Susan J. Demas: GOP leaders haven’t tackled COVID-19 or racism at the Capitol, but they’re holding a sham election hearing Saturday

November 7, 2020 6:39 am

Laina G. Stebbins graphic, Susan J. Demas photo

On Friday, the state announced that Michigan had topped 200,000 coronavirus cases, after we saw a record-shattering 5,710 new cases on Thursday. More than 7,500 people have died.

After the GOP-controlled Legislature successfully sued to overturn the law giving Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer power to issue orders to stop the spread of the virus, she’s asked leaders to work with her and pass common-sense legislation like a mask mandate, as recently as this week in a video.

“It looks more like a press stunt to me than it does an actual policy,” sniffed incoming House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare), signaling that Republicans have zero interest in changing course from the inaction of current House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering).

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. And neither is willing to do the bare minimum of their job, which is to do everything they can to keep 10 million Michiganders safe in the worst pandemic any of us have seen.

The result, to be blunt, is that thousands more people will get sick and die in Michigan who don’t have to. This is an unbelievable tragedy and it is preventable. Republicans’ partisanship is killing us.

Republicans also didn’t have time to do anything about violent right-wing extremism for months as confederate flag-waving, gun-toting self-described militiamen, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois and others invaded the Capitol lawn (and in April, many swarmed the Senate gallery during session) to call Whitmer a “tyrant”  — and even for her murder — over her pandemic orders. Chatfield posted a video praising protesters during the first protest; Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) attended several anti-Whitmer events and has called Whitmer a “dictator.”

Black lawmakers sounded the alarm about those heavily armed protests and racism within the Legislature, like state Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) donning a confederate flag mask during session in the spring. Republican leadership did nothing, because you don’t anger your base, especially when they sound a lot like your party’s leader, President Donald Trump.

We all know what happened next. In October, federal and state agents arrested 14 people in connection with an extremist right-wing plot to allegedly kidnap and kill Whitmer. Shirkey and Chatfield issued pro forma statements that crime is bad, and promptly headed to another anti-Whitmer rally that day.

GOP leaders wanted to send the unmistakable message to the far right: We’re with you.

Trump, never one for subtlety, beat that message like a drum in five rallies after that in Michigan, where he attacked Whitmer with gusto, grinning as “Lock her up!” chants broke out. At a Lansing rally minutes for her home, Trump declared of the plot, “People are entitled to say maybe it was a problem, maybe it wasn’t.”

But on Tuesday, Michigan voters rejected Trump, quite soundly — and most experts are looking for the national race to be called for Biden soon. It took awhile to count the votes — squarely because the GOP Legislatures in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania refused to pass legislation Republican and Democratic local clerks begged for allowing them to count the record number of absentee votes early during the pandemic. Republican leaders in all three swing states refused, because Trump had been railing against absentee voting for months (despite doing it himself) — and they hoped the post-election chaos would help him.

Michigan’s election wasn’t a nail-biter, even if the slow vote counting made it seem that way. In 2016, Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes — a .23% margin of victory, the closest state in the country. This year, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden beat Trump by 146,119 votes, 51% to 48%, achieving something Trump has never done in the Mitten State — win an outright majority of votes.

Those of us who have covered razor-thin margins in elections, from Michigan in 2016 to Florida in 2000, know what it’s like to sit through court cases and recounts. In the past, you wouldn’t have to endure any of that when an election is clear, like Michigan is in 2020.

But the rules don’t apply to Trump and Republicans, who have filed ridiculous lawsuits in various states — one was literally just laughed out of Michigan court Thursday — with bogus claims of voter fraud. They recruited white people from Michigan and out of state (we’ve talked to them) to scream for the cameras recreate a lame version in heavily African-American Detroit of the “Brooks Brothers Riot” to stop Florida’s recount 20 years ago to help George W. Bush (that one was run by highly competent GOP operatives and Bush eventually won, thanks to the conservative Supreme Court).

They weren’t successful in Michigan, as the count has been done since Wednesday.

So now it’s on to the next stage of dumb shenanigans. Our sister paper, the Minnesota Reformer, obtained audio of Michigan native Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel recruiting Republicans to amplify false claims of voter irregularities, which she claimed were totally real in a comically confusing press conference in Oakland County Friday.

Since that failed to get much traction beyond a few lazy headlines, because even inexperienced reporters know that winning a state with 51% of the vote means this isn’t a a controversial election, GOP legislative leaders were called to get in on the action.

Now lawmakers are coming in for a Very Serious Special Hearing on a Saturday — so you know it’s definitely not a media stunt to make Trump feel better about losing — on problems they’ve dreamed up about the election. Leaders sent a menacing letter to the Bureau of Elections chief Friday warning that subpoenas are coming over bureaucratic moves like pre-election mailers telling people they can register to vote (ooh, scandalous, clearly an affront to Mr. Trump).

This would be a dangerously authoritarian abuse of power under any circumstances. I have tried to warn that the modern Republican Party does not regard the election of any Democrat to be legitimate, which explains their constant power grabs and condescending hostility to anything Whitmer tries to do (their misogyny, of course, gives it a creepy edge). That is why a clear election result where Biden has won a majority cannot be treated by Republicans as such — the libs must be owned, whatever the damage to people’s faith in the electoral process.

But for Republicans to embark on a sham election hearing during a deadly pandemic that’s killed more than 235,000 Americans and sickened almost 10 million — including the president and much of his staff — is the height of irresponsible negligence.

Republicans don’t care about protecting your health during a plague. They don’t care about stopping white supremacists, even when their colleagues have targets on their backs. All they care about is assuaging Mr. Trump’s ego and sowing suspicion and discord about Biden’s election.

The GOP is no longer acting like a major political party. It functions more like the mob. And we are all paying a terrible price — some of us with our lives.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.