Betsy DeVos: GOP must be about principles over personalities

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island — Betsy DeVos, former U.S. education secretary, encouraged Michigan Republicans on Saturday to focus on principles over "personalities" during a speech at the party's leadership conference on Mackinac Island.

DeVos, a former state GOP chairwoman and a major donor to conservative causes, led a panel discussion on education policy. But she opened the conversation with a 10-minute address that appeared to touch on the ongoing debate among Republicans about the role of former President Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 election but remains popular within the party. DeVos didn't mention Trump by name.

"I worry that principles have been overtaken by personalities today," DeVos told the crowd. "Politics now are so often about the people, not the policies that impact people's lives directly."

Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at the Yankee Rebel Tavern on Mackinac Island Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, during the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. DeVos spoke at a Michigan Freedom Fund event targeting Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

DeVos spent much of her address touting "educational freedom," allowing parents to pick which schools their kids go to, public or private, and requiring that tax dollars follow the student there. She argued that it's good policy. The Republican Party must be about advancing ideas that improve lives, she said.

"Ours is not a movement dependent on any one person," DeVos said. "Instead, it's rooted in our foundational constitutional principles and their promise to every person in this great land."

DeVos served as Trump's education secretary. However, she resigned on Jan. 7, a day after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In her resignation letter, DeVos blamed Trump for inflaming tensions.

“There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me,” she wrote.

"We should be highlighting and celebrating your administration's many accomplishments on behalf of the American people," DeVos wrote to Trump. "Instead, we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protesters overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people's business."

Much of this weekend's Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference has focused on education policy, including calls for GOP supporters to run for school board positions amid intense debates in the state over curriculum and mask policies in K-12 buildings.

Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, chairwoman of the Senate education committee, encouraged people to show up at school board meetings and let their voices be heard.

"If what you're saying isn't working, then run and replace them," Theis said.

Meshawn Maddock, co-chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, told attendees on Friday that if they are ready to run for school board, she's ready to make the first contribution to their campaigns.