Michigan GOP committee removes member who called out maskless meeting

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News
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A Michigan Republican who spoke out against former President Donald Trump and was hospitalized with COVID-19 after a GOP committee meeting has lost his position as the group's treasurer.

The 6th Congressional District's executive committee voted 26-0 on Saturday to remove Jason Watts, 44, of Allegan, as its treasurer. The vote occurred less than a month after Watts attended a district committee meeting at a Portage restaurant where he believes he contracted the coronavirus.

Republican officials have linked at least four COVID-19 cases to the March 25 gathering. Watts, one of the four, was hospitalized for five days. He told his story publicly, drawing criticism from fellow committee members ahead of Saturday's vote.

“It used to be a party of ideas and coming together for limited government and lower taxes and a strong national defense," Watts said in an interview Saturday afternoon. "Now it’s how strongly did you support Trump."

Jason Watts

Each of Michigan's 14 congressional districts has a Republican committee. The committees serve as a key part of the Michigan GOP's decision-making infrastructure. The 6th District features six counties in southwest Michigan and is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.

The district's executive committee met over Zoom Saturday to remove Watts as treasurer.

According to a document obtained by The Detroit News, the committee claimed that Watts "engaged in behavior that is detrimental to the goals and purpose of this organization."

The behavior included providing false information to the committee, serving as "unofficial spokesperson for the committee and attacking it publicly" and engaging in behavior harmful to the party, according to the document, entitled, "Violations of Bylaws by Mr. Watts."

Watts said some Republicans have even accused him of spreading COVID-19 at the March 25 meeting.

Scott McGraw, chairman of the 6th District committee, declined to comment on Saturday. But McGraw informed Watts that he had been removed in a 26-0 vote.

The Lansing headquarters of the Michigan Republican Party is pictured on Friday, April 16, 2021.

Watts has been a member of the Republican Party for more than two decades.

He drew criticism from fellow executive committee members after he told The New York Times in February that he had never voted for Trump. In 2016, he cast his ballot for independent candidate Evan McMullin and in 2020, he voted for  Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, according to the article.

Some of the Republicans in the 6th District wanted Watts removed after those comments. His revelations about the March 25 district committee meeting at Traveler's Cafe in Portage added further fuel to the fire. Watts told The News earlier this month that about three of the 70 people in attendance for the gathering were wearing masks at one point.

"This meeting is what's happening in a lot of districts," Watts said. "They're not following the guidelines. I would say, at most, that room should have had 40 people there.

"The people in charge did not care."

Earlier this month, McGraw, chairman of the 6th District Republican Committee, said about 50 people attended the meeting and four to eight people later tested positive for the virus. McGraw said he knows of four people who tested positive and has heard about four others.

"Most of them in that room are not believers in the vaccine," McGraw said. "That’s something we’ve got to contend with.”

Michigan has been leading the nation in new COVID-19 cases per population since the beginning of April.

Earlier this month, Matt Johnson, a spokesman for the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department said the department had been in contact with Traveler's Cafe and was "aware of the outbreak."

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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