Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
Lansing — Political pressure grew Monday for embattled Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema to tone down his incendiary rhetoric about gays and Muslims as GOP leaders searched for ways to rein him in.
Gov. Rick Snyder praised former Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Betsy DeVos for condemning Agema’s repeated anti-gay comments and social media postings of literature questioning the contributions of Muslims to America.
But the Republican governor stopped short of demanding Agema’s resignation while calling for more “civility and respect for people of all backgrounds and different views” at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Lansing.
“I appreciate Betsy DeVos speaking up,” Snyder told reporters. “Let’s have a discussion on this and hopefully see much less of the negative and derogatory speech happening in our state. It should go away totally would be the best answer.”
The Detroit News first reported Sunday that DeVos, whose west Michigan family is a major GOP donor, is pushing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to join her call for Agema to resign ahead of the RNC’s winter meeting Wednesday in Washington.
Agema fought back Sunday by attempting to distance himself from some of the anti-gay and anti-Muslim information he has promoted on social media, saying on his Facebook page he sometimes links to articles “to encourage discourse.” He did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
Priebus on Monday condemned Agema’s Jan. 9 distribution of an unsigned article on Facebook that attempts to slur Muslims by comparing their contributions to Catholics. “Even if you’re not Catholic, you may find this eye-opening,” Agema wrote Jan. 9.
“The most recent comments regarding Muslim people living in America are patently wrong, lack merit and are devoid of any meaningful value,” Priebus said in a statement to The Detroit News. “These comments don’t represent the Republican Party.”
“This does not constitute endorsement of that position, but some capture a controversial snippet and allege those are my words,” Agema wrote Sunday on Facebook. “It is an unfortunate and uncivil tactic meant to ruin a person’s reputation.”
As a state legislator, Agema repeatedly warned of the Islamic code Sharia Law creeping into American society and sponsored legislation in 2011 to bar “any religious or foreign law” from being applied in Michigan courts.
“This is certainly what he believes. This hostility toward those of the Muslim faith is longstanding and entrenched,” said Joe Munem, a Republican campaign consultant from Sterling Heights whose father is Muslim.
Munem wants GOP leaders to push Agema out of his elected leadership post, though RNC rules say a committee member can be removed only for being convicted of a felony or failure to support the party’s presidential nominee. Munem said Monday the rules should be changed to oust Agema.
“They can create the mechanism to create this, all it requires is the will to do so,” Munem said.
He was joined Monday by west Michigan businessman Brian Ellis, who is running in the Republican primary against U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township.
“I join the real conservative leaders of our state who have condemned Agema’s offensive words,” Ellis said in a statement, “and I ask that Dave Agema do the right thing and step down from his position of National Committeeman.”
Agema’s outspoken views on homosexuality first came under fire in March when he posted — and later deleted — an article with a string of claims about gay promiscuity and child molestation, and linked the “filthy lifestyle” to rising health care costs and claimed “homosexuals account for half the murders in large cities.”
In December, Snyder and other GOP leaders condemned Agema for being quoted as saying at a Berrien County GOP holiday reception that gays “want free medical because they’re dying” of AIDS in their 30s and 40s. Agema posted a link to an article on his Facebook page earlier this month about Russia’s new ban against distributing information about homosexuality to children, calling the law “common sense.”
Agema has repeatedly said his views on social issues are shaped by the Republican Party’s platform, which opposes same-sex marriage.
“His comments about health care had nothing to do with marriage and his comments about Muslims are nowhere in the party platform,” said GOP political strategist Greg McNeilly, a DeVos family associate. “ ... He’s serving the interests of Dave Agema.”
Some of Agema’s tea party supporters, though, appear emboldened by the GOP establishment’s efforts to muzzle Agema.
“The party brass ... are more interested in power and prestige than doing right by the party base,” said Kevin Heine, an Agema supporter and GOP precinct delegate from Kentwood. “They would much rather shut the messenger up than listen to the message. ... Dave’s not bashing gays, he’s pointing out some inconvenient truths.”