Michigan GOP 'determined to keep doubling down on crazy'

“That was some weird shit.”

That was former President George W. Bush’s reported take on former President Donald Trump’s angry inaugural address back in 2017.

And that seems to be the consensus on the farewell speech last week from Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), who, notably, dismissed his frequent foe, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as being “batshit crazy” during her first year running the state.

As it turns out, Shirkey — who bounced between QAnon-inspired homophobia, tired lies about COVID-19 vaccines, bizarre tirades about “one world government,” and tales of sticking his hand in Senate building toilets (no joke) — appeared to draw inspiration from Jack Nicholson’s performance in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (stream it, kids, it’s worth it).

Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on the fact that this isn’t some MAGA-loving Twitter rando, but the top elected Republican in the state (Michigan doesn’t vote like Mississippi, either). It was hardly Shirkey’s first entry into the outlandish, from a still-unexplained trip to White House with Michigan Republicans while Trump was openly scheming to stay in office even though he lost the 2020 election to calling the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection a “hoax” and grumbling like Grampa Simpson about too many dead people voting.

Then there was the time that he appeared at yet another right-wing anti-Whitmer rally at the Capitol just hours after state and federal agents announced arrests in a militia-tied assassination and kidnapping plot against her in hopes of sparking a civil war. Yet Shirkey declared, “This is no time to be weak in our commitment to freedom. We need to be strong … and not be afraid of those who are taking our freedoms away from us."

Shirkey also met with militia leaders and advised them on messaging, telling a local TV host, “It was very fascinating and they’re not uniquely different than you and I. They bleed red, white and blue, but they feel like they are not being heard.” And he bragged that his party had “spanked” the female governor over her pandemic health orders.

All of this was widely reported and yet there was zero accountability. Powerful lobbyists and business leaders kept shoveling boatloads of cash to Shirkey and Republicans, cynically betting that they’d maintain their majority next year despite such unabashed looniness. Some pundits continued to insist that Whitmer was obligated to do whatever she could to work with Shirkey, who basically did everything short of being a character witness for her would-be assailants at their trials.

It was a disturbing lesson on how much insiders were willing to tolerate from Republicans they assumed had a lock on power.

That turned out to be a bad bet from a political standpoint, but more importantly, from a moral one.

Shirkey’s final speech relied heavily on end-of-days themes, which isn’t surprising. Because for a far-right true believer, Nov. 8 certainly must have felt that way.

He managed a feat that seven Republican leaders before him never did — losing the Senate majority for the first time since 1984 — well before many Capitol staff and reporters (and even some lawmakers) were born.

But it got so much worse for the GOP.

Whitmer and Democrats easily held onto every top statewide office and flipped the House, giving them a trifecta. But they didn’t stop there; Dems maintained their edge on the state Supreme Court and the congressional delegation and even swept all the statewide education boards, despite endless bleating from Republicans like Shirkey and failed GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon that liberals had turned public schools into gay indoctrination factories.

And two progressive proposals he vehemently opposed ended up passing with flying colors. One expanded voting rights (Shirkey led the post-2020 charge to make it much harder to vote in Michigan following Trump’s loss) and the other guaranteed abortion rights in the Constitution. Shirkey, who’s compared abortion to slavery, declared in July that he’d “trade the governor’s race in a heartbeat right now if we could make sure that we can defeat this constitutional amendment.”

In the end, he got nothing. His only solace, perhaps, is that term limits mean he won’t be around the Capitol next session to see his dreams die.

Let’s not forget that many Republicans (and sheep-like pundits) were endlessly hyping a red wave before the election. And when it never crested, that was devastating for those who imbibed the Kool-Aid.

There was nothing left for them to do but cope harder. After getting smoked in the election (and being the subject of a humiliating Michigan GOP memo blaming her for the party’s historic losses), Dixon made some noises about running for party chair, as the lucrative right-wing TV contracts she coveted usually aren’t awarded to candidates who lose by 11 points.

But she’s since bowed out. Just like in the campaign, Dixon was quickly overshadowed by failed attorney general nominee Matt DePerno — whose candidacy always seemed far more important to Trump, who needs all the AG allies he can get after his 2020 election machinations. DePerno — who pundits told us was going to oust progressive Attorney General Dana Nessel (lol) — announced he would run for Michigan GOP chair on a ticket with far-right fan favorite Garrett Soldano, who lost to Dixon in the primary.

As of now, DePerno is considered the frontrunner, perhaps because he’s under criminal investigation.

Not to be outdone, failed secretary of state nominee Kristina Karamo refused to concede, despite getting trounced by incumbent Jocelyn Benson by 14 points, and also decided she should run the party.

You would think that Shirkey, who has managed to win several elections, would seek to distance himself from the antics of the confederacy of losers. He could have just thanked a few folks in his speech and done a victory lap on (pre-Whitmer) Republican accomplishments, like Right to Work, school choice expansion and anti-abortion legislation. Of course, those triumphs aren’t exactly secure with Democrats taking the reins next month.

But like so many high-profile figures on the right, from Elon Musk to Kanye West, it seems like the pandemic, followed by Trump’s loss, broke something inside of him.

While most Michiganders were trying to do anything to stay safe during the early days of COVID and shield their loved ones who were older or infirm, Shirkey was advocating for “herd immunity.” That was sociopathic before vaccines and would have amounted to a survival-of-the-fittest approach where the virus spread unchecked and death rates skyrocketed.

That’s a pretty weird twist on pro-life politics, and seems like something out of the Book of Revelation to me. But while Shirkey seemed content to let a deadly disease run rampant and let God sort it all out, he did believe there was something worth fighting for.

At a September 2020 campaign rally, he sermonized that the election was one between “light and darkness,” with Republicans battling “a Democratic Party that has been completely hijacked by the Marxists and the socialists.” Then Shirkey decided to invoke the Civil War, while demonstrating he’d learned nothing about it, by announcing, “We’re grateful that Lincoln did it in 1860 and 1864, but it’s now our time.”

But Republicans lost that election. And the Jan. 6 coup attempt failed, too, although not before five people died and the U.S. Capitol was desecrated.

This year, election deniers running at the top of the ticket promised revenge. COVID conspiracists like Shirkey also were convinced that voters would finally punish Democrats over the pandemic because surely having to wear a mask at Meijer was more traumatic than watching the Capitol ransacked by violent pro-Trump goons.

Thankfully, they were wrong

Nov. 8 was a victory for sanity, decency and democracy.

Shirkey got it twisted, but like all fanatics, he just couldn’t help himself. In his final fire-and-brimstone speech on the Senate floor, he made one more attempt to tell voters just how stupid they were for not seeing what he did.

“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 intoned. “… 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.”

Of course, Shirkey never saw the GOP wipeout coming this year. So perhaps his soothsaying skills need a tuneup.

Republicans could always wise up and reject Shirkey’s brand of weird conspiracy-mongering that turns off most voters.

Now unlike the soon-to-be ex-majority leader, I don’t claim to possess any special powers. But it seems like, for now, the party is determined to keep doubling down on crazy.

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.

GOP candidate's girlboss campaign has been a dizzying mess of contradictions

In Michigan, the GOP nominee for a critical congressional seat is on record blasting women being in the workplace and having the right to vote.

