be prohibited from retaliating against said employee if that worker files a complaint under the act or participates in any action or investigation concerning the act.

Allor's legislation would also allow those “aggrieved by a violation" of the act to bring a civil suit against the employer to obtain injunctive relief and damages.

“Anyone supporting this dangerous bill is either seriously misinformed or deliberately trying to sabotage individual and public health efforts," said Dr. Farhan Bhatti, a family physician in Lansing and Michigan state lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care. “Make no mistake, the vast majority of credible doctors and health experts recommend taking the safe, effective vaccines against COVID-19 unequivocally, and understand why employers would choose to require safe vaccinations to protect both their employees and their customers."

Under the act, employers would also not be able to require unvaccinated workers to wear a face mask, disclose the person's unvaccinated status or display a “mark" on their arm distinguishing their vaccination status.

A common anti-vax conspiracy theory is that unvaccinated people will eventually have to be marked in some way on their arm to distinguish them from the vaccinated, which anti-vaxxers compare to the stars of David and tattoos Nazis made Jews display during the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League has condemned Holocaust comparisons and imagery used by COVID conspiracists.

“It is shameful that Republican leaders in the Michigan Legislature would promote this reckless legislation and give oxygen to deadly disinformation and conspiracy theories. Lives will be lost if this legislation is passed into law," Bhatti said.

All speakers who testified during the hearing espoused misleading or demonstrably false statements about vaccines and COVID-19. Most have been regulars at anti-vax protests and events in Michigan.

One speaker, Christina Parks, is a science teacher for a Grand Rapids-based Christian homeschool organization with a postdoctoral degree in cellular and molecular biology from the University of Michigan.

Amid other false claims Parks made about COVID-19 vaccinations, she referred to mask-wearing as a “biochemical nightmare" and “metabolic nightmare" that exacerbates inflammatory diseases and increases risk of cancer, diabetes and more — none of which is scientifically accurate.

Parks also argued that the COVID-19 vaccine should not be taken because it does not guarantee against transmission or breakthrough cases. The goal of vaccines is to prevent individuals from getting the virus or becoming seriously ill — which the COVID-19 vaccines are doing.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reports that 98% of COVID-19 cases from Jan. 15 to July 21 in the state have been from unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated people.

No vaccine is 100% effective and there are still rare breakthrough cases for the fully vaccinated, but vaccines have been proven to be the most effective form of protection against disease.

Democrats on the committee pointed out that many businesses have spoken out against the bill, but Allor argued that the issue at hand is more about individual choice than what businesses specifically want.

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: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.