GOP lawmaker, attorney general candidate clash over 2020 election response

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A Michigan GOP lawmaker and a Kalamazoo lawyer running for attorney general clashed over the handling of the 2020 election at a tense Sunday party event in northern Michigan where the legislator used expletives in responding to the lawyer's comments.

Republican attorney general hopeful Matt DePerno, who's led a lawsuit in Antrim County claiming election fraud, lambasted Michigan GOP lawmakers during his speech in Manistee County dubbing them "progressive Republicans" who have corroborated in a leftist agenda, according to a video recording of the event

"What I’ve learned in the past six months is we elected people to Lansing who do not have courage. And that needs to stop," DePerno said, while Rep. Jack O'Malley, R-Lake Ann, and Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, waited to speak at the Manistee County MI Freedom Event.

State Rep. Jack O'Malley

DePerno argued state lawmakers should have decertified the election, subpoenaed county election records and run more audits. He added that he had invited senators and representatives to meet with him about his case in Antrim County, but only three House lawmakers agreed to do so. 

Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer dismissed the suit in May, indicating an audit was already done. Democrat Joe Biden won the county in preliminary results, but then President Donald Trump won the county when errors were found and corrected for the certified results.

"You have 13 dead Marines, people, because our state electors have failed to do anything about this election," said DePerno, apparently referring to the Marines killed by a suicide bomber during the Afghanistan withdrawal under Biden.

O'Malley, who spoke right after DePerno, appeared rattled by the candidate's comments and noted "I'm a little pissed off right now if you haven't guessed."

"I’m not a lifelong politician," O'Malley said. "F--- it, I’m not even a g--d--- RINO.

"And, Mr. DePerno, I checked. My office never got an invite from you. If you got it sent, we’ll look for it, but you sure didn’t try too hard.”

O’Malley said at the meeting that Republicans had to pay attention to the “little things,” such as reining in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administrative and emergency powers, the redistricting process and taking back state government following months of executive authority. He said Republicans “cannot lose sight that 2022 is massive for the state of Michigan and the country.”

“You can stand there and you can sing and you can dance and you can claim, but it’s (about) getting the job done,” O’Malley said.

“I have been working hard for the last three years, and I have been honest and open and probably the most transparent representative out there. … I am going to take the evidence, and I am going to look at things, and I am going to have to decide, but we also have to follow the rules and we also have to follow the laws.”

The lawmaker noted voter-approved initiatives in 2018 were in large part responsible for changes in the election and redistricting process, at which point someone in the crowd appeared to imply Dominion Voting Systems was involved in their passage. 

“Dominion did not have anything to do with the redistricting,” O’Malley said. 

“How do you know?” someone in the crowd shouted, as attendees began speaking over one another.

O’Malley responded: “We need to keep focused on things. If you’re a patriot, just because you agree with somebody or disagree with somebody else, we're in a hell of a mess.”

When asked about the incident Thursday, DePerno sent a screenshot of an email sent to Republican lawmakers, including O'Malley, in December 2020 that included a copy of a report in his Antrim County case and inviting lawmakers to call him.

He argued Sen. Ed McBroom — a Vulcan Republican who led a probe finding no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election — didn't meet with him prior to the report's publication and refused a meeting afterward because of Attorney General Dana Nessel's investigation into individuals who pushed false claims about the elections.

"Once they see the evidence, they can no longer ignore it; they can no longer claim they haven't seen evidence of fraud," DePerno said Thursday. "That is childish behavior and shows a lack of courage."

Besides McBroom's Senate investigation and report, a series of court rulings, bipartisan boards of canvassers and dozens of audits performed by Republican and Democratic election officials have supported the integrity of the 2020 election. Trump lost Michigan by 154,000 votes, or 3 percentage points, to Biden.

Matthew DePerno

At Sunday's Manistee County event, O'Malley, VanderWall and U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, stressed the need for unity as the party refocuses on the 2022 elections. 

Manistee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeff Dontz added to those sentiments at the end of the meeting, noting "there's been a little blood pressure coming up here."

"Jack O’Malley, Curt VanderWall are friends, they’re personal friends, and I can tell you I’m a man of integrity and I will tell you they are as well," Dontz said. "You don’t have to agree with everything they’re doing. I’m telling you straight up, they are men of integrity.”