John Gibbs, who won his 3rd District primary thanks to an endorsement from former President Donald Trump and is facing Democrat Hillary Scholten on Nov. 8, got exactly zero backlash from his party when his retrograde views as the leader of an anti-feminist “think tank” made the news last month.

That’s pretty amazing since the Michigan GOP, for the first time, has nominated a woman for governor, Tudor Dixon. You’d think it would be untenable for the party to support Gibbs, who apparently doesn’t think their top-of-the-ticket nominee should be able to vote for herself this fall.

But Dixon’s girlboss gubernatorial campaign has been its own dizzying mess of contradictions. Although she’s facing Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s second female governor in history, Dixon bizarrely declared after winning the GOP primary: “It’s time to elect a real woman to lead Michigan.”

While the Republican stresses that she’s a mom, she doesn’t seem to believe Whitmer is, sneering that she’s merely a “far-left birthing parent.”

Some pundits have been content to let that weird misogyny slide, as well as the fact that Dixon doesn’t believe in basic human rights for women and wants to ban abortion, determined to portray the race as a feminist triumph just because two women happen to be running.

Voters haven’t been fooled, however, as Whitmer is winning women by a 2 to 1 margin in polling. It would be hard to imagine a male Republican nominee performing worse.

Maybe that’s why Dixon decided to turn her fire Friday on women who have the audacity to *checks notes* be single. Yes, in the year 2022.

Dixon’s meandering diatribe — her signature style, despite having hosted a far-right talk show with guests pushing everything from QAnon to the Proud Boys — started with an interesting assessment of families.

“Families look all different ways. They’re the ones telling me that on a regular basis, but apparently, they’re refusing to see one dynamic here. A lot of people want to have families. This state, we don’t have support from the governor for families unless they look exactly the way she wants,” Dixon said at the St. Clair Shores event.

Then she veered off in a pretty unexpected direction.

“And you know what that looks like these days? Looks like single moms — no, not single moms. Single women working. That’s like, her [Whitmer’s] dream for women. Single women working. Last time I checked, that was a pretty lonely life,” Dixon declared, her voice dripping with pity.


It’s wild in the 21st century that Dixon feels she has the right to judge women based on their marital status. Who — and I cannot stress this enough — cares?

– Susan J. Demas

Most people expect candidates running for high office to talk about what they’re going to do about the economy or health care costs, not to sound like their great-aunt haranguing them at the family reunion for not getting their MRS Degree.

It’s wild in the 21st century that Dixon feels she has the right to judge women based on their marital status. Who — and I cannot stress this enough — cares?

If you want to get married, that’s your choice. If you don’t, that’s also your choice. It literally isn’t the business of anyone running to run this state.

Interestingly, even though Dixon has taken it upon herself to lecture women that bagging a husband and having kids is the ultimate prize in life, her family has been absent from almost all of her campaign events.

It’s also unclear if she was going to vilify single mothers and thought better of it — perhaps because GOP Secretary of State nominee Kristina Karamo is one — or if Dixon just flubbed another line.

But we do know that Dixon has shown little use for any women who dare disagree with her, like those who don’t want books banned in their kids’ schools or back abortion rights, which she condescendingly claims isn’t an important issue. In fact, when she later tried to mop up her single women slight, her excuse was that she was really blasting Whitmer for vetoing funding for anti-abortion centers, which, of course, makes no sense.

And let’s not forget Dixon scoffing about the fact that “families look all different ways” these days, while somehow trying to paint Whitmer as intolerant of traditional families (despite having a husband and two kids).

We’ve all gotten the message loud and clear. If you’re single, pro-choice, LGBTQ+ or all of the above, there’s no place for you in a Dixon-fied Michigan. Get that ring, give birth, deny who you love — or get out.

She’s not running to represent the 10 million residents of Michigan, only those who agree with her and conform to her far-right rigidity.

What a strange election year it’s been in Michigan. From Gibbs slamming women’s suffrage to Dixon droning on about spinsters, turning back the clock on women’s rights is all the Republican rage. It’s not too late for someone to start campaigning on taking away women’s property rights.

Come to think of it, that would be a big incentive for women to get married. Maybe that’ll be Tudor Dixon’s pitch this week. You never know.

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 Republicans beg Whitmer to zip it on abortion rights

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave her keynote address at the Mackinac Policy Conference in May, it suddenly became clear how many pundits had misjudged this particular political moment.

You would have expected the Democrat to earn some polite applause at the traditionally stuffy confab dominated by CEOs, lobbyists and legislators, one where her predecessor, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, always seemed most at home.

But rather than play it safe by tossing out a few platitudes about growing Michigan’s economy and calling it a day, Whitmer decided to use the platform to talk about abortion, even before the U.S. Supreme Court sent shock waves by dumping Roe v. Wade.

“As we chase our collective success, we must also be a state where women have bodily autonomy and equal rights,” Whitmer declared, as the room erupted in cheers and applause.

In an interview with the Advance afterward, Whitmer noted that the “most profound economic decision a woman will make in the course of her whole lifetime is whether and when to have a child.

“If you want to make Michigan a place where we can draw and lure and keep talent, women have to be able to make their own health care decisions,” she added. “The vast majority of the public respects that and agrees with that, whether they would individually make that choice or not.”

In the months since, abortion has consistently rated as the top issue with voters this election, as one in three women in America has lost access to abortion in just a few months’ time. It’s flipped conventional wisdom about Republicans dominating the midterms on its head, as even voters in conservative Kansas decisively shot down an anti-abortion measure in August.

Perhaps more than any politician in the country, Whitmer has read this moment right — and relished this fight in a key swing state.

It’s a big reason why she’s dominated the gubernatorial race that was, at one time, billed as one of the most competitive in the country.

Naturally, this has absolutely incensed Republicans who have been trying to talk about anything except reproductive rights. They’re desperately counting Whitmer’s tweets on abortion and begging her to stop bringing up the subject — especially her GOP opponent, Tudor Dixon, who backs a ban with no exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health. (It’s gotten so sad that anonymous sources have taken to complaining to the media about how frustrated the campaign is over Whitmer’s “incessant” focus on abortion).

Anyone who’s been in politics for more than a few minutes knows that when an issue hits, you just keep hammering. But Dixon, a political novice, seems extremely flustered that she can’t just change the subject like she could as a low-wattage right-wing commentator.

It’s not for lack of trying. After mostly disappearing from the campaign trail for weeks following her Aug. 2 primary win — letting Whitmer dominate the airwaves with her pro-reproductive rights message — Dixon reemerged with a hot new anti-gay distraction.

GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon at a Sept. 27, 2022 press conference in Lansing | Laina G. Stebbins

The Republican has done a series of events on everything from banning trans athletes from school sports to criminalizing drag shows to banning “pornographic” books in the classroom (we still have no idea which ones).

But Dixon still keeps getting asked about abortion, because voters deeply care about the issue. (She hasn’t exactly helped herself, either, by volunteering that she firmly believes 14-year-old rape victims should be forced to give birth).

While some stodgy (male) pundits have been clamoring for the candidates to talk about “real” issues like the economy, Dixon has made it clear that she really wants a culture war campaign — just one that’s detached from reality and oozing with attacks on LGBTQ+ kids.

