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Hard candy or mud? Michigan Republicans choose their weapons in battle for GOP’s soul

The world is full of people that declare “I hate to say I told you so …” so to mark the second anniversary of the federal government watchdog “On Guard” column — an oasis of fact in a wasteland of lying affected by far too many mountebanks — I’m sharing two less-than-revelatory revelations:

1. They’re mendacity.

2. I’m not one in all them.

Which is why I’m referencing my first On Guard column of April 24, 2022, which started: “It feels like we’ve been here before — a battle for the soul of the Michigan Republican Party” to let you know that “I told you so.”

I filed that dispatch from a conference corridor in Grand Rapids the place die-hard Trump supporters, referred to as MAGA Republicans, and the institution Republicans they dismissively labeled RINOs, or “Republicans In Name Only,” battled over who would signify the Grand Old Party as their nominees for Attorney General, Secretary of State and a handful of different statewide workplaces in the 2022 common election.

Unlike in 1988, when reasonable Republicans aligned with George H.W. Bush turned again a problem from conservatives who supported Pat Robertson, this time the conservatives gained management of the state celebration. And the MIGOP, because the state Republican celebration is understood, has been at struggle with itself ever since.

The purpose I’m revisiting this now, apart from to rejoice my two-year anniversary by giving myself a pat on the again, is as a result of the internecine household feud has trickled right down to the native stage. In pastoral Plymouth Township, Supervisor Kurt Heise is casting his reelection marketing campaign as a final stand for affordable Republicans in opposition to fanatical alt-right forces who he says have drafted longtime township trustee Chuck Curmi as their champion. Curmi says Heise is mendacity about him to deflect consideration from Heise’s place on points which might be “tearing at the fabric of our community.” The rivals additionally disgree on whether or not Curmi has a historical past of disrespecting the ladies he works with. Meanwhile, about 20 miles away in the comfortable village of Milford, longtime councilman Kevin Ziegler is difficult MAGA warrior Matt Maddock in a Republican state House main as a result of he says Maddock has forsaken native points and develop into “an international clown” for his feedback about unlawful immigrants and different hot-button points.

Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt HeisePlymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise

Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise

Plymouth Township Trustee Chuck CurmiPlymouth Township Trustee Chuck Curmi

Plymouth Township Trustee Chuck Curmi

“The last time I saw Matt Maddock at a parade, the kids were throwing the hard candy he was tossing out back at him,” Ziegler stated in the information launch he issued every week in the past heralding his candidacy.

When I contacted Maddock to debate Ziegler’s marketing campaign and claims, he despatched me a textual content that stated: “The world’s on fire and this guy is talking about candy?”

Whether it is laborious candy or mud that is being thrown, you will must maintain your head right down to keep away from getting caught in the crossfire now that the battle for the soul of Michigan’s Republican Party is coming to a city close to you.

Revolution in reverse

It did not take lengthy on that day two years in the past, when Michigan Republicans nominated Matt DePerno for Attorney General and Kristina Karamo for Secretary of State, for GOP stalwarts to foretell their candidacies would make it robust for Republicans to beat incumbent Democrats Dana Nessel and Jocelyn Benson, respectively. DePerno and Karamo had been die-hard supporters of former President Donald Trump and his unfounded declare that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from him.

Running with that burden, and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made abortion one of the crucial vital points on the polls, DePerno, Karamo and Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon obtained crushed, struggling double-digit losses.

Instead of fixing course, Republicans doubled down. In early 2023, they chose Karamo to steer the state celebration.

A 12 months later, a divided celebration that was deeply in debt deposed Karamo and changed her with a extra established —and institution — celebration chair: former Congressman Peter Hoesktra.

