Senate leader Shirkey should step down, Progressive Women's Caucus urges

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey should step down from his leadership position after making "lewd and disturbing" comments in a recorded conversation with Republican constituents, the Michigan Progressive Women's Caucus said Thursday.

Shirkey is facing a firestorm of criticism after he told a group of Hillsdale County Republican Party leaders that it was a "hoax" that supporters of former President Donald Trump were responsible for the U.S. Capitol insurrection. The storming of the Capitol occurred directly after a Washington, D.C., rally featuring Trump and many of those arrested in the melee have voiced support for the former president.

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, chairwoman of the Progressive Women's Caucus, and House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, said the words spoken and actions taken by Shirkey "show he is unfit to serve in an elected leadership post."

Sen. Mike Shirkey.

"Other state Legislatures have taken steps to strip leadership and committee posts from their habitual bad actors and now it’s time for the same accountability in Michigan," Lasinski said. "Anyone who watched the shocking videos of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol should be outraged by Mike Shirkey’s despicable comments.

"The people of Michigan deserve accountability and that starts with holding accountable so-called leaders who push bogus conspiracy theories, foment violence and coddle extreme para-military groups."

Shirkey has not indicated he's entertaining the idea of resigning. He issued an apology on Tuesday, the day an hour-long video of him discussing a wide array of political issues with members of the Hillsdale County Republican Party drew national attention.

The conversation took place at Spangler's Family Restaurant in Jonesville on Feb. 3, according to Jon Smith of Somerset Township, the county GOP's secretary.

In addition to using the word "hoax" to describe the insurrection, Shirkey said he had contemplated challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to a "fistfight on the Capitol lawn." To describe Republican attempts to resist the governor, he said, "We spanked her hard on the budget. We spanked her hard on appointments."

The leaders of the Michigan Women's Commission also condemned Shirkey's comments.

"There’s a difference between the defense of strongly held policy positions and careless resorts to violent, misogynistic and xenophobic bloviating," said Cheryl Bergman, CEO of the commission, and Shannon Garrett, chief strategy officer for the commission, which was created through a 1968 state law.

In Shirkey's Tuesday apology — a statement released to reporters — he said he regrets "the words I chose, and I apologize for my insensitive comments."

"I said some things in a videoed conversation that are not fitting for the role I am privileged to serve," Shirkey said.

But on Wednesday morning, a hot microphone in the state Senate captured Shirkey telling Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist that he wouldn't take back the "points I was trying to make" in the video. However, Shirkey said he would take back some of the words he chose.

The Senate leader didn't respond to questions Thursday as he left the Senate session. And he hasn't addressed specifically his comments to Gilchrist.