Senate GOP leader punishes Colbeck during governor run

Jonathan Oosting

Lansing — Republican state Sen. Pat Colbeck on Wednesday blasted GOP Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof for stripping him of all committee assignments, calling the move a “petty, political response” to his gubernatorial campaign.

Colbeck, a Canton Township resident seeking the GOP nomination for governor in 2018, received a letter from the Senate Business Office on Tuesday informing him that he will lose his seat on four policy panels and an appropriations subcommittee.

Meekhof declined to discuss the forced committee removals, a rare punishment Colbeck attributed to his appearance at a Right to Life of Holland fundraiser two weeks ago. Meekhof, a West Olive Republican, represents the area, and it’s customary for senators to inform colleagues if they will be in their districts.

“I have done that in regards to Senate-related duties,” Colbeck told The Detroit News. “I do that on a regular basis, but when it comes to campaigns, the understanding is we’re running a statewide campaign. Who else is going off and telling everyone where they are?”

Meekhof spokeswoman Amber McCann declined to discuss the specifics of GOP caucus dynamics but said the committee action resulted from “multiple concerns, not the limited explanation” Colbeck provided to reporters and the host of a morning radio show.

“I think that typically when you find yourself on the radio or in print or in front of a camera talking about petty and political (motivations), you might also find yourself in a glass house,” McCann said.

Colbeck will not be barred from Senate GOP caucus meetings, she said.

The tea party favorite has sparred with Meekhof in the past on procedural and policy issues. Colbeck asked for a caucus meeting last week, a request he confirmed Wednesday was related to their dispute.

“This has been brewing ever since I was denied chairmanships when he took over the leadership position,” Colbeck said, referencing committee assignments Meekhof doled out in 2015. “He knows I was pretty quiet then. I don’t plan on being quiet now.”

Colbeck said he was surprised Meekhof recognized him at the Right to Life event in Holland. He noted a recent radio interview in which Meekhof was asked about Colbeck’s run for governor and responded with, “Who?”

The Senate leader brushed by reporters after session on Wednesday. Asked if he wanted to discuss Colbeck, he again feigned ignorance: “Who?”

Colbeck is the only sitting state lawmaker running for governor. Attorney General Bill Schuette of Midland is considered a front-runner for the GOP nomination. Saginaw obstetrician Jim Hines is also running, and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley of Portland is considering a bid.

Democratic candidates include former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed, Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar and former Xerox executive Bill Cobbs of Detroit.

Colbeck, in a critical social media post, noted that Meekhof had once considered running for governor himself. He suggested the senate majority leader was “simply looking for any excuse he might use to cast dispersions upon” his gubernatorial campaign.

Colbeck told The News he thinks Meekhof is wary of anyone who wants to “drain the swamp” in Lansing, echoing the 2016 campaign rhetoric of Republican President Donald Trump.

“There are people pushing agendas right now that have nothing to do with the best interest of people and he’s beholden to those folks,” he said. “So what upsets (Meekhof) more than anything is somebody who’s going to come in there, shake the trees and re-establish the citizens of Michigan as the priority.”