Meanwhile, Whitmer is making the case that there would be “incredible economic impacts” if abortion is banned in Michigan. That’s resonated with voters, who get the connection between basic rights and their financial well-being. (Sometimes it takes pundits a while to catch up).

It’s hard to remember, but it wasn’t inevitable for Whitmer to be in the driver’s seat this election.

As the COVID pandemic dragged on, the Democrat’s popularity took a hit. Critics like me argued she was running a rudderless campaign as she meekly touted bipartisan successes on jobs and education, while Republicans routinely excoriated her as something just short of Satan.

But this spring, she flipped the switch. With women’s rights on the line, it seems like she opted for a “Let Whitmer be Whitmer” approach.

The decision to zero in on abortion was a risky one, but it was also deeply personal. Nine years ago, Whitmer gave an emotional speech on the Senate floor about being a rape survivor — something she hadn’t told her father until that day — in an effort to stop an anti-abortion bill, which ultimately failed in the GOP-led Legislature.

Whitmer, 51, who was born shortly before the Roe v. Wade decision, also has two daughters in college who are supposed to be inheriting a world of innovation and progress. But in some fundamental ways, that’s not the case.

“I am horrified, as are so many women who are 50 years old, or in my generation, that the thought that my daughters will have fewer rights than I’ve had virtually my whole life,” Whitmer told “Face the Nation” in June.

When you’ve devoted your entire life to ensuring that your children have more opportunities than you did, there’s such profound sadness in realizing they’ll have to battle for essential freedoms and even democracy itself. It’s a feeling I know well, as I have the somewhat surreal experience covering this election while being the same age as Dixon, 45, with kids who are the same ages as Whitmer’s.

My oldest may not be able to make the right health care decisions for herself or marry who she loves — rights we should be able to take for granted. Those are the same fears that thousands of parents across Michigan have right now.

Being governor is about understanding real problems and how to solve them. Gretchen Whitmer realized a long time ago that abortion is a kitchen-table issue for people. And she seems completely at peace with her decision that this is the ground to fight on, win or lose.

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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The far-right's repulsive QAnon-infused 'groomer' smear is a clarion call for violence

Earlier this month, Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) used her invocation on the Senate dais to launch a political tirade that children are “under attack” from “forces that desire things for them other than what their parents would have them see and hear and know.”

That prompted walkouts from some Democratic senators, so Theis saw an opportunity to make some quick campaign cash, as she’s facing a rough GOP primary with a former President Trump-endorsed challenger.

“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,” reads Theis’ email titled, “groomers outraged by my invocation.”

Republicans, banking on the fact that they’ll win the midterms (since the party out of power usually does), have launched savage attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, abortion rights and race equity, from Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law to Idaho’s law allowing families of rapists to sue abortion providers.

Many Democratic officials have avoided direct confrontation, even though none of these measures are popular, oddly ceding ground on basic civil and human rights issues. It’s like they’re already preparing to lose in 2022.

But if Theis thought McMorrow would adopt a defensive crouch, she was wrong. Instead, the first-term Democrat delivered a fiery Senate speech last week.

“I didn’t expect to wake up yesterday to the news that the senator from the 22nd District had overnight accused, by name, of grooming and sexualizing children in an email fundraising for herself,” she said. “So I sat on it for a while wondering, why me? And then I realized, because I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme.”

McMorrow’s “epic takedown” went viral, followed by predictable takes dinging her for her newfound fame and raising serious money from it (interestingly echoing bitter complaints from Theis, who has remained unapologetic).

It’s adorable when the politically savvy pretend they don’t understand how politics works (yes, running for office takes money). But this also conveniently ignores that Theis was the one who fired the first shot by blatantly trying to capitalize off of her anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry, while making McMorrow an explicit target of hate.

Meanwhile, McMorrow’s speech captivated Democratic leaders from President Joe Biden on down, as well as frustrated progressives and folks just concerned with basic common decency.

Even Democratic consultant James Carville, who claims the party is veering too far left with “wokeness” (whatever that means), told the Washington Post McMorrow’s speech was an “enormously effective piece of communication. There’s really no comeback to it.”

It was clearly the right speech at the right time. Nobody knows exactly what will catch fire and what won’t — politics isn’t an exact science — but McMorrow’s self-proclaimed status as a “straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom” likely didn’t hurt.

Would a similarly impassioned speech from a gay or trans lawmaker have resonated as deeply? I honestly don’t know and it’s worth considering what that means.

But I do know there’s one aspect of this story that needs to be talked about more. The QAnon-infused “groomer” smear from Republicans that LGBTQ+ people and Democrats are trying to harm and abuse children isn’t just disgusting — it’s dangerous.

It’s a call to violence to the far-right base in the name of saving children at a time when political threats are already on the rise. There’s a reason why McMorrow was holding back tears when she recalled talking about Theis’ email to her mother, who cried, was “horrified,” and “asked why I still do this, and to think of my daughter.”

It’s not just LGBTQ+ people and allies who are targets — there even have been stomach-churning reports of their young children being accosted by bigots.

But far-right leaders with enormous platforms, like Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Michigan GOP gubernatorial hopeful Tudor Dixon and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, don’t show any sign of letting up on gross smears that LGBTQ+ people and Dems are “sexualizing” kids.

Why would they? This is just following the playbook of the radical anti-abortion movement. Remember when right-wing talk show host Bill O’Reilly whipped up fury against Dr. George Tiller, who he repeatedly denounced as a “baby killer”? Tiller was murdered by an anti-abortion activist while attending church in 2009.

Why pretend this can’t happen again?

Republicans embracing politicians eager for violence like Trump, who has called for shooting anti-police brutality activists and migrants at the border, is part of the party’s march to white nationalism and authoritarianism.

Far-right activists have descended on Michigan’s Capitol multiple times since 2020, with heavily armed protests against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s early COVID-19 health orders and Trump’s 2020 election loss. Since then, there have been a carousel of outrages, from masks to critical race theory to LGBTQ+ people daring to exist.

After the first protest in April 2020, Trump was in a frenzy, tweeting, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” It’s also worth remembering what he wrote after rioters with AR-15s and signs like “Tyrants Get the Rope” breached the Capitol later that month in what was a dress rehearsal for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” Trump wrote. “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

This is what fascists do and have always done. They threaten officials and threaten to take over institutions by force, claiming to speak for the majority when they do not.

Trump’s advice to the sane majority was just to give in and no one would get hurt. The far-right has only become more emboldened in the two years that have followed, putting public health and school board officials in their crosshairs.

That’s why we must stand up every time they target marginalized groups and public servants. It’s easy to dismiss fascists as deranged, but they are relentless.

They’re counting on those of us fighting to preserve decency and democracy to give in to terror and exhaustion. But that’s not an option.

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.

Republicans said KBJ was soft on pedophiles – but they have a big problem of their own

If you sat through the excruciating Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, it was clear just how exceptional the first Black female justice in history had to be just to get there.

Just compare Jackson’s composure and legal analysis in hearings to Brett Kavanagh, who was credibly accused of sexual assault (which naturally seemed to be an asset to the man who nominated him, Donald Trump). Kavanaugh proceeded to stomp his way through the process, displaying the intellectual curiosity (and entitlement) of your very average prep school kid.

