Dave Agema, the Republican National Committeeman of Michigan, has come under fire for comments that some see as offensive to gay and Muslim people. / Robert Killips/Lansing State Journal
WASHINGTON (Detroit Free Press) -- Republican National Committee member Dave Agema - beset by calls for his resignation because of comments and postings on social media seen as homophobic and racist - said Wednesday he would skip this week's GOP meetings, raising questions about whether he can continue to effectively serve.
Agema is one of two RNC members from Michigan who were scheduled to attend the party's winter meetings in the nation's capital.
The Free Press first reported Wednesday morning that Agema, a former state representative from Grandville elected to the RNC in 2012, had canceled his rooms at the hotel where the committee is meeting for three days this week. Later in the day, Agema sent a statement saying he would not attend because he did not want his comments to be a pretext for a "drawn-out fight between liberals and conservatives in the party."
But at time when the Republican Party is attempting to expand its base, Agema's comments and re-postings on Facebook were seen by many - including most of the Republican members of the state's congressional delegation, the governor and party hierarchy - as clearly offensive, regardless of the person's place on the political spectrum.
Agema made comments at a Berrien County meeting in December that suggested gay people manipulate the system to get health care. Then, this month, he reposted comments on his Facebook page that defended a Russian law widely seen as intolerant toward gays, with his own remark that it seemed like "common sense." He also reposted a religious item that questioned whether Muslim people have made any positive contributions to American culture.
"I think by him saying this is a fight between liberals and conservatives shows how out of touch with the party he is," said Lansing consultant John Truscott. "When you look at the people who have come out against him in the state there are some conservative folks and there are some moderate folks."
However you categorize them, the swell of antipathy for Agema and the comments has continued: Agema's congressman - U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Zeeland Republican - said he never supported Agema's bid for committeeman and called on him to resign. By day's end, U.S. Reps. Dave Camp of Midland and Mike Rogers of Howell also called for him to quit, bringing the number of those doing so to six.
"We believe that to build our party and put our core beliefs into practice that leaders must be respectful of others and not engage in hurtful and destructive rhetoric," Camp and Rogers said in a statement also approved by U.S. Reps. Candice Miller of Harrison Township and Fred Upton of St. Joseph. "Dave Agema has unfortunately and continually taken this unproductive path."
U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, a Milford Republican, demurred, saying he was focused on Washington problems, "not a media-inspired, inner-party saga."
Meanwhile, top party officials - including Gov. Rick Snyder, national party Chairman Reince Priebus and state party Chairman Bobby Schostak - stood by previous statements denouncing Agema's comments without directly calling for his resignation. The other national committee member from Michigan, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who is running for U.S. Senate, issued a statement from the meetings in which she said she has talked to Agema in private conversations.
"I have made it very clear that I do not support discrimination of any kind, and I believe that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," she said. "He knows that we disagree, and I do not support him on this matter."
Agema's critics used his absence as additional proof that he should go.
"By avoiding his responsibility to represent Michigan Republicans on the Republican National Committee, Dave Agema has made it clear he does not care about our party," said activist Dennis Lennox, who has been among those calling for his resignation. "It's time for Dave Agema to do what's right and abdicate."
Agema's supporters flocked to Facebook to defend him, however, calling the effort to oust him a move by establishment Republicans to take back the party. One extolled him to "Hold the line," calling him "one of the few faithful Godly leaders in America."
For more than a week, the Free Press - which has reported extensively on the backlash to Agema's comments and postings - has tried to reach Agema, without success. When a statement came through an intermediary Wednesday, it did not address the subject of resignation.
Instead, it said: "My liberal critics within the Republican Party have chosen to elevate this discussion to the RNC meeting and make it a drawn-out fight between liberals and conservatives within the party. For this reason, I have decided it is best for the party that I not attend the meeting this week and instead, I have sent a proxy who will vote how I want on rules."
Former National Committeeman Chuck Yob was expected to act as Agema's proxy. But Agema's absence still raised questions about whether behind-the-scenes negotiations on his possible departure were under way.
For a time Wednesday afternoon, some GOP insiders were hearing - and repeating - speculation that Agema had already offered to resign. But a Republican Party source told the Free Press that Agema had not offered his resignation to state or national party officials.
The RNC winter meetings last through Friday.
Also today, a judge in Michigan dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of Agema and others against a Muslim-American group over the cancellation of an event in 2012 that was to highlight the perceived dangers of Islamic law. Officials shut down the event at Allegan High School after the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked that the event be canceled.
Contact Todd Spangler: 703-854-8947 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Detroit Free Press