GOP committee censures Agema over comments

The Detroit News

The Republican National Party's Executive Committee voted to censure embattled committeeman Dave Agema and is calling on the state Republican Party to explore ways to formally remove him from his post.

The vote came Wednesday during RNC's annual winter meeting this week in San Diego. The move to censure him also demanded his resignation.

For more than a year, Agema — who has been blasted for a string of public and social media outbursts that critics have decried as racist and homophobic — has resisted resignation calls from top Republican leaders. Officials have said they don't have the power to remove him, short of a felony conviction.

"It is clear that Michigan's current Republican National Committeeman is not an effective party leader or representative, and has demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to change his behavior," Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak said in a statement Wednesday. "My position remains unchanged from a year ago, I hope Mr. Agema will voluntarily resign, but if he does not, the Michigan Republican Party will continue exploring all possibilities to address his actions."

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus added: "Dave Agema's history of harmful and offensive rhetoric has no place in our party, which is why the RNC Executive Committee acted in the swiftest way possible to avoid giving him a platform," he said. "We have voted to censure him, and we are urging the Michigan GOP and their voters to explore options to discipline Agema for his actions. Today, we used all available tools to remove him from the committee."

Darren Littell, a spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, said the next step is to talk with its legal counsel to identify a way to remove Agema, an outspoken conservative former state representative from Grandville who was elected as Michigan's RNC committeeman in 2012.

"We're going to continue to try and find a way or mechanism to do that," he said, adding that the RNC move Wednesday was significant because the committee acted collectively to denounce Agema while in the past individual members had done so.

Agema did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

The censure vote came a day after Michigan Republican lawmakers and the head of the Virginia Republican Party increased pressure on the Republican National Committee to find a way to oust Agema, who has faced scrutiny for posting an article on Facebook last month from a white supremacist magazine that demeans African-Americans.

Oakland County Sens. Mike Kowall and Jim Marleau and Rep. Jim Tedder sent the Republican Party's 168-member governing board a letter Tuesday pleading that it "end our party's long nightmare" and remove Agema and his "hateful rhetoric" from the RNC.

A copy of the letter stated that the RNC can use parliamentary procedures to expel Agema from national meetings, temporarily or permanently. Agema's four-year committee term ends next year.

The most recent article Agema recommended his Facebook friends read included passages by a purported public defender who said his black clients "cannot reason as well. They cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well. They are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike."

Agema later deleted the Facebook post.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder condemned the remarks Monday, but stopped short of saying Agema should step down from the unpaid party leadership post.

Agema has faced controversy before over posts or comments that GOP leaders and others have rejected as divisive and inappropriate.

Last fall, a Muslim advocacy group called on the governor to condemn Agema's online comments interpreted as referring to people of Middle East ancestry as "camel jockeys."

In January 2014, The Detroit News reported Betsy DeVos, a former head of the state Republican Party, called for him to resign after he made insulting comments about Muslims and homosexuals. Others in the party, including Schostak, joined in the call for his resignation.

Despite the mounting pressure, Agema told The News at the time he regretted some of his posts but would not step down.

The RNC's decision Wednesday suggests members consider the uproar surrounding Agema "more than a Michigan problem — this is a national problem," said Paul Welday, Republican chairman of the 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of Wayne and Oakland counties.

"With every passing day and every additional Facebook post that demeans this group or another, he hurts the Republican cause."

Detroit News Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed to this report.