But despite Jackson being so eminently qualified, Republicans were determined to make the hearings the circus that Kavanagh’s were (again, because he was credibly accused of sexual assault). So U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — best known for cheering on Jan. 6 insurrectionists with a fist pump — and others tried out their QAnon midterms strategy by smearing Jackson over her record on sex offender policies.

In case you’re lucky enough not to have relatives ramble on about “the storm” and end super-weird Facebook posts with #SavetheChildren, QAnon is a violent death cult the FBI has labeled a domestic terrorist operation.

The right-wing conspiracy theory rooted in anti-Semitic tropes 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.

That’s some kooky stuff. But polling shows almost half of Republican voters believe some QAnon tenets.

So U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeting that “any Senator voting to confirm #KJB is pro-pedophile just like she is,” is absolutely loony — but it’s also meant to rile up the GOP base that always has to feel under siege.

And it’s about enticing enough voters on the margins, especially women, to buy into the far-right GOP agenda of massive rollbacks of basic civil rights — like the constitutional rights to birth control and abortion. If you believe you’re on a noble quest to save children from “groomers,” then you start to accept things you normally never would, like book bans and siccing Child Protective Services on parents of trans kids.

Of course, the Republican Party has a hypocrisy problem. Greene’s MAGA mate, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), is under investigation for sex-trafficking, including accusations he had sex with an underage 17-year-old girl. GOP former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was a “serial child molester” in the words of the judge who sentenced him for hush money payments to his victims. And of course, Trump has been accused of creeping on teenage pageant contestants, in addition to a slew of other sexual assault allegations.

But this hits closer to home for Michiganders with our own Republican former House speaker, Lee Chatfield, whose sister-in-law alleged began sexually assaulting her when she was 15 and a student at Northern Michigan Christian Academy. The school is run by Rusty Chatfield, Lee Chatfield’s father, and the former House speaker was working there at the time.

“These are allegations that [Lee Chatfield] used his position of power and influence while in the church and school and had an ongoing sexual relationship with this young teenager girl that lasted beyond her teenage years and after [Chatfield’s] brother married her,” said Rebekah Chatfield’s attorney, Jamie White, who also represented survivors of former MSU Dr. Larry Nassar.

Lee Chatfield denies the allegations, with his attorney arguing the two had a consensual “affair” starting when she was an adult. He has not been charged, although police raided the home of his former staffers as part of an ongoing investigation.

While some Republicans have spoken up about the scandal, most leaders have refused to comment. In spite of the national GOP crusade against “grooming,” it’s notable that not one Republican has signed onto Michigan legislation making evidence of grooming admissible in court — which was introduced after the Chatfield allegations.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) also has nixed an ethics investigation into Chatfield that Democrats have demanded, saying the police are on it.

Oh, please. Anyone who’s been in Lansing longer than a minute knows the Legislature is fully capable of investigating whatever it wants — just look at all the hearings on nonexistent voter fraud after the 2020 election Trump lost.

But not even House Oversight Committee Chair Steven Johnson (R-Wayland), who I’m told is a beacon for transparency lovers everywhere, will do anything. I guess the tough, truth-digging act is only reserved for alleged wrongdoing from Democrats.

So why are Republicans so darn disinterested in getting to the bottom of what happened with Chatfield?

Obviously it undercuts their QAnon-style messaging for the midterms. But there’s also another likely factor: money.

The ex-speaker raised more than $5 million for various funds in a web almost as tangled as the Chatfield family tree — including $2.1 million in 2020, his last year in office. That’s an unprecedented amount, per the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network. He also was extremely generous to Republicans across the state, including donating to 73% of current GOP legislators.

While Democrats often shun guilt-by-association attacks, Trump Republicans like GOP attorney general candidate Matt DePerno revel in them. He’s demanded his rival, establishment fave former Speaker Tom Leonard, return Chatfield’s contributions.

“The office of attorney general is the highest-ranking law enforcement office in the state,” DePerno’s campaign said in a statement. “It is of the utmost importance that the future attorney general is not tied to one of the most heinous crimes an individual can commit against an innocent child.”

Republicans have decided to dance with the QAnon devil this election. But once you uncork unhinged conspiracy theories, you can’t expect to control the crazy.

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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Anti-trans litter box rumor is ‘harming our LGBTQ+ kids’: advocates

After a rumor that students who “identify as cats” were using litter boxes was sparked at a Midland Public Schools school board meeting in December, LGBTQ+ advocates across the state are concerned about how this will affect transgender youth.
At a Dec. 20 meeting, Midland resident Lisa Kawiecki Hansen said she heard from students that the school provided litter boxes for students who role-play as “furries.” A “furry” is a person who dresses up in a costume resembling anthropomorphic animals.

Midland Public Schools Superintendent Michael Sharrow said that the claim is demonstrably false. But the rumor still made its way into the national spotlight and garnered the attention of right-wing activists and officials like Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, who posted a YouTube video Facebook last month with the comment: “Kids who identify as “furries” get a litter box in the school bathroom. Parent heroes will TAKE BACK our schools.”

Scott Ellis, executive director of Great Lakes Gay Pride, which services the Midland LGBTQ community, said the false claim is harmful.

“We’ve gotten to a place where in order to put down those who are either exploring their gender identity or identify maybe differently than their sex assigned at birth, we start equating these things — like in this particular case, ‘furries’ being a role-play versus somebody’s identity. Those are not the same thing,” said Ellis.

These false rumors are popping up at schools in other parts of the country, more recently at a school district in Iowa.

“The comments that have been made and are circulating, not only in Michigan public schools, but schools across the country, are disgusting,” said Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group. “They are delusional transphobic antics that are doing nothing more than firing up the religious right space and harming our LGBTQ+ kids.”

This is not the first time transgender youth have been targeted by right-wing groups.

In March 2021, State Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) introduced legislation Senate Bill 218, that aims to mandate that high schools ban transgender boys from boys’ sports teams and transgender girls from girls’ teams. Similar bills have been introduced in more than 20 states. SB 218 was referred to the Education and Career Readiness Committee, which held a hearing last year, but hasn’t moved the bill .

Resources for LGBTQ youth in crisis:
  • Trevor Project
  • Equality Michigan
    • Phone number to report and seek support for incidents of discrimation, hate crimes or violence: 313-537-7000 ext. 114
    • Reporting form

Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, and anti-transgender legislation in particular, isn’t new to Michigan. In 2016, former state Sen. Tom Casperson (R–Escanaba) introduced Senate Bill 993, which attempted to require transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex listed on their birth certificate. That bill was referred to and languished in the Government Operations Committee, but has had lasting effects on the LGBTQ+ community in the state.

The far-right has had more successful attempts at implementing anti-transgender legislation across the country. Most recently, Republicans in Florida introduced legislation, referred to by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, that would ban public schools from “encouraging” classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity. President Joe Biden condemned the bill, which has advanced through a Senate committee, earlier this month.

Ellis said the rumor started at Midland Public Schools is “clearly pointing to the restroom issue of access to restrooms based on gender identity.”