With the drama on the high of the state celebration seemingly receding, I obtained a name from Heise, a former Wayne County commissioner and state consultant who was first elected Plymouth Township supervisor in 2016. Heise’s considerations had been twofold: He believes Curmi’s candidacy is a part of a right-wing conspiracy to take over Plymouth Township and that Curmi’s rhetoric energized doubtlessly harmful conspiracy theorists like John Philip Anderson. After attending a Curmi marketing campaign occasion in March, Anderson despatched township officers an e-mail calling Plymouth “the perfect place to draw a line in the sand on the nonsense we face and start recovering our ground.”

It’s not clear precisely what Anderson meant by that, however he made it clear he didn’t like Heise or his spouse, Catherine, who’s a Wayne County Circuit Court choose. He’s additionally not a fan of former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, whom he known as a “globalist traitor nerd.”

“I am immediately proceeding with a ‘lawfare’ operation against them,” Anderson wrote, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as utilizing the authorized system to trigger issues for an opponent.

“Frankly, I expect both of them to resign before the election,” Anderson continued, referring to the Heises. “These seem like perfect people to make examples out of, to me. Did you hear about Trump’s #bloodbath hoax?”

Further regarding Heise was a run-in Anderson had with a township official in 2018. The official, who was eradicating marketing campaign indicators that had been illegally posted on public land, instructed police Anderson requested him what he was doing and approached him whereas brandishing a 9-inch kitchen knife. Anderson was charged with disorderly conduct, however prosecutors finally dropped the fees.

Heise faulted Curmi for taking 5 days to disavow Anderson and his e-mail.

“He should have immediately responded to the original email and said ‘I want nothing to do with you, I don’t know who invited you to my party, and go to hell on roller skates,’ ” Heise instructed me.

Curmi countered that he did not reply sooner as a result of the e-mail landed in his township e-mail inbox, which he does not test on daily basis. He stated he had by no means met Anderson earlier than his occasion and stated he was invited by somebody who attended the occasion. Curmi additionally stated he subsequently refunded Anderson’s contribution to his marketing campaign.

“I don’t know whether that was a setup or whatever,” Curmi instructed me. “That person has no connection to me.”

“My opponent is trying to tie me to people,” he added. “This is crazy, this is a fabrication, this is lying. It’s deflection from what the real issues are. It’s tearing at the fabric of our community.”

Curmi, who says he is not a strong sufficient orator to encourage somebody to take drastic motion, says his marketing campaign is targeted on opposing main developments that may create visitors issues, disrupt neighborhoods and improve taxes. He accused Heise and his supporters of utilizing social media to intimidate individuals who oppose his plans.

“Plymouth Township is not for sale,” Curmi stated. “We want to maintain our stable neighborhoods. Each of these initiatives bring increased traffic, increased crime and as a result you have to increase taxes.”

Heise says he’s the one being focused — for being a reasonable Republican and ally of Snyder.

“I’m a traditional conservative who believes in sound fiscal management, public safety and doing what’s best for the people,” he stated. “I’m flying in the face of all the disparaging comments they make about moderates and RINOs and all of the terminology that they throw around.”

What the report reveals

When Heise says “they” he means Maddock and his spouse, Meshawn, the previous co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party. The Maddocks are Trump loyalists who’ve little endurance for anybody they deem lower than loyal to the previous president or conservative causes. Meshawn Maddock has been charged with attempting to fraudulently solid Michigan’s electoral school votes for Trump in 2020.

Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock and state Rep. Matt Maddock walk around before a Save America rally at the Michigan Stars Sports Center in Washington Township on April 2, 2022.Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock and state Rep. Matt Maddock walk around before a Save America rally at the Michigan Stars Sports Center in Washington Township on April 2, 2022.

Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock and state Rep. Matt Maddock stroll round earlier than a Save America rally on the Michigan Stars Sports Center in Washington Township on April 2, 2022.

Heise additionally means the Grand New Party Political Action Committee, which is run by Shane Trejo. Trejo’s LinkedIn web page refers to him as a “freelance journalist and independent-minded political activist focused on exposing government and corporate corruption.” Bridge Michigan reported in 2022 that Trejo known as for utilizing pressure to close down a public library in western Michigan as a result of it provided books with LGBTQ+ themes. He instructed Bridge that he meant the state ought to use “the force of law,” and that the “state ought to shut down this library and any library that has pornography books accessible for youngsters. It shouldn’t be allowed to exist on personal funding or crowdsourced funding of any variety.”

