‘Now is the time to find our moral compass’: Dems push accountability for GOP election conspiracies

By: - January 15, 2021 10:16 am

Pro-Trump protesters at TCF Center in Detroit | Ken Coleman photo

Michigan Democrats are calling on Republican legislative leaders who control the chambers to prioritize accountability in the new term, especially amid fresh federal warnings of violent protests in all 50 state capitols. That comes after the pro-President Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

In an unusual start to a new legislative term that kicked off this week, Democratic members in the House and Senate struck a somber somber tone as they pushed for the GOP-led Legislature to embrace transparency, accountability and condemnation of disinformation. 

“As we go into the new year, we can disagree on policy; we can disagree on how we tax citizens and how that money is spent; we can disagree on how we respond to COVID-19. But if we do not start with the basic reality of what is true and what is not and tell the people the truth — it’s a nice republic, if you can keep it, and it’s on all of us to do our duty to keep it,” state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

After the insurrection in which five people were killed, including a police officer, Democrats are calling on Republican leaders to condemn the violent attack on the nation’s Capitol and hold members of the Michigan Legislature who contributed to the spread of disinformation about the results of the Nov. 3 general election accountable.

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“Today’s riot at the Capitol is not what anyone wants for our country or our children,” state House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) said in a statement on Jan. 6. “This is not the shining city on the hill that demonstrates to the world the beauty of democracy. We are a nation of rules and respect, and we need to demand both of ourselves. America is a beautiful and special place, but this is a tragic moment in our history that obscures our legacy. I hope our President uses the power of his voice and office to bring order and peace, immediately.”

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) wrote on Twitter on Jan. 6: “The violent actions at our nation’s Capitol are a disgrace. Today should have been a peaceful event. I condemn the actions of the individuals who threatened our members of Congress and our Republic. They are criminals who should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

At the top of the Democrats’ list of state lawmakers who need to be held accountable is state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford).

Maddock traveled to D.C. last week and his wife, Meshawn Maddock, who’s running as Michigan GOP co-chair, organized busloads of Michiganders for the Jan. 6 event. Maddock spoke at a pro-Trump event on Jan. 5.

However, as first reported by the Advance, Wentworth said Tuesday that he supported seating Maddock and that he did not intend to discipline him.

During a press conference Thursday, Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.) said Maddock has been “leading the charge to try his best to overturn this election, and to foment insurrection and sedition across this country.”

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Maddock was one of 15 state House members who signed onto a lawsuit to overturn the election results in Michigan and other key states Biden won. He also was part of a band of Republicans who tried to enter the Michigan Capitol during the Dec. 14 Electoral College proceedings and substitute an illegal slate of electors. And before the U.S. Capitol takeover on Jan. 6, Maddock signed onto a letter to Vice President Mike Pence asking him to unconstitutionally decertify the Nov. 3 general election results and delay the counting of the electoral votes. The election was certified after the U.S. Capitol was cleared out.

Camilleri and freshman Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) prepared resolutions, which will be formally introduced Tuesday, that call on a House select committee to be formed to examine a number of incidents that they believe warrant censuring Maddock.

“For months and without apology, Maddock has perpetuated conspiracy theories and election fraud lies, which culminated in the seditious acts at the U.S. Capitol last week,” Aiyash said. “[Wednesday], the U.S. House impeached President Donald Trump. Now the Michigan House must do our job and discipline Rep. Maddock.” 

Camilleri said that censuring Maddock would only be the “first step in restoring faith in the Michigan House of Representatives.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) wrote Wentworth a letter earlier this month asking that he discipline 18 Republican legislators, including Maddock, who rejected the results of the election and pushed baseless claims of statewide election fraud. 

On Wednesday, Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) introduced Senate Resolution 3 to condemn the attempted coup of the U.S. Capitol and he sought unanimous support. It was not taken up.

“The actions by anyone who helped take part in that day, whether by disseminating misinformation and conspiracy theories or encouraging people to revolt, should be condemned by every single elected official,” Hollier said. 

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Hollier says the election fraud conspiracy is racially motivated and is detrimental to Black voters, as cities with large African-American populations like Detroit and Milwaukee were repeatedly singled out in GOP attacks. He also cited the Legislature’s multiple hearings last term in which Republican allegations of election irregularities that were thrown out of court were aired over and over again.

“The phrase ‘election fraud’ is a dog whistle and code for finding ways that the votes cast by minorities in cities like Detroit can be tossed,” Hollier said. “The Republican-led investigation into Black and Brown votes is racially motivated and nothing less, and these committee oversight hearings need to stop. In the United States, we count every single vote, and this continued assault on our democracy — because they can’t accept the fact that their candidate lost — is shameful.”

Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) introduced Senate Resolution 4 to censure Sens. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek), Tom Barrett (R-Potterville), Kevin Daley (R-Lum), Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.), Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes), Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), Lana Theis (R-Brighton), Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington), Roger Victory (R-Georgetown Twp.) and Dale Zorn (R-Ida) for their participation in undermining the election results. 

The senators sent a letter to Congress before the Electoral College vote asking the House and Senate to examine allegations of election fraud. One draft version circulated on social media asked for the Electoral College certification to be delayed. 

“These 11 have embarrassed the great people of Michigan, and it would be even more shameful if this body, and its leadership, abdicates its responsibility to hold these members accountable. Now is the time to find our moral compass, practice what we preach, and do the right thing and support these resolutions,” Geiss said in a floor statement Wednesday.

Her resolution also did not receive a vote.

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Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) condemned the insurrection in a floor statement.

“We mourn the loss of life, a certain sense of innocence, a loss of trust, a loss of sense of self-governance. We lost all of this to a moment of sheer anarchy. It was not an American moment of greatness. It certainly was not democracy. It was a slap in the face of patriotism. I was embarrassed for all of those who stormed the Capitol, claiming it was their house, forgetting that it was ours. This cannot happen again at our U.S. Capitol, nor can it happen at our Michigan Capitol,” he said.

Horn spoke after Democrats and added that it was “a shame” that “my colleagues have already prejudged me to be insincere.”

“It was my hope that we could start out the year in 2021, in this new 101st session, on a more positive note. There’s nothing, Mr. President, that happened in Washington, recently or in the past, that prevents us from working together, that prevents us as a body from unifying,” he said. “Except, of course, for the fact that I’m about to make a statement on the events of Jan. 6 but my colleagues have already prejudged me to be insincere. That’s a shame.”

Camilleri is pushing for more accountability, but he fears that the divisiveness around the presidential election will carry on throughout the 101st Legislature.

“The thing that I fear is that we’re going to continue this false fraud claim for this entire term. We have not heard specifically from Wentworth, but we have heard from other members, including in the Senate, who have said that they want to continue down this path of questioning the integrity of our elections and looking to ‘reform our systems’,” he said. 

“Now if there are bipartisan reforms that our clerks from both parties have said that we need to fix, let’s listen to them and let’s fix it. But if we’re going to look at reforms that only undermine democracy, disenfranchise voters, undermine the rule of law and try their hardest to make it so that it’s harder to vote, we are in for a very tough conversation in this state.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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