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LANSING — Michigan Republicans ousted long-standing National Committeemen Saul Anuzis this weekend, instead opting for a right-wing state lawmaker who has sparked controversy on numerous issues, including his attempts to eliminate funding for HIV programs.
State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) bested former Michigan GOP Chair Anuzis in what Agema’s Tea Party supporters called a “landslide.” Former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land ousted Holly Hughes, one of Michigan’s other two national committee members.
Agema has rattled the state with a legislative battles to eliminate domestic partner benefits for all public employees, which he insisted ran contrary to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The partner benefits battle pitted him against Gov. Rick Snyder when the Snyder administration rejected a budget rider last year that would have eliminated domestic partner benefits specifically for university employees. The Snyder administration said that proposal was unconstitutional and interfered with the autonomy of the universities as assured under the state constitution.
In a May 8, 2011, Facebook post, Agema wrote about controversy:
“Fear the government that fears your guns. Fear the colleges that break the law to force their own faculty and students to accept same sex/unmarried benefits . Remember Universities are training the next generation for what garbage they put out as acceptable into the kids brains. We can lose our country in one generation.”
Other legislation proposed by Agema would have eliminated the state’s Healthy Michigan Fund Initiative, which serves as Michigan’s contribution to receive federal HIV dollars. The fund pays approximately 77 percent of the state’s federal match, without which the federal money would not be made available. Under Agema’s proposal the funding would have been shifted to a fund for airport care and upkeep.
In defending his bill, Agema — a former airline pilot — said the shift in funding would be a job creating move. But state health officials said the current money funds 44 full time positions in the state. The legislation has since died in committee and is unlikely to receive a hearing.
The conservative lawmaker has also been pushing a piece of legislation called “American Laws for American Courts.” He argues the bill will restore the dominance of the U.S. Constitution to Michigan courts and will prohibit foreign laws from being used. Similar legislation has been seen across the country and is part of an effort to stop the supposed implementation of Sharia law — a strict Islamic code of laws.
On Sept. 7, 2011, he was scheduled to appear on the state Capitol steps with Pastor Terry Jones — the Quran burning pastor from Florida. Agema was slated to discuss his “American Laws” legislation while Jones was to speak of the threat of Islam.
But Agema cancelled on Sept. 6, claiming he had a scheduling conflict. The announcement of the cancellation and the conflict came only after media began inquiring about Agema’s appearance with the controversial pastor. Jones challenged this claim, saying Agema “chickened out.”
Agema’s ascension has progressives raising eyebrows.
“Agema’s contempt of immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT community, and working class people is evident in the bills he introduced while serving in the Michigan House including his support of Gov. Snyder’s austerity measures,” says Colette Sequin Beighley, a West Michigan activist. “This new leadership position is an affirmation of his homophobic and xenophobic actions, gives license for even more Draconian legislation, and further supports the environment of hate that exists in our state.”
Beighley is not alone. Laurel Sprague, a regional coordinator for the Global Network of People with AIDS North America, says Agema’s election raises concerns for the HIV community as well.
“The selection of Representative Agema to represent Michigan surprises and worries me. Why would Michigan Republicans decide that one of our representatives should be someone who attempted to defund HIV prevention and care programs within the state?” says Sprague. “This seems to be a complete turnaround for the Republicans given that one shining moment for the Republican Party, and an enduring legacy for President George W. Bush, was the creation of the PEPFAR program which has saved millions of lives around the world and prevented thousands of HIV infections among newborns.”
Emily Dievendorf, policy director at Equality Michigan, also expressed concern.
“Rep. Agema’s election to the role of GOP National Committeeman is another sad example of Republican leaders’ insistence on appointing extreme party members to positions that exist to represent the interests of the majority of the party. Rep. Agema has been responsible for one anti-gay bill after another. In an age of majority support for gay marriage in Michigan, Rep. Agema represents the interests of the few. Despite his minority ideology, he does not hesitate to push forward with a relentless commitment to weakening families that hurts all Michiganders,” says Dievendorf. “Most of the Republican constituency is more reasonable and fair minded than Rep. Agema and the supporters he had in his corner at the convention today.”
State Republican leadership said the move was about “fresh faces,” as Michigan GOP chair Bobby Schostak told the Detroit Free Press.
Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, says the election of Agema was a Tea Party event that shows the movement is “strong and getting stronger.”
But Ballenger, who is a former Republican lawmaker, says the election of Agema is not necessarily a bad thing for the GOP.
“The ‘criticism’ that Agema has always gotten for his stands come from those who don’t wish his party well,” says Ballenger. “Democrats, the MSM [mainstream media] (including MLive), and lot of socially moderate independents and ticket-splitters delight in lambasting the Agemas of the world, but that doesn’t mean the Republicans are doomed. They’ve got a lot of other things going for them.”