“It’s important for people of all ages to become more educated and get to know people in the community who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, because this all can be so detrimental to kids. And we know that there are increased rates of self harm, depression and anxiety [among LGBTQ youth],” Ellis said.

The concern for LGBTQ advocates is that anti-transgender legislation and conspiracies, like the one in Midland, could have a dangerous and harmful impact on LGBTQ youth, Knott said.

“The fact of the matter is it’s nothing more than politics. It’s about firing up the religious rights,” Knott said. “It’s about mobilizing that voting base during an election year that’s going to be competitive. And it creates daily consequences for our most vulnerable community members — our LGBTQ+ youth. It’s just frankly, catastrophic.”

A 2021 study by the Trevor Project, the largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people, found that politics have severely impacted the mental health of LGBTQ youth last year and suicide rates are rising.

According to the study, 94% of respondents, ages 13 to 24, said recent politics negatively impacted their mental health and 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

In 2021, the Trevor Project responded to over 6,200 crisis contacts in Michigan, which is estimated to be 11% less than the number of Michigan’s LGBTQ youth who the Trevor Project estimate seriously consider suicide each year.

“Imagine being a LGBTQ youth and you’re discovering your identity, you’re in a household or a community that’s not affirming and loving, and then you’re going to the one other safe space, which is your public school, and this harmful, delusional rhetoric is just meeting you each and every day. It’s just a recipe for disaster,” Knott 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: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

'Vile' Republican faces furious backlash after calling Michigan's first Black lieutenant governor a 'scary masked man'

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist has been in office for over three years, making history as Michigan’s first African-American lieutenant governor.

The Democratic father of three, who contracted COVID-19 earlier this month after his daughter tested positive, posted a Twitter video Thursday afternoon in which he was masked up and announced that he was back to doing events: “Hey Michigan! I’m ready to get back out into our communities again and continue speaking with Michiganders on the issues that matter to them most.”

On Thursday evening, CNN posted a blockbuster story that former President Donald Trump’s team directed the 2020 fake GOP elector scheme in Michigan and six other states to help overturn the Electoral College results and install him for another term, even though President Joe Biden won the election.

The story also featured leaked audio from Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, telling a right-wing group, Stand Up Michigan, co-founded by GOP gubernatorial candidate Gerald Soldano: “We fought to seat the electors. The Trump campaign asked us to do that. I’m under a lot of scrutiny for that today.”

After CNN’s story broke, Maddock took to Twitter. But the state GOP co-chair, who is married to state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), did not address the false elector machinations.

Instead, she retweeted Gilchrist’s video from earlier that day and remarked, “Show this video to a babies (sic) and watch them cry. Scary masked man should #StayHome.”

Meshawn Maddock was one of the 16 false GOP electors who signed a document in December 2020 claiming Trump won all of Michigan’s electoral votes. She also was part of a group of Republicans who tried to enter the Michigan Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, while the Electoral College was meeting.

In reality, Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes and thus all 16 of the state’s electoral votes.

She was elected in 2021 co-chair of the state Republican Party along with Ron Weiser, a former ambassador and current University of Michigan regent.

That was after Maddock helped organize buses to pro-Trump protests in Washington, D.C., as Congress was meeting to certify Electoral College votes. She spoke at a Jan. 5, 2021, rally in D.C. The day after, Trump incited a mob of his supporters and encouraged them to storm the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the electoral votes for Biden’s 2020 presidential win. Five people died, hundreds of law enforcement officers were injured and four later died by suicide.

Rodericka Applewhaite, a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, on Saturday blasted Maddock’s tweet: “.@MIGOP @CoChairMeshawn Maddock showing exactly what we’re up against. Can anyone tell me what’s scary here?”

Jeff Timmer is a former Michigan GOP executive director who left the party during the Trump era and is now a consultant to Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s campaign.

“Will a single Republican display honor and denounce the racism of this vile human?” Timmer tweeted on Saturday. “Do they agree with her? Or are they just chickenshits?”

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.

From guns to COVID, we’re all trying to survive the GOP’s dystopian culture of death

Most days, it’s hard to fully comprehend our current dystopian nightmare.

We now accept that 777,000 Americans are dead in the COVID pandemic and the death toll continues to climb day after day, even when we’ve had life-saving vaccines widely available for eight months.

We accept that millions of parents refuse to get their children vaccinated or even send them to school in masks — and then angrily demand to be worshipped as heroes for endangering their kids and untold numbers of others.

We accept that leaders of the GOP, one of our two major political parties, have bluntly told us that mass death is inevitable, while trafficking in conspiracy theories and quack science as alternatives to vaccines, and then cravenly blame Democrats when herd immunity can’t be reached and people continue to get sick and die.

While the majority of Americans are vaccinated, we are being held hostage by the millions who aren’t and politicians practicing pandemic nihilism. How do you ever come back from that? Many of us have lost hope that we ever fully will.

I’ve thought a lot in recent months about how we’ve become so unmoored from our collective humanity and moral decency. And I keep coming back to Sandy Hook.

After 20 little children and six adults were brutally murdered in a Connecticut elementary school in 2012, President Barack Obama addressed the nation. With tears in his eyes, the father of two spoke of the tragedy and the need for common-sense gun reforms, something that the vast majority of Americans supported then and now.

First Republicans and a few NRA-backed Democrats blocked any progress on policy. Then the GOP launched a ghastly ad mocking Obama for comforting a grieving parent. The lesson here is that the right will always lecture that it’s too soon to talk about gun control after a mass shooting, but it’s not to disparage victims and those trying to help. Meanwhile, far-right media, like Alex Jones’ Infowars — which became highly influential in the Trump era — spent years spreading conspiracy theories that Sandy Hook parents were crisis actors, subjecting them to threats and harassment after the greatest loss imaginable.

When it became acceptable for right-wing leaders to gleefully embrace their monstrousness after first-graders were blown away, all bets were off.

Is it a surprise that the GOP’s next and current leader, Donald Trump, made his political bones by slandering Mexicans as rapists, separating migrant children from their parents at the border and egging on his supporters to assault his enemies at rallies?

Is it a surprise that hours after our nation was rocked Tuesday by yet another school shooting, this time at Oxford High School, that a GOP operative would slam Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — a mother of two who knows firsthand what it’s like for our kids to be subjected to Kafkaesque lockdown drills — for coming out and mourning with parents?

No. The cruelty is the point, as essayist Adam Serwer noted during the Trump era. And so is the brazenness.

Now almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve managed to normalize a breathtaking loss of human life.

What’s more, we don’t expect Republicans who run the Legislature to have a plan to stop any more than our over 24,000 friends and neighbors in Michigan from dying in the fourth surge, because they’ve never had one.

We don’t even expect them to be responsible and OK billions from the feds to respond to COVID and aid people and businesses who have suffered during the crisis. (House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) blithely said there’s “no emergency” even though Michigan hospitals broke records again this week for COVID hospitalizations). It goes without saying that Republicans are playing politics as the 2022 election looms, hoping that the continued horror show will cost Whitmer reelection.

All along the way, Republicans have propped up the ridiculously dangerous “medical freedom” movement. It’s the logical endpoint of right-wing propaganda about what freedom is.

