Most members of the Republican National Committeeman (RNC) keep a low profile, but not Michigan’s Dave Agema, a bigot who has drawn widespread condemnation for his remarks about gays and Muslims.
Last year, while the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments over same-sex marriage, Agema posted on his Facebook page a link to a dishonest anti-gay article by “Frank Joseph, M.D.,” which was in fact based on a pamphlet written by Edward R. Fields, a white supremacist Ku Klux Klan activist and anti-Semitic Holocaust denier from Georgia.
Filled with lies and ugly stereotypes, this link falsely depicted gay people as living a “filthy lifestyle,” having between 20 and 106 sexual partners per year, almost four-fifths having sexually transmitted diseases, being homicidal deviants responsible for “half the murders in large cities,” half being full of intestinal parasites, dying at a median age of 42, and 19 times more likely to die in a car accident, with 50 percent of suicides attributed to them.
Agema followed up with paranoid conspiracy theories regarding gay rights activists and compared homosexuality to alcoholism.
Speaking at a Republican function in Berrien County on Dec. 5 against extending health care coverage to same-sex couples, Agema falsely claimed that gays are gaming the health care system because they are dying of AIDS between 38 and 44 years old. A former American Airlines pilot, he alleged that gay employees abused the company’s policy of offering domestic partner benefits through sham relationships to obtain AIDS coverage. But in fact the HIV mortality rate has been plummeting for years, and gay people seek health insurance coverage for the same health problems as their straight colleagues.
“Gay people are not like you and me” said Agema in a statement of pure bigotry. “God created them unequal, and it is fiscally impractical to treat them the way we treat everybody else.”
On Jan. 7, Agema posted on his Facebook page a link to the Illinois Family Institute defending a Russian anti-gay law that criminalizes homosexual “propaganda.” Agema called it “common sense.”
Agema next used his Facebook page on Jan. 9 to post a religious tract which asked, “Have you ever seen a Muslim do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?”
Given his prior track record, no one should have been surprised by Agema’s outspoken bigotry. Agema, 64, from the Grand Rapids suburb of Grandville, was elected as a state representative in 2006. While compiling an ultraconservative voting record, he was repeatedly named by Lansing observers as both the state’s worst and least effective legislator. He was at his most irresponsible in 2007, when there was a temporary government shutdown due to a budget deadlock. While legislative leaders were rounding up votes to pass a budget, Agema was off hunting sheep in Siberia
Term-limited out of office in 2012, he was elected to a four-year term as a Republican national committeeman with strong Tea Party support in a revolt against the party establishment.
Republicans often find loose cannons such as Agema useful, because he makes other right wingers look moderate by comparison. His issue positions are not that much different from the Republican mainstream, such as opposition to same-sex marriage, and the bigots in the party’s base can directly relate to him.
But we are now in an election year, and Agema is an embarrassment who makes Republicans look intolerant. The Republicans are trying to broaden their base, seeking to be inclusive in order to win elections. They can’t win by insulting, alienating, demonizing and dehumanizing a wide swath of the voters, which also turns off moderates.
And so, in response to Agema’s bigoted politics of intolerance and exclusion, there has been a Republican backlash against him.
Those calling for Agema to resign from the RNC include the gay Michigan Log Cabin Republicans; former Michigan Republican Party Chair Betsy DeVos; Kalamazoo County Republican Chairman David Worthams; former Grand Traverse County Drain Commissioner Dennis Lennox; Luke Londo, a bisexual member of the 1st District Republican Executive Committee; and former state Rep. Leon Drolet (R-Clinton Township).
Agema’s remarks have been denounced by, among others, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall), and Republican consultant Joe Munem of Warren, whose father is a Muslim. Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak, who is Jewish, denounced Agema for attacking freedom of speech and religion in his January Facebook posts.
In his State of the State speech last week, Gov. Rick Snyder, who did not mention Agema, talked about showing more civility and tolerance to people with “different backgrounds and views.”
But Agema won’t resign from the RNC and can only be removed for refusing to support the next Republican presidential candidate. At the same time, he refuses to back down, admit a mistake or apologize. So the Republicans are stuck with him until 2016, and there is no telling how much damage this loose cannon will cause for them.