Michigan GOP black outreach official sounds off

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Activists defending President Donald Trump are calling on the Michigan Republican Party’s director of African American engagement to resign after he criticized a presidential pardon and argued that standing by Confederate monuments will not help the GOP convert minority voters.

Wayne Bradley, who is black and helps run the state party’s permanent office in Detroit, took to Facebook this weekend and lambasted former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, who was pardoned by Trump on Friday after defying a court order to stop patrols targeting immigrants.

“Violating civil rights and ignoring the laws does not make anyone a hero,” Bradley wrote. “A lot of people have lost (sight) of what being a Conservative is, this ain’t it.”

In a separate post, Bradley bashed Confederate monuments as “participation trophies” that “celebrate losers” and sided with calls to tear down reminders of slavery-era Civil War figures. In doing so, he broke with Trump, who has said it’s “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart.”

Bradley also defended the right of free agent National Football League player Colin Kaepernick to kneel during the national anthem as protest against the treatment of African Americans, and he praised Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for backing plans to rename Cobo Center, which honors a former mayor known for fomenting racial strife.

“You can’t claim to be from the party of Lincoln and defend the confederacy,” said one image he shared online.

Bradley, who backed Trump’s election in 2016, did not mention the president by name in any of his posts, but his comments fueled criticism from Trump loyalists and highlighted ongoing divides among party activists.

Bradley is “giving cover” to Democratic and liberal groups that oppose the president, said GOP activist Brian Pannebecker of Macomb County, who highlighted Bradley’s comments on Facebook and questioned his fitness for the job.

“If he continues to hold positions that I think are at odds with the president, who’s the leader of our party… I don’t think he’s the right person to carry our views – the party’s views – into the black community and engage those folks,” Pannebecker told The Detroit News.

Pannebecker, who is white, called Bradley a friend and said there is room in the GOP for disagreement. But Bradley is a paid official, he said, and should be focused on growing the party rather than trying to “change it.”

The Michigan Republican Party is staying out of the feud for now.

“Wayne’s social media posts are his own,” spokeswoman Sarah Anderson told The News. “He is not speaking on behalf of the party.”

Bradley also was criticized by Antrim County Republican Party chairman “Trucker” Randy Bishop after he explained he did not personally support the Arpaio pardon but said the “big tent” GOP allows different views.

“No,...actually you work for and get paid by the Michigan Republican Party,” Bishop wrote on Facebook, “...and President Donald J. Trump is the CEO of the ENTIRE Republican Party,...no big tent for his employees!!! Get behind our President, or resign,...now!!!”

Bradley defended his posts online but declined an on-the-record interview with The Detroit News.

Critics want him to “stand with Sheriff Joe, confederate monuments, condemn Kap, and ignore real issues of concern in my community,” Bradley wrote. “Won’t be able to do any effective outreach running with that platform.”

Bradley’s commentary – and the ensuing criticism – comes weeks after a violent clash in Virginia, where white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups had gathered to protest the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville.

Trump condemned racism and white supremacists but also said there were “very fine people” on both sides of the demonstration. He later suggested that tearing down statues of Confederate soldiers could be a slippery slope towards removing statues honoring founding fathers who owned slaves.

Democrats and several congressional Republicans criticized Trump over his Charlottesville comments, and a number of Republicans again questioned the president on Friday after he pardoned Arpaio.

Trump spared the 85-year-old former sheriff a possible jail sentence by pardoning him from a recent conviction stemming from his immigration patrols.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said he disagreed with the pardon. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a west Michigan Republican, said Arpaio had “ignored the Bill of Rights.”

Pannebecker said it is inappropriate for Bradley to publicly criticize the pardon of a “law enforcment agent who spent his entire time in law enforcement serving his country and trying to protect Americans.”

He also criticized Bradley for defending Kaepernick, suggesting “that’s not a conservative position.”

Bradley fired back on social media.

“So now supporting Sheriff Joe, confederate monuments, condemning Colin Kaepernick for his freedom of speech, all while supporting the ‘free speech’ of the Tiki Torch crew are hallmarks of conservatism?” he wrote. “...Y’all ain’t conservative at all.”