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Opinion: Threats against Gov. Whitmer, other leaders, cannot be tolerated

Rusty Hills

Two years ago, I did everything in my power to defeat Gretchen Whitmer. At the time, I worked for Attorney General Bill Schuette, Whitmer’s opponent in the election for governor. Schuette and Whitmer debated on taxes and spending, roads and schools.  Whitmer was our adversary in that election, but she was not the enemy.

In fact, I recall one debate at the WOOD-TV studios in Grand Rapids. At that event, Whitmer’s father, Dick Whitmer, a friend of mine since his days in the Milliken administration, walked over to shake my hand and say hello. A class act. Dick Whitmer showed us the better angels of our political tradition.

America was founded on a tradition of discourse and debate, sometimes heated, often contentious. But our Founding Fathers fought each other with words and votes, not guns and bombs.

It is my fervent hope that those charged will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, Hill writes.

The 13 men charged with a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, storm the Michigan State Capitol, and “instigate civil war” must have missed that history lesson. Their plan to decapitate Michigan's government is almost beyond belief. This plotted act of violence is more than just shocking and despicable; it is evil.

My first reaction to the news of this alleged kidnapping operation is relief that neither the governor nor anyone else was injured. Between clandestine meetings in some hidden room, surveilling the governor’s vacation home, plans to detonate bombs and hold the governor incommunicado the whole scheme is absolutely incredible — diabolical would be a better word to describe it.

Regrettably, this is not the first time public officials in Michigan have had their safety endangered. Years ago, when I worked with Gov. John Engler, a group of protesters stormed past the gate at the governor’s residence in Lansing. Because this was during the day, no one was at home but the first lady, their three young children and one other woman. The protesters flung feces and bags of urine against the house, banged on the doors and windows and threatened to wreak havoc. 

What the protesters did not know is that then-first lady Michelle Engler is a native Texan, so she does not scare.

Four years ago, another group of protesters descended upon Schuette’s private residence in Midland. Again, the protesters covered the house with slime, banged on doors and windows and sought to intimidate all those inside. Again, the only person home at the time, Cynthia Schuette, was made of sterner stuff. She remained calm and unflappable throughout the ordeal. And the protesters — like all bullies, chickens at heart — turned tail and ran at the first sight of a squad car.

I recently spoke with a former member of the United States Congress. After one vote, he told me that his children, attending college out-of-state, received threats to their safety. 

How sick and twisted it is that some fringe elements of society believe in intimidating women, children and spouses to achieve their political ends.

Congratulations are in order to the Michigan State Police and the FBI for their diligent work to undercover this sad, pathetic plot before anyone could be placed in harm’s way. Having worked in the Department of Attorney General, I have nothing but good to say for our partners in law enforcement. They place themselves in dangerous situations day after day, and they deserve our thanks and gratitude for a job well done.

But our elected officials should not have to depend upon a battalion of public safety officers to do the jobs they were elected to do, which is to solve Michigan’s problems. These jobs are tough enough. No one should have their physical safety threatened, let alone the well-being of their partners, spouses and children.

It is my fervent hope that those charged will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And, if they are convicted, it is my hope that each one of them receives the maximum sentence allowable to send a strong, unmistakable message that this criminality, violence and hate will not be tolerated. 

But that is just the start. In the scriptures, Jesus says “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand.” That statement still rings true today. Robust, vigorous debate is one thing; division and hatred are something else altogether.

For the long-term good of our state and country, we need a change of heart, a turning back to those better angels that lets good people on both sides of the aisle disagree without being disagreeable. 

Michigan, and America, deserve better.

Rusty Hills is a lecturer in public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He previously served as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, and as a senior adviser to Attorney General Bill Schuette and Gov. John Engler.