A hot air balloon is aloft over Lansing.
Various GOP corners have rebuked Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema for two weeks about inflammatory remarks he posted online.
The latest comments to draw criticism were his endorsement of a Russian anti-gay propaganda law as “common sense” and claiming Muslims have not contributed to America.
That’s a problem for Republicans in Michigan heading into the 2014 and 2016 election cycle. Enraging minority groups is not the current game plan for post-Romney Republicans, who almost immediately after their presidential candidate flopped in 2012, heard conservative pundits and establishment Republican strategists make calls to “broaden the tent” to win national elections.
“Leaders have a responsibility to create an inclusive, welcoming party, not to exclude,” said Betsy DeVos, former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman told the Detroit News’ Nolan Finley in an interview condemning Agema’s remarks. “What’s going on is cause for concern about our future prospects as a party and our ability to bring people around to our point of view and long-term agenda. We are driving people away who might otherwise support what we stand for.”
The Republican infighting represents more than just a circular firing squad.
Addressing hate speech may get a splashy response in print, but it falls far short of a simple law change the party of Reagan needs to endorse if it truly wants to broaden its base.
It is a simple change.
Make it illegal for employers to discriminate workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act in Michigan and adopt the national Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Most people in Michigan are unaware employers are still allowed to fire someone for being gay (or bisexual or heterosexual, for that matter).
Eight out of 10 people in the United States believe it is already illegal to fire someone for being gay, according to a poll conducted in September 2013 by Republican pollster Alex Lundry and Americans for Workplace Opportunity and published by Politico.
In Michigan, employers can’t fail to hire or fire someone for their religion, race, color, nationality, age, sex, marital status, height, weight, religion, arrest record or disabilities.
But sexual orientation remains a bigoted loophole that prevents the sexual orientation from being a civil right in Michigan. Twenty-eight other states still don’t have any lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender anti-discrimination protections, according the Pew Research Center.
And U.S. House Republicans – those “broaden the base” people – failed to take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in November after it passed out of the Democratic-led Senate with the help of 10 GOP votes.
The problem is what conservatives say doesn’t match what is legislated.
Just Monday, Prof. Chalkboard, Glenn Beck, chided New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for saying “extreme conservatives have no place in the state of New York” during his radio show on MLK Day.
The conservative radio personality’s riff was that belittling people for their political beliefs is discriminatory, but in making his point transitioned to explaining why diversity in his show, including a gay employee, make the program stronger.
“Here is the thing, I could fire all these people. I don’t…Why don’t I? Because they make me stronger. They make the company stronger,” Beck said.
Likewise, consummate CEO and Gov. Rick Snyder called for “all citizens of Michigan” to respect people from diverse backgrounds in his State of the State last week, during statements broadly interpreted to be a response to Agema’s rhetoric.
“The future of Michigan is dependant on having people understand that differences are a positive power, that we can find common ground, and let’s work to bring Michiganders together – not divide us.”
But the governor has yet to address Elliott-Larsen under his three-year watch, though his 2014 Democratic opponent Mark Schauer has already verbally supported civil rights act reform and a constitutional amendment to legalize gay marriage in Michigan.
Elsewhere in the Great Lakes region, Wisconsin protects sexual orientation as a civil right and Illinois has reinforced employment laws for gender identity and sexual orientation. (Cue the Pure Michigan music.)
In fact, in Michigan, just pitching support for reforming Elliott-Larsen can land Republicans with a primary challenge.
Republican state Rep. Frank Foster, a second-term, 27-year-old lawmaker from Northern Michigan, said in June via a statement he would be backing LGBT workplace protections.
On Wednesday, he received a Tea Party challenger for the August 2014 primary.
“In 2010, we elected Mr. Foster to go to Lansing and change government, but sadly, the Lansing culture changed him,” said Lee Chatfield, a teacher at Burt Lake Christian Academy, who announced he would seek the Republican nomination in the 107th House District over the incumbent. “This is evidenced by his support for tax and fee increases, increased Medicaid entitlement spending, Common Core and his leading role in the effort to amend the Elliott-Larsens (SIC) Act.”
Looks like the definition of Republican in the state is as vast as the difference between Agema and fellow Republican National Committeewoman Terri Lynn Land — who will also be courting her own general election votes in the race for the seat held by Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, who plans to retire.
If the party wants to win big elections, it has a legislative lesson to embrace.
Either Americans are all created equal, or it is discrimination. And while the current GOP establishment has denied the LGBT community job protections, those same constituents have another liberty: the right to vote.