For decades, Republicans have sold people on the idea that universal health care is communism and true freedom can only be achieved by keeping a free-market system that can bankrupt you after a single visit to the ER.

They’ve told us that climate change isn’t real, but even if it is, corporations must have the freedom to poison our planet or else they’ll take away jobs or raise prices on everything.

And of course, they’ve idolized guns as the ultimate symbol of freedom — so much so that they’re good with domestic abusers and felons being able to buy firearms, while terrified parents get to instruct children on what to do in case of mass shootings at school, the mall, really anywhere — which occur almost daily.

Freedom isn’t free. In America, it’s really the freedom to die.

We are still free, of course, to reject this right-wing culture of death. But after years of living with savagery, too many of us seem too exhausted to fight.

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.

Inside Trump and Eastman's Jan. 2 'Big Lie' call with more than 300 GOP state legislators

Michigan Senate Oversight Committee Chair Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) was on a call with hundreds of GOP lawmakers days before the Jan. 6 insurrection with President Donald Trump and his legal advisers, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

Trump was on the call along with lawyers John Eastman — who wrote a memo outlining how Vice President Mike Pence could disregard the 2020 Electoral College vote and install Trump for another term — and Rudy Giuliani, who Michigan House Republicans allowed to lead a long post-election hearing airing myriad baseless right-wing election conspiracy theories.

The call with 300 state legislators was a strategy session on decertifying 2020 presidential election results. Michigan's Board of State Canvassers approved in November President Joe Biden's more than 154,000-vote victory over Trump and Michigan's electors cast their ballots for Biden in December.

“You are the real power," Trump told the state lawmakers, according to the Washington Examiner. “You're the ones that are going to make the decision."

The Post also reported that Giuliani ran a “command center" at the Willard, a Washington, D.C., hotel, plotting with Eastman and other Trump loyalists like Stephen Bannon about how to overturn the 2020 election.

McBroom told the Washington Post of the call he was on: “I didn't need any convincing about our plenary powers," adding, “I was listening to hear whether they had any evidence to substantiate claims" of significant voter fraud that could change the results in Michigan. His office did not immediate return a request for comment from the Advance.

McBroom told the Post he did not hear such evidence and didn't support efforts to delay the vote count. However, a majority of the GOP caucus in the Michigan Senate went on to sign a letter asking members of Congress to examine baseless allegations of election fraud. An earlier version asked to delay the electoral vote count, as the Advance reported on Jan. 6.

The signees included state Sens. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek), Tom Barrett (R-Potterville), Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.), Roger Victory (R-Georgetown Twp.), Dale Zorn (R-Ida), Lana Theis (R-Brighton), Kevin Daley (R-Lum), Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), Curtis VanderWall (R-Ludington), Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes) and Jim Runestad (R-White Lake). The Advance noted at the time that McBroom, who also held hearings in which Republicans made unproven election fraud claims, did not sign on.

Lawmakers in Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania also signed letters to Pence asking to delay certification. The Advance reported the 11 Michigan House members who signed on were: Reps. Julie Alexander (R-Hanover), Ken Borton (R-Gaylord), Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair Twp.), Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan), Matt Maddock (R-Millford), Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville), John Reilly (R-Oakland), Daire Rendon (R-Lake City), Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.) and Doug Wozniak (R-Shelby Twp.).

In June, the Senate Oversight Committee led by McBroom released a 35-page report concluding that there was no widespread evidence of voter fraud and debunking several conspiracy theories.

“Our clear finding is that citizens should be confident the results represent the true results of the ballots cast by the people of Michigan," the report reads. “The committee strongly recommends citizens use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain."

Trump was incensed by the report and attacked both McBroom and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

“Michigan state Sens. Mike Shirkey and Ed McBroom are doing everything possible to stop voter audits in order to hide the truth about November 3rd," Trump said in a statement. “The Senate 'investigation' of the election is a cover up and a method of getting out of a forensic audit for the examination of the Presidential contest."


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's Whitmer vetoes bills part of nationwide right-wing effort to restrict voting after Trump's 2020 loss

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Sunday vetoed three Republican election bills introduced after former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election as part of a nationwide right-wing effort to restrict voting and change election rules. She also vetoed a fourth measure she said lacked the proper funding.

Despite Trump's loss in Michigan and other key states, he and his supporters have continued to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories. Whitmer said in the veto letter obtained by the Michigan Advance that they were an “attempt to suppress the vote or perpetuate the 'Big Lie': the calculated disinformation campaign to discredit the 2020 election. I will have no part in any effort that grants an ounce of credence to this deception, so injurious to our democracy."

Biden defeated Trump by more than 154,000 votes in Michigan. The GOP-led Senate Oversight Committee in June issued a 35-page election report concluded there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Michigan and debunked several conspiracy theories.

“The 2020 election was free, secure, and accurate. The results were certified and officially audited by trusted local election officials, as required by law," Whitmer said in her letter to lawmakers. “Judges appointed by both Republicans and Democrats rejected more than 60 lawsuits challenging the outcome."

The vetoed legislation is House Bills 4837, 4838, 4492 and 4528, which passed the Senate last week.

HB 4837, sponsored by Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport), restricts who has access to the qualified voter file. Whitmer called out the bill because it “implies that outside parties had access to the state's qualified voter file [in the 2020 election]. They did not."

HB 4838, introduced by state Rep. Phil Green (R-Millington), would prohibit internet access to voting machines — rooted in a right-wing conspiracy theory that this happened during the 2020 election. Whitmer noted in her veto letter that the bill “implies that electronic poll books were connected to the internet and vulnerable to tampering. They never were."

HB 4492, sponsored by Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton), would expand polling place locations. But Whitmer vetoed it because she said it would “make it more difficult for seniors and persons living in large apartment complexes to vote."

The last bill, HB 4528, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Posthumus (R-Cannon Twp.), would require the secretary of state to provide more training for election challengers. Whitmer said the bill “is worth further consideration, it must have the necessary funding to accomplish its purpose."

“I am laser focused on kitchen-table issues that get things done for Michiganders, like fixing the roads, ensuring clean water, and providing good-paying jobs," she said. “We can and should work together on election policy, as well – but only in ways that strengthen our democracy. I am ready to join hands with anyone who shares these goals."

Since Republicans anticipated that Whitmer would veto voting restriction bills, they have a Plan B with a ballot measure. If the Secure MI Vote campaign gathers enough signatures, the initiative first goes to the GOP-controlled Legislature for approval. Whitmer lacks the power to veto that.

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 Republicans avoid tough questions as they beg lobbyists and multi-millionaires for cash

Real news is rarely made at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, an ostentatious Michigan schmoozefest where politicians beg lobbyists and multi-millionaires for cash and thirsty lesser-known candidates sometimes ditch their contempt for the media and do interviews in hopes they'll break out of single-digits in polling.

Don't get me wrong — it's not always boring. Sometimes political operatives get punched there.

Future GOP presidential candidates have been known to test the waters at the biennial event — although this weekend's selection was decidedly C-List with former Vice President Mike Pence and ex-U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley bowing out. That left attendees with the rhetorical stylings of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who reportedly announced, “I never thought I would go to Michigan and live to tell about it."

