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 Chairman Reince Priebus and state party Chairman Bobby Schostak today added their voices to the chorus of those calling on national committeeman Dave Agema to resign over remarks seen as insensitve to gays and Muslims.
In recent weeks, a score of officials and party activists -- including six Republican members of the state's congressional delegation and former state party chairwoman Betsy DeVos -- have urged Agema to resign in the wake of the remarks, but until today, Priebus and Schostak had avoided doing so while still denouncing his comments and Facebook postings generally.
That changed, however, as Agema -- a former state representative from Grandville -- missed the RNC's 3-day winter meetings in Washington, sending his proxy vote along with former national committeeman Chuck Yob. On Wednesday, Agema sent the Free Press an e-mail explaining his absence, saying his critics were trying to use his comments and postings to start a "drawn out fight betwee liberals and conservatives within the party."
"For the good of the party, we believe Dave Agema should resign," Priebus and Schostak said in a joint statement to the Free Press.
The Free Press learned that Priebus and Schostak were calling for Agema to step down shortly after Priebus spoke to the RNC in Washington about the need to expand the party's base of voters, using his recent visit to Detroit to annnounce the creation of a black advisory council for the party and the opening there of an African-American outreach center as examples.
"We all know the GOP has to get out of our comfort zones and go to places we haven't been for a while and engage and welcome new voters," Priebus siad.
"I was amazed at how many people came to take part. We had business leaders and community leaders who were ready to stand up and help and make a difference," he added. "We did a pretty simple thing by showing up-but it's having a big impact and in a place that desperately needs a new direction, fresh ideas, and more opportunity."
He did not mention Agema in the speech.
Agema -- one of two national committee members from Michigan -- came under fire after making comments in December that suggested gays manipulate the system to get health care because of a risk of contracting AIDS. This month, he posted on his Facebook page a defense of a Russian law widely seen as antigay, commenting that it appeared to be "common sense" to him. He also reposted a tract that questioned if Muslims had made any positive contribution to American culture.
Throughout the ensuing controversy, those Republicans criticizing Agema or denouncing his comments and postings have said that while they still believe in marriage as being between a man and a woman, the party needs to show its willingness to interact with people who feel otherwise and show it can be tolerant. Agema's comments, they said, fail that test.
Gov. Rick Snyder and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land -- who is the state's other national committee member and is running for U.S. Senate -- have also denounced Agema's comments but so far have not called on him to resign.
Agema so far has avoided any suggestion that he step down from a term that doesn't end until 2016 but he has said that his postings were only meant to start discussions, not necessarily reflect his own beliefs. He has declined several requests from the Free Press to speak on the issue.
The call from Priebus and Schostak for Agema to resign could make it increasingly difficult for Agema to do his job as a national committeeman. As such, he is expected to take part in meetings that help set the stage for the 2016 presidential race, national conventions and more.
Detroit Free Press