Photo: Michigan state capitol building. Brian Charles Watson, via Wikimedia Commons.
Houston-based tea party group, The King Street Patriots, are operating illegally by working under the guise of a nonpartisan, non-profit while overtly promoting Republican candidates, an Austin judge ruled this week. The ruling upholds Texas campaign finance law, rebukes KSP’s aim to remove bans on direct corporate giving to candidates and further erodes its attempt at extending Citizens United to Texas.
The decision marks the result of a 2010 lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party which charged KSP–an organization noted for its mission to unearth voter fraud while battling voter intimidation charges– violated Texas’ restrictions on corporate political contributions by making in-kind donations to the Republican Party of Texas and failing to register as a “political committee” – a violation of state disclosure laws. Moreover, as a self-identified “non-partisan” group, KSP did not offer TDP the chance to partake in candidate forums, poll watcher training events or offer candidate support, Democrats argued.
“The King Street Patriots have been operating as a political entity while blatantly ignoring the laws every other political entity has to abide by. In a desperate attempt to continue doing Republicans’ dirty work in the shadows, they challenged the constitutionality of the laws they were violating,” said TDP spokesperson Anthony Gutierrez in a statement.
“The court has soundly rejected the King Street Patriots’ claims. It is time for this Republican front group to drop the façade, disclose their donors and start operating within the law.”
The Houston Tea Party subsequently countersued TDP, armed themselves with Citizens United case architect, James Bopp Jr., and pro-Chrisitan legal group, the Liberty Institute, and began a full-on challenge to loosen state campaign finance law. KSP sought to dismantle the state’s restrictions on corporate contributions to candidates, officeholders and political committees, and disclosure requirements that apply to political committees.
In their countersuit, KSP argued, “Texas’s general ban on corporate political contributions violates the underlying premise of Citizens United,” because it “permits noncorporate groups and individuals to make political contributions, but bans corporations from making the same speech.”
The Travis County District Court granted a summary judgment to the TDP, throwing out arguments by KSP that characterized definitions of “contribution,” “expenditure” and “political committee” as unconstitutional and vague. Judge John K. Dietz ruled that KSP should not be classified as a 501(c)4 corporation, but a political action committee.
As for the Citizens United argument, the court denied KSP’s claim that a ban on unauthorized corporate contributions and expenditures is unconstitutional under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. The summary judgment notes the group’s lack of merit in the argument– it reads:
“KSP takes seemingly contradictory positions with respect to the regulation of corporations’ political speech under the [Texas Election Code]. First, it argues that the TEC oppressively restricts its political speech by banning political contributions by corporations, but it then argues that the exceptions to the “ban”, i.e. the ways a corporation is permitted to exercise political speech, are so numerous as to dilute the State’s legitimate interests. Neither argument has merit.”
The D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center jumped into the case by filing an amicus brief in defense of the constitutionality of Texas’s campaign finance laws in response to KSP’s countersuit. CLC contends KSP’s legal attempt is indicative of a nationwide trend aimed at uprooting state campaign finance regulations by way of the Citizens United case.
“The decision represents the latest in a string of victories against an aggressive nationwide litigation blitz aimed at overturning a host of state campaign finance laws in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision,” said J. Gerald Hebert, CLC executive director, in a release shortly after the ruling.
“Judge Dietz saw right through the unsubstantiated attempt by attorneys for the King Street Patriots to imply that Citizens United extended to corporate contribution restrictions and disclosure requirements despite the fact that the case did not address the former and upheld the latter by an 8-1 majority.”
But the fight isn’t over for the tea party group. In a release, KSP announced it would appeal the ruling on constitutional grounds.
“While we respect the judge’s authority, we disagree with his findings on the constitutional questions on which he ruled and are aggressively appealing the ruling. It is hard to understand why the Texas Democratic Party continues to pursue this frivolous lawsuit based on a total absence of facts and complete ignorance of our organization,” said spokesperson Bill Ouren.
TDP can now seek economic damages, “equal to twice the amount of the Patriots’ expenditures and contributions,” reported the Houston Chronicle. While KSP has consistently said its fundraising activities consist of little more than, “passing a cowboy hat around meetings,” and won’t disclose its donors–the ruling forces the group to be transparent about its funders and activities.
The Texas Independent has written extensively on the activities of the King Street Patriots, including its multiple legal challenges, its “True the Vote” poll watcher training efforts and nationwide plans to recruit one million volunteers to monitor the 2012 elections:
(Matthew Troy, teapartyphotos.com