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Aide who wrote Mike Shirkey’s apologies leaving to work for Dana Nessel

Amber McCann, left, worked for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who is under fire for a string of statements that some have called conspiratorial and misogynistic. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

LANSING — Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, under fire for conspiratorial and misogynistic comments, is losing a top female aide who circulated the public apology he undermined last week. 

Amber McCann, who served as deputy chief of staff and press secretary for the Clarklake Republican, is going to work for Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel as a special projects director, Nessel's office confirmed. 

McCann did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment on the rationale for the move. Nessel communications director Kelly Rossman-McKinney, who McCann will report to, said conversations about the career shift began in the "last two or three weeks."

Pending completion of a background check, McCann is expected to start her new job on March 8. She will work as special projects director in the AG's Office of Public Information and Education, Rossman-McKinney said in a statement. 

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"Ms. McCann has a reputation as a tireless worker and consummate professional and Attorney General Nessel is eager for her to continue serving the people of our state," she added.

McCann, who also worked for the three prior Senate Republican leaders, had not issued a press release since Feb. 9, when she circulated a statement from Shirkey apologizing for what he called “insensitive comments” he made in a private conversation recorded by Hillsdale County Republican Party leaders. 

In that conversation, Shirkey claimed the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was a “hoax” staged by unseen “puppeteers” that was not the fault of supporters of President Donald Trump, who was attempting to stop certification of his 2020 election loss. He also bragged Republicans had “spanked” Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer “hard” over her COVID-19 orders.  

A day after his public apology issued by McCann, Shirkey was caught on a live microphone in the Michigan Senate saying he did not actually regret any of his claims, only the words he used to express them. McCann was with Shirkey that day in the Capitol but declined to discuss his comments, directing any questions back to Shirkey himself. 

 

Shirkey, in a statement, said he has the "utmost respect" for McCann, calling her a "trusted adviser, a consummate professional and integral part of my senior staff the past two years."

While McCann served for prior majority leaders in the Senate, Shirkey suggested the "term-limited environment" in Lansing, which will force him and other lawmakers out of office after 2022, may have played a role in her departure. 

"She sought an opportunity outside the Legislature where she can still be of service to the public," he said.

In a Tuesday radio interview, Shirkey acknowledged Trump “could and should have acted sooner and more forcibly even to call off the attack” at the U.S. Capitol that resulted in five deaths.  But, he said, Trump “did not cause the attack.”

Shirkey sparked another round of condemnation in that same radio interview by alleging, without evidence, that “too many dead people voted” in Michigan’s Nov. 3 election, although not enough to change the outcome. 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office has debunked several previous claims of dead voters casting ballots. 

The claims are “tiresome,” Nessel said in a Wednesday tweet. “Bring my (department) the names of these alleged dead people who voted (and) I will assign career prosecutors who are life-long Republicans to investigate. Otherwise, please stop assailing our democracy.”

In the Tuesday radio interview, Shirkey also defended his Whitmer “spanking” analogy, which has been lambasted as a form of casual sexism and misogyny. He cited a news story about the NFL’s Super Bowl to argue that it is a commonly used metaphor. 

"I've had first-hand experience this past week with a regular 'spanking' by the media,” Shirkey said on WKHM in Jackson. “This ostensibly offensive word is a routinely used term in our lexicon."

Several political staffers in Lansing disputed that characterization. 

“To be clear, the word “spanking” is not a part of MY lexicon,” Whitmer deputy chief of staff Jen Flood wrote on Twitter, “and I’ve certainly never heard it used in the executive office nor any other professional workplace setting.”

Senate Republicans have stuck by Shirkey despite the controversy, and there has been no effort to replace him with a new majority leader. 

But Democrats contend Shirkey’s string of comments have poisoned the work environment in the Michigan Capitol, posing a threat to critical negotiations over how and when to allocate $5 billion in COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government. 

“We've now gone through what I call the stages of the (Senate majority leader) again — make an offensive comment, apologize, take the apology back, justify your actions, and then play the victim card,” Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said Wednesday. 

“We've done all of that. Can we now please move on to the important work that needs to be done?"

 

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