Following the machinations and controversy over the last 12-14 months surrounding Dave Agema, Michigan’s infamous Republican National Committee (RNC) member, my first inclination was to write-off the GOP as a hopeless cause here in Michigan and quite possibly on a national level.
Agema, for those unfamiliar, was a Michigan State Representative for three terms (2007-2013) from the west side of the state, representing parts of the Grand Rapids area. I spent a couple years living/working in those environs when first out of college and conservative is probably an understatement when it comes to capturing the political sentiment of the local populace. In the case of Agema, he generally won his general elections by over 70 percent of the vote each time until he was term-limited from office.
During his time in the Michigan House, Agema was already telegraphing his far right beliefs on a number of issues, like right to life and gay civil rights.
But then he pulled off an election at the state Republican convention to become one of Michigan’s two members on the Republican National Committee, by a vote of 69 percent of the 2,100 delegates at the gathering for a term that runs from 2012 through 2016.
Agema’s victory at the convention, where he upended incumbent RNC committee member Saul Anuzis, who had served as the GOP state chairman, came despite the latter’s support by many of the state level power brokers, including the current governor.
At first blush it would be easy to say that the Tea Party support he had garnered was the reason for Agema’s ascendency to the national position. But Anuzis was also the victim of clashes between the camps of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who were fighting over how presidential primary delegates should be divvied up in the future, and Santorum state convention delegates got their comeuppance for Anuzis’ support of Romney. Add to that mix those in attendance who backed Ron Paul, no big fan of Anuzis. When you combine those two groups of delegates with the Tea Party backers of Agema, it was the end for Anuzis who had been a player in national politics for years, including an often-mentioned possible RNC chairman contender.
Once ensconced at a national level, Agema showed his true colors, much to the chagrin of most Michigan Republicans. Through a series of social media postings, he has clearly established himself as homophobic, Islamaphobic and just simply racist. I won’t legitimize his rantings by repeating them here, but they usually take the form of posting articles from other extreme society malcontents and the publications reflecting their views, which allows Agema to deflect criticism by noting that these are statements from others, not necessarily his own writings.
His personal views are judged so offensive that at a recent Michigan Tea Party annual PowWow, where Agema was a keynote speaker, the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Heritage Action withdrew their sponsorship, leaving sponsors like the John Birch Society, Americans for Prosperity, Rick Santorum’s Patriot Voices and the Tea Party Patriots.
To the credit of a few leaders in the Michigan GOP, Agema’s twisted views on issues and diverse population groups were denounced starting about a year ago when state party chairman and Oakland County resident Bobby Schostak first called for his resignation as an RNC member, which Agema just ignored. But the chorus of those calling Agema out for his views did not really pick up steam until recently as the RNC was preparing to meet in San Diego.
Party leaders from other states, as well as those in Michigan, have started to speak out more often. Among the Michigan voices playing into the call for his resignation are respected party leaders like Paul Welday, chairman of the GOP 14th District Committee, who took to the pages of the Detroit Free Press in a guest column recently. And we are starting to see some of the more rational members of the legislature, like Michigan Senator Mike Kowall from Oakland County, lead the effort to gather Republican lawmakers’ support for the resignation call.
My faith was restored a bit further when in a closed door meeting in California on January 16, the RNC executive committee voted to censure Agema for “harmful rhetoric” and promised to use “all available tools to remove him from the committee”, despite the fact that there is little in terms of national rules or policy that allow the RNC to accomplish this.
Which puts the onus back on Michigan Republicans who may be rendered as ineffective as national RNC members.
This all comes at a time when the GOP, nationally and in Michigan, desperately needs to implement what has become known as the Big Tent theory to build a more diverse base of voters while at the same time hold on to party faithful who have tired of the extremism that has crept into the party and its platform.
Only time will show whether Republicans here are serious enough to keep the Agema mess at the forefront and work diligently to get him removed from the national stage before he inflicts further damage on the GOP. Anything short of that will only mean that Agema’s views have a more solid following in the party, which will ultimately mean the loss of more GOP supporters.