Bridge Michigan additionally cited a 2021 Daily Beast article that stated Trejo as soon as hosted a podcast with a member of a white supremacist group and praised white supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville in 2017 as “civil rights heroes.”

Curmi says he’s not in cahoots with Matt Maddock and that their interplay is proscribed to exchanging greetings at occasions.

“I’ve by no means known as up Matt Maddock and spoken to him on the telephone about something,” Curmi said, calling Heise’s conspiracy theory “completely outlandish.”

He also said he is not an ally of Trejo.

“This is a really unusual strategy the opponent is taking to an election in Plymouth Township,” Curmi said of Heise. “These issues are nothing. … It’s virtually like he is attempting to enchantment to a bunch of peole who can be triggered by these items.”

Campaign finance records show that Curmi donated $50 in 2018 to Maddock’s campaign for state representative. He also made a $40 contribution last year to the Grand New Party PAC and a $140 contribution in February.

Curmi said the PAC contributions were actually the cost of tickets he bought to attend an event that someone invited him to.

“I do know little or no concerning the Grand New Party,” Curmi said. “Very little.”

(My review of campaign finance records uncovered one contribution neither Heise nor Curmi may be proud of these days: In 2011, Curmi donated $100 to Heise’s campaign committee while Heise was serving in the Michigan House of Represenatives.)

Other public records lend credence to Heise’s contention that Curmi is a sexist who does not work well with women.

Among those records is the police report from an 1993 incident at gas station in Plymouth Township. According to a cashier and a customer, Curmi became impatient and called the female cashier things you would not say to a woman if her husband or brothers were nearby. The report also says he told her: “I can ship anyone to show you a lesson …” then knocked over a newspaper stand and some snack displays. The report says the cashier had been helping another customer contact a towing company when Curmi “started questioning her selection of tow corporations and the style in which she was providing solely restricted help.”

A police report said Curmi reviewed the incident report and told an officer “it’s false and comprises gross lies.”

It continues: “Mr. Curmi contends he ‘simply tried to be a great Samaritan by serving to somebody not conversant in the American language or tradition’ and that, sadly, his actions had been misinterpreted. Mr. Curmi denies making any vulgar statements in the direction of the cashier and additional states he didn’t disturb any merchandise throughout the constructing throughout his go to.”

Curmi was charged with a misdemeanor count of disturbing the peace. Because he was a township trustee, the case was prosecuted in another jurisdiction. After the case concluded, the files were returned to Plymouth Township. It is not clear how the case was resolved because many of the records at the Plymouth District Court were destroyed when the courthouse burned down in 1997. Curmi declined to discuss it, calling the matter “a setup.”

“It didn’t occur,” he told me. “It was a fabriction that tied me into one thing that was a nonevent and was blown out of proportion for political causes.”

Curmi said he was targeted because he was a brash new trustee.

“It was a miscarriage of justice, that is for positive,” he said.

Curmi’s conduct toward women came into question again 10 years later, when a former colleague sued Lear Corporation, an automotive supplier, where Curmi was working as an engineer. Julie Newman sued Lear in 2003 after she was fired, claiming that she was retaliated against for complaining about sexist remarks she accused Curmi of making.

Curmi was not named as a defendant, but court records show that several of his colleagues testified that he had a history of making inappropriate comments, ranging from “girls shouldn’t work in the automotive trade as a result of they’re too emotional,” to “that is what you get when you might have a lady engineer,” to “girls need to have all of it; have infants and nonetheless work, however have time without work; and we won’t do this.”

The lawsuit says Curmi was “verbally warned … about making gender-based feedback” at a meeting in which he called a complaint against him a “fabrication.” It says Curmi was not disciplined and “nothing was positioned in his personnel file.”