The Michigan Advance didn't cover the confab — we were again denied credentials — which is part of an unfortunate pattern of elected officials and politicians ducking tough questions, which has only accelerated during the pandemic.

However, if you turned to the Advance this weekend for political and policy coverage, I don't think you left disappointed, as we strive to cover things other outlets don't. We talked to Black business leaders about the Detroit Chamber of Commerce's focus on inclusion and diversity at its annual conference (also on Mackinac Island) and what more needs to be done. We had an eye-opening look at the pandemic's toll on children, with thousands sickened and more than 1 million orphaned.

And we ran commentary from longtime Georgia political columnist Jay Bookman on the blueprint for former President Donald Trump's coup attempt, known as the Eastman memo (as it was written by Trump legal adviser John Eastman) — and why democracy is in more danger than ever even though it failed.

“In that memo, Eastman lays out a step-by-step scheme by which Vice President Mike Pence could single-handedly overturn the results of the presidential election and ensure that Trump stayed in office, despite having lost the election," Bookman writes. “Trump embraced the strategy wholeheartedly, as subsequent events have proved."

Had the Advance been at the MIGOP affair, you can bet we would have asked leaders about if they supported or condemned the Eastman memo and future attempts to overturn elections. I can't really think of a more pressing issue than whether or not donors, party leaders and elected officials believe that our democratic electoral process can be swept aside if a Republican doesn't win.

That's really the ballgame, isn't it?

We only have two major political parties in the country. If one of them is being led by people who believe that democracy and the Constitution are impediments to maintaining power, what does that mean for America's future? What does that mean for a free and independent press?

The conference featured a “voter integrity" panel in which GOP officials concluded that their big mistake in 2020 was not trying to create legal chaos early enough — not Trump failing to win enough votes or Republicans filing bogus cases lying about election fraud and causing an astroturf scene at Detroit's TCF Center to stop absentee ballot counting.

We would have followed up and asked about the national GOP effort to restrict voting rights in almost every state, including the “Secure MI Vote" voter suppression ballot measure. We would have asked, for instance, why is it even necessary, when the GOP-controlled Michigan Senate Oversight Committee concluded in an extensive report that there was no voter fraud in 2020 and blasted hucksters for making bank off election conspiracies?

But then again, those are probably the kind of hard-hitting questions the GOP party brass wanted to avoid.

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.

An overlooked goal of the rising far-right? Get good people to quit.

When U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) this week announced his retirement after being one of only a handful Republicans to impeach former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, it was greeted with the usual discourse when moderates step aside.

Pundits are always atwitter if this mean that Democrats are moving too far left or Republicans are shifting too far right and speculate what this means for the party's fortunes in the next election. (Usually you get some “Washington is broken" laments for good measure.)

While all that's a standard part of political discourse, it does obscure a rising and more sinister trend: An explicit goal of the fascist far-right-wing of the Republican Party — those who stormed the U.S. Capitol to wage a violent coup and their myriad sympathizers who hold elected office — is to make good people quit politics, from members of Congress down to members of school boards.

The goal is to exact such a personal toll that people decide it's just not worth it for them, and especially their families, to serve. In a disturbing interview with the New York Times, Gonzalez, 37, described an “eye-opening" moment when uniformed police officers showed up at the Cleveland airport to give him extra security after his January impeachment vote.

“That's one of those moments where you say, 'Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to have my wife and kids escorted through the airport?'" he told the Times.

Gonzalez, of course, isn't alone in Congress. U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids), who also voted for Trump's impeachment, said afterward he and colleagues were buying body armor.

Those who stood up for democracy now have some decisions to make — and one of them is quitting like Gonzalez. While it makes complete sense to put your family first, it does, unfortunately help the far-right's goal of opening up a seat for a pro-insurrectionist Republican.

An explicit goal of the fascist far-right-wing of the Republican Party — those who stormed the U.S. Capitol to wage a violent coup and their myriad sympathizers who hold elected office — is to make good people quit politics, from members of Congress down to members of school boards.

– Susan J. Demas

And now U.S. House GOP leadership has now openly thrown in with the insurrectionists, trying to stonewall investigations, even though violent rioters were hunting down Republican and Democratic members alike on Jan. 6. For good measure, the caucus booted U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who also voted for impeachment, as conference chair.

In Michigan, we've almost become used to violent threats as a standard right-wing political tactic throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and after Trump's thumping in the 2020 election (despite his lies and endless voting conspiracy theories). We were the site of some of the largest, heavily armed protests over stay-home orders featuring signs calling for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's murder.

Right-wing activists stormed the state Capitol on April 30, 2020, with some AR-15-toting men looming over senators in the gallery as they took critical pandemic votes in what's been described as a “dress rehearsal" for the Jan. 6 insurrection.

BIPOC lawmakers, in particular, raised the alarm, but said they had to take security measures into their own hands when GOP leaders ignored their pleas. Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) was escorted to the Capitol afterward by armed Black citizens, while Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) donned a bulletproof vest.

Then in October, Whitmer made international news after federal agents busted a self-described militia plot to allegedly kidnap and kill her over her health orders — and incite civil war. Notably, the top GOP leaders at the time, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and then-House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), joined yet another anti-Whitmer rally at the Capitol just hours after law enforcement announced the arrests. (Shirkey told the crowd, “We need to be strong … and not be afraid of those who are taking our freedoms away from us.")

We also had warnings that the far-right wasn't content just to intimidate officials at the federal or state level, with car caravans known as “Trump Trains" rolling through small communities last year like Houghton in the western Upper Peninsula. Vehicles donned Trump, American and Confederate flags and Trump supporters allegedly yelled out threats and racial slurs.

We've seen throughout history that these are popular fascist terror tactics, like the “squadrismos" that roamed the Italian countryside. Gangs of hundreds or even thousands of men brutalized citizens, particularly socialists, in the runup to Mussolini coming to power.

We're not supposed to believe that kind of wanton violence can happen here, but after witnessing hundreds desecrate the Capitol and try to overthrow the government, why would we be so sure?

It's not a coincidence that local health officials and school board members are the latest targets of right-wing hate over school mask mandates, even as COVID cases are skyrocketing in kids. There's the genteel attempt to strip state and local health officials' power to stop mass death with the well-financed Unlock Michigan ballot petition, but then there are the crass threats and protests at what used to be sleepy local meetings across the state and country.

Melissa Ryan, the editor of the Ctrl Alt-Right Delete (CARD) newsletter and an expert on extremism, told the Advance that this is just the next phase of well-funded, well-connected national right-wing groups that first whipped up anger against lockdowns, and then moved on to blasting school sports bans and the COVID vaccine.

“It's largely the same people; it's the same groups; it's the same resources. They're trying to keep their base as enraged as possible," Ryan said. “They're not necessarily trying to change anyone's mind. They're trying to cause so much disruption that it's just easier for a school board member to resign or for the policy to change, not because it's how the majority of parents feel, but because it's just easier not dealing with them."

School board members tend to be parents or former educators who volunteer their time because they care about kids and their communities. Health officials are just trying to make evidence-based decisions for public safety. They didn't sign up to be subjected to Nazi salutes or death threats. You can't blame people for resigning like Ohio's health director, Dr. Amy Acton.

