Politics and Prejudices: The party that embraced the racist 

Were you aware that ...

"Blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people. They 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"?

No, I did not take that from a Mississippi newspaper published before the Civil War. I got it from the Facebook site of Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema.

That's what the nationally highest-ranking member of the Republican Party in this state evidently believes. He didn't write the article, which purports to be the "Confessions of a Public Defender," writing under the name "Michael Smith."

But he posted it, and clearly believes it. Incidentally, the piece also says "Hispanics usually commit two kinds of crime: sexual assault on children and driving under the influence."

And that's not all Agema believes; exactly a year ago, he posted another article attacking Muslims, and asked "Have you ever seen a Muslim do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?

Before that, it was gays. Agema, who must subscribe to some truly bizarre hate-oriented news service, posted an even crazier article about "homosexuals," which claimed that they committed up to half the murders in large cities.

Four-fifths of them have sexually transmitted diseases, the story continued, adding that gangs of lesbians march through the streets chanting "recruit, recruit, recruit."

Later, in a speech to the Berrien County Republican Party, Agema claimed that gays wanted "free medical [care] because they are dying between 30 and 44 years old."

Now, this has plainly embarrassed most other members of the Republican establishment. Gov. Rick Snyder did not, to his disgrace, take the lead in denouncing Agema.

But he did finally authorize his press secretary to say that Agema's remarks were "wrong, extreme, and discriminatory." Even before this latest racist outburst, GOP state Chairman Bobby Schostak called on Agema to resign. So did Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus. But he is still there.

GOP leaders say they don't have any way to remove him as their national committeeman unless he commits a felony.

The answer to that should be: Find one. Convene a special meeting of the Republican State Central Committee.

The top Republicans in this state should, at the very least, have nothing to do with Agema. They should, loudly, make it clear he doesn't speak for anyone other than himself.

Actually, they should have outed and ousted him at last fall's state convention. But they didn't make any effort to do so.

Which makes you wonder ... how much is Agema really different from the rest of his party? There's no doubt he is an embarrassment to the leadership; they want to win elections.

Jennifer Gratz, the woman famous for crusading against affirmative action at the University of Michigan, noted months ago that every time there's an Agema eruption, it causes "those on the fence to vote Democrat and never look back."

Nor do I think Snyder or Schostak think all gays are disease-ridden criminals or that most blacks, as the article Agema posted says, "cannot speak without swearing."

But in 2012, the Michigan Republican Party convention overwhelmingly elected Agema as its national committeeman, ousting the very conservative, but not racist, Saul Anuzis.

Agema's bizarre ways were no secret. During his three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives, he was voted the "least effective" legislator by a poll of political insiders.

Before being selected as national committeeman, Agema had said nasty things about immigrants and accused President Barack Obama of being a "secret Muslim." And there's more.

Seven years ago, during a battle over the Michigan budget that briefly shut down state government, Representative Agema was nowhere to be found when the crucial votes were cast.

Why? Seems he had decided to go on a two-week expedition to hunt wild sheep in Siberia, while drawing his government salary. You just can't make this stuff up.

But the real question is this:

How can anybody with a conscience vote for any candidates of a party that chooses to send a horribly foul racist and bigot to Washington to represent the Michigan GOP?

Justice for the innocent

Imagine your worst nightmare comes true: You are arrested, jailed, and thrown into a hellhole of a prison for a crime you never committed.

You rot there for years, your career and life destroyed. Suddenly, new evidence proves you were innocent all along.

They open the doors, let you out. How much compensation are you entitled to from the state?

Exactly ... nothing. Actually, state Sen. Steve Bieda told me last week, it is worse in some ways to be a completely exonerated prisoner than a guilty felon released after doing time.

"There are a whole range of rehabilitative services — counseling, a clothing allowance — available for released convicts who were guilty of crimes." Those innocent get zip.

That isn't fair — and for years, Bieda (D-Warren) has been trying to do something about it. When the legislature convenes this week, he plans to introduce — once again — a "Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act," which would make completely innocent, exonerated prisoners eligible for as much as $60,000 for every year they spent behind bars.

Passing such a law would seem to be nothing more than elemental fairness. Thirty states compensate such victims, and I was, frankly, shocked that Michigan does not.

But we don't, and for some reason our legislature refuses to do so. Bieda, a former state representative, did get the House to pass a version of this bill in 2008. But it died in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Last year, he couldn't even get it to the floor for a vote. But he has vowed to keep trying. The problem was first brought to his attention by the case of a fellow Macomb County man, Ken Wyniemko, who was convicted of a brutal 1994 rape.

They essentially locked him up and threw away the key, until Cooley Law School's Innocence Project took up his case and proved through DNA evidence that he was innocent.

Wyniemko was lost after nine years in a cell. Eventually, however, he got a $3.7 million settlement from Clinton Township because of police misconduct.

Others haven't been as lucky.

David Gavitt spent 26 years in jail for burning down his home with his wife and daughters in it. Eventually, the University of Michigan's Innocence Clinic proved that he was a victim of "junk science" theories about the blaze. Gavitt said all he got from the state when they let him out was a turnkey who told him, "There's the door; you're on your own."

Bieda, who is beginning his final four-year term in the Senate, told me he will keep fighting for this bill until it passes or he is out of office, no matter how many times it fails.

"I think it was Babe Ruth who told me that 'Every strike brings me closer to the next home run,'" he gamely said.

What is baffling is why there isn't massive support for this bill. Republicans, who have huge majorities in both houses, are mostly dead-set against doing anything nice for prisoners.

But this would apply only to those who were wrongfully convicted and who were completely innocent.

Oops, there I go again, expecting sane, rational, and compassionate behavior from our politicians.

How stupid could I be?

More by Jack Lessenberry

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