The lawsuit was dismissed after a judge determined that the Lear executives who fired Newman did not know that she had complained about Curmi, and that when she had been passed up for promotion it was because other applicants were more qualified.

Curmi called the lawsuit another issue that has nothing to do with Plymouth Township or the issues in his race with Heise.

“I used to be not sued in this case and any kind of perjury and fabrication might be made in an try to achieve cash,” he said. When I shared some of the things his colleagues said under oath, he told me: “These aren’t issues that I stated.”

Meanwhile, in Milford …

Unlike Curmi, Maddock embraces the MAGA label.

He did not grant my request for an interview, instead responding to questions with a series of texts. When I told Maddock I was writing about how the battle between MAGA Republicans and so-called RINOs has extended from the national and state level to local races, and that Heise believes Maddock is the mastermind of a plot to oust him as Plymouth Township supervisor, Maddock sent back a text that said: “Ya he is all the time been obsessive about me, it is bizarre.”

That’s a great phrase to explain the media dust storm Maddock kicked up final month when he posted on X: “Happening proper now. Three busses (sic) simply loaded up with unlawful invaders at Detroit Metro. Anyone have any thought the place they’re headed with their police escort?”

Turns out those “invaders” were four men’s college basketball teams arriving in Detroit to play in the Sweet Sixteen portion of the NCAA men’s basketball national championship tournament. The post made international news and turned Maddock into a punchline du jour.

For Keith Ziegler, a village councilman in Maddock’s hometown of Milford, it was the last straw. So, after 15 years on council, he decided to run against Maddock in the Republican primary for the state House seat Maddock has held since 2019.

In one of the more entertaining candidacy announcements I’ve read, Ziegler says: “For a very long time it is bothered me how little regard my state consultant has for the communities he’s paid to signify. He’s all about being seen on the statewide and even nationwide stage — usually to our embarrassment — however the one time I’ve even heard of him coming into our village workplaces is to complain about his OWN taxes.”

Ziegler, a consultant who used to work as a sales rep for a dental supplier, wrote: “If I had adopted Matt Maddock’s work habits in my enterprise, I’d have been out screaming in the road about dentists secretly funding Big Candy to create cavities, as a substitute of discovering out what my clients wanted and fixing their issues.”

The issue for Ziegler isn’t so much policies — he says he agrees with Maddock “on problems with spending, regulation, parental rights and regulation and order” — but priorities.

Simply put, he believes Maddock is suffering from MAGA madness.

“Maddock is simply such a fringe man, he is on the opposite aspect with individuals who lose the imaginative and prescient,” he told me, adding that if he didn’t run against Maddock “he will proceed to do the identical issues he is been doing … dragging my city via the mud by saying silly s— on Twitter.”

When I asked Meshawn Maddock whether she remembers a parade in which kids threw candy at her husband, she sent me a photo of supporters marching down the main drag in Milford carrying a banner that said: “MADDOCK TRUMP REPUBLICAN for State House. Send a Guard Dog to Lansing.” When I expanded the photo, I did not see any flying sweets.

Ziegler says he thinks the empty calories flew during the Fourth of July parade, but he’s not sure. When I asked him if he was engaging in hyperbole, he wrote back: “not a joke, lots of people noticed it.”

In response to my final attempt to get Maddock to speak to me, he sent a text that said: “Really all I’ve to say is everyone must get on the Trump Train or get out of the best way.”

Suffice to say, two years after this column launched with a prediction of a bitter battle among Michigan Republicans, it looks like it will be a while longer before the mud — if not the candy — stops flying.

M.L. Elrick is a Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter and host of the ML’s Soul of Detroit podcast. Contact him at [email protected] or comply with him on X at @elrick, Faceook at ML Elrick and Instagram at ml_elrick.

This article initially appeared on Detroit Free Press: Battle for soul of Michigan Republican Party coming to town near you

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