But we can't sleep on the fact that these fascist tactics are working and the far-right is emboldened. This week, Ryan Kelley, a GOP gubernatorial candidate who was at the Jan. 6 insurrection, posted a disturbing TikTok video outside an Ottawa County Commission meeting.

“You don't even know yet what this is going to look like if you guys keep trying this tyranny," Kelley declared.

Right-wing extremists are prepared to get what they want by any means necessary. This isn't the fight a lot of us wanted, but it's here. Pick a side.

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.

You're 11 times more likely to die of COVID if you're unvaccinated: CDC study

Those who didn't get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were 11 times more likely to die of the virus than those who got their shots, according to a new study from the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This article was originally published at Michigan Advance

People who weren't fully immunized also were than 10 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than those who were. The study published Friday examined 600,000 COVID-19 cases in 13 states from April through mid-July.

“The bottom line is this: We have the scientific tools we need to turn the corner on this pandemic," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing Friday. “Vaccination works and will protect us from the severe complications of COVID-19."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved COVID-19 vaccines on an emergency basis in December. There were initial limitations on who could receive the vaccine in Michigan, with groups like health care workers and seniors having priority. By April 5, all Michiganders 16 and up were eligible to get their shots. In May, the feds signed off on children 12 to 15 receiving the Pfizer vaccine.

The CDC study dovetails with data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that the Advance reported on in August. Between Jan. 15 and July 21, 98% of the state's COVID-19 cases were among people who were either unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, DHHS said About 95% of COVID-19 deaths during that same time period were individuals who were not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated, according to the health department.

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.

Mike Pence and Nikki Haley drop out of Michigan GOP conference

The biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference scheduled for later this month has lost two headliners: former Vice President Mike Pence and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Speakers who are still on the Michigan GOP event's list include other potential 2024 presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Other guests include Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna McDaniel, former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, former Michigan Gov. John Engler and former President Donald Trump spokesman and “Dancing with the Stars" alum Sean Spicer.

The confab is slated for Sept. 24 to 26 on Mackinac Island and is considered a critical event for GOP candidates before the 2022 election.

The Mackinac Policy Conference sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce takes place days before at the Grand Hotel and has a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for safety, angering many Republicans. Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock said last month the GOP event does not have one in a Facebook post swiping at the Detroit Chamber conference and urging people to “hang out with me and Sean 'Spicy' Spicer."

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.

The stomach-churning hypocrisy of the so-called ‘pro-life’ movement has revealed their true face

This week, my almost 19-year-old daughter stepped foot on her college campus to take classes for the first time (a year late thanks to the loud, selfish minority's continual refusal to take COVID seriously).

This article was originally published at Michigan Advance

As I hugged her goodbye, it occurred to me that she now has fewer rights as a woman than I did when I left the nest for college 23 years ago.

Thanks to five far-right Supreme Court justices cowardly dropping an opinion in the dead of night Thursday essentially gutting Roe v. Wade, millions of people in Texas just lost their right to safe, legal abortion. (Of course, abortion has been around thousands of years and will always continue — it's just more people will desperately seek out risky methods). Other red states will giddily follow.

When it comes to women's rights in America, we have undisputedly gone backward.

Think your birth control is safe? Same-sex marriage? Please. The extremist Supreme Court will have the final say over what you do with your body and in your bedroom. Basic health care and civil rights will be overturned — perhaps without even giving citizens the courtesy of arguing their case in court.

This is the end point of a far-right Republican Party that considers the American experiment of democracy to be a failure because it's no longer conducive for them to fairly win elections on its unpopular platform of tax cuts for billionaires and basic rights for straight white men only.

Progress is never inevitable and permanency for hard-fought rights isn't guaranteed — that's a lesson we need to heed as we're being attacked on every front, from racial justice to the safety net. But after years of listening to Republicans shamelessly lie about abortion methods and statistics — even in legislation — and male pundits and editors smugly dismiss women who warned Roe would be overturned as “hysterical," I think we're all allowed to be angry right now.

As a journalist, I've been trained to question everything (the old adage is, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.") So it's been wild to see how the so-called pro-life movement has long been treated gingerly by the media.

Their talking points are repeatedly and egregiously false, from claiming that abortion leads to breast cancer to claiming that late-term abortions are casually prescribed to former President Donald Trump's favorite bizarre lie that doctors and women are teaming up for post-birth abortions (which would be straight-up infanticide and of course it isn't happening).

Since Trump came on the scene, many reporters have struggled with how to cover Republicans, whose press releases, tweets and public comments are a gordian knot of falsehoods that take paragraphs to debunk (they're of course counting on us not to bother and just reprint their propaganda).

But the anti-abortion movement wrote the playbook they're following.

Working the refs and loudly complaining about coverage you don't like — complete with threatening reporters' jobs, which some might call “cancel culture" — is a staple of right-wing political training. But there's more at work than that. Many journalists give anti-abortion activists enormous deference, rarely questioning if their moral or religious objection to basic health care is sincere — or if it's just rooted in deep misogyny. After all, pro-lifers are often vocally against the Equal Rights Amendment or even equal pay. It's not like they're hiding their sexist agenda.

But we do our readers and viewers dirty to unquestioningly include anti-abortion lies for the sake of balance — and it's irreconcilable with our core mission of informing the public.

We've also set the stage for how much of the COVID-19 pandemic has been covered, with lies and conspiracy theories spewed by anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers often juxtaposed with doctors detailing scientific research and giving sound medical advice. Gotta tell both sides.

We've now been living through a horrific pandemic for almost two years that's killed over 640,000 Americans — equivalent to wiping out the entire state of Vermont — and sickened 39 million, roughly the population of California, our biggest state.

It's been fascinating to see the radio silence from the so-called pro-life movement to stop a mass death event. This should have been their moment — if this was really about sincerely held beliefs.

Yet they're not on the forefront of the public health fight for masks in schools — especially to protect vulnerable children — and even lobbied in Michigan for vaccines to come with a warning if aborted fetal cells were used in developing them, which amped up vaccine hesitancy. Oh, and when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued stay-home orders in spring 2020, Right to Life of Michigan stayed mum on the life-saving measure, except to complain that she didn't shut down women's health clinics, sniffing that “her most important audience is Joe Biden's vice presidential selection committee."

It was always about raw political power for the right. It was never about the preservation of human life.

That's why your friendly neighborhood conservative who told you Trump wasn't that bad has been cheering over the Supreme Court's “pro-life" decision in Texas, but he's fine with your babies going to school and getting murdered by an active shooter or getting life-threatening COVID because “freedom."

But after watching anti-abortion activists' flagrant and stomach-churning hypocrisy during the pandemic — which is typically considered the greatest political sin imaginable — it's amazing that most reporters didn't cover groups with any more skepticism.

Last fall, Republicans installed anti-abortion warrior Amy Coney Barrett to replace women's rights champion Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the high court just days before badly losing the 2020 election. Barrett was mawkishly lauded by some women as “a new feminist icon" while others defended her against attacks on her large family (which Democrats never made).

Well, here's the truth about living in Amy Barrett's America, ladies. She got to have the family she wanted and on her own terms. You don't.

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.