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Michigan rep loses federal education nomination

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan state Rep. Tim Kelly confirmed Thursday that the Trump administration has pulled his nomination for a career, technical and adult education post in the U.S. Department of Education.

Education Week first broke the news. An unnamed administration official told the newspaper Kelly’s nomination was yanked due to old blog posts in which he proposed a no-fly list for Muslims and made other charged comments about Head Start parents and efforts to recruit women into the sciences.

The Saginaw Township Republican defended the years-old blog posts in an interview with The Detroit News, saying his words have been blown out of proportion and were generally reflective of “mainstream” conservative positions.

Kelly learned he’d lost the nomination Wednesday when he visited Washington, D.C., to prepare for a confirmation hearing that had been scheduled for next week.

“This has been a terribly distressing thing over the last eight months for me and my family,” he said of the nomination process. “Increasingly, I became aware that I perhaps was not a good match for some of this given the toxicity of the swamp.”

The unnamed Trump administration official told Education Week that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reviewed the blog posts in question, which the official said should have been discovered earlier in the vetting process.

A U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kelly said he disclosed his former blog “from day one” but indicated it had not been accessible online for several years. While the old blog currently redirects to an inaccessible site, The News was able to access the archives.

In a December 2009 post, made four days after “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate an explosive aboard a plane approaching Detroit Metro Airport, Kelly suggested Muslims should automatically be placed on a no-fly list until they are able to clear their own names.

Abdulmuttallab should have been on the list because of his name alone, Kelly wrote.

“Zenaphobic? No, I'm being pragmatic. Instead of assuming that all people are interested in, let alone capable of, blowing up Western, Christian, or Jewish things, let's assume that all Muslims are. “

He added: “I have friends that are Muslim, and they would have no problem in clearing their names within minutes. Would these friends be upset with my proposal? Perhaps, but we can ill afford to worry about such trivialities anymore. It's time we put an end to ‘politically correct.’”

Kelly defended the post Thursday, saying he was reacting to an attempted terrorist attack and remains concerned that the federal government has not done more to ensure flight safety.

“As a Michigander, I was offended that there isn’t better security trying to help this country from harm and posited the idea that perhaps profiling is a necessary thing,” he said. “This, by the way, was only six short years after 9-11 and nothing had been done.”

In other blog posts, all made before he joined the state Legislature in 2012, Kelly said parents of students in the Head Start program for low-income families are “often themselves academically and socially needy.” He dismissed research showing a bias against women in science fields as “ridiculousness in academia.”

A longtime ally of DeVos in the state Legislature, Kelly said he has not personally discussed recent developments with the West Michigan native.

The White House first announced his nomination in late September. He had been tapped to serve as assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education under DeVos.

“I’m thankful for the nomination, thankful for the initial support,” he said Thursday. “I think it’s been a trying exercise, and I’m thankful that it’s over.

“And good luck to those in Washington, because they need it.”

Kelly, who is serving his third term in the Michigan Legislature, has said he was prepared to resign his House seat for the federal education post.

Instead, he plans to finish his term in Lansing, where he chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid that oversees spending on K-12 education as well as the House Education Reform policy committee.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon argued Kelly should lose those positions as well.

“If Tim Kelly isn’t fit to serve Donald Trump and DeVos, there’s no way he’s fit to serve Michigan’s children,” Dillon said in a statement.

Kelly previously worked as a policy adviser to former GOP Gov. John Engler on education and as a special adviser to the director of the Michigan Department of Career Development. He also helped to form the Michigan Department of Workforce Development.

He was chairman of the Saginaw County Republican Party from 2006 to 2010.