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Jacques: Michigan Dems harness #MeToo to silence Shirkey

Ingrid Jacques   | The Detroit News

History has a way of repeating itself. 

Last February, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her fellow Democrats accused Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of sexism when the Senate blocked the appointment of a female biology professor to the Natural Resources Commission. 

This had nothing to do with her sex, but was done after negotiations with Whitmer to pull another appointee failed. 

That didn’t stop Whitmer from calling Shirkey and fellow Republicans “baseless, cruel, and disgusting.”

More: Jacques: Hey Democrats, not everything is sexism

Fast forward one year, and things sound about the same. The state’s leading Democrats are using claims of sexism to undermine the legitimacy of the governor’s most prominent GOP critic. 

Shirkey, a Republican from Clarklake, is in the hot seat this time for off-the-cuff quips about Whitmer and the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. 

In a meeting with some disgruntled Hillsdale County Republicans, Shirkey discussed his ongoing battles with the governor over her handling of the pandemic.

Shirkey thought it was a private meeting, but the group members later posted a full hour-plus video of the encounter to social media. Shirkey has apologized for the words he chose and the “insensitivity” of his comments.

More: Senate leader Shirkey should step down, Progressive Women's Caucus urges

It’s the uproar to what he said, however, that’s stood out to me. Judging by the flood of hand-wringing, one would assume Shirkey was a truly terrible person. But it’s important to note where the criticism is coming from. 

First, let’s consider what he actually said. Regarding Whitmer, he claimed the GOP-controlled Legislature has “spanked her hard” on the budget and appointments. He also said he’s contemplated challenging Whitmer to a “fistfight on the Capitol lawn.” 

Not the best choice of words. But these are turns of phrase and were meant figuratively, not literally. 

That didn’t stop a slew of women’s groups and others from interpreting these words as inherently sexist and calling for Shirkey’s head. Now, even Shirkey’s spokeswoman Amber McCann, who’s defended her boss in the past, is facing the wrath of liberals who are disappointed she’s going to work for Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The left has commandeered language in its social justice cause, and in this politically correct environment it’s easy to take anyone’s comments and weaponize them.

The Michigan Progressive Women's Caucus certainly did, labeling Shirkey’s words “lewd and disturbing.” 

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, chairwoman of the group, and House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, said Shirkey’s actions “show he is unfit to serve in an elected leadership post.”

EMILY’s List, the national group that helps elect pro-abortion, Democratic women, had this to say in a statement: “Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s unhinged, misogynistic comments are a reflection of today’s Republican Party in Michigan.”

It’s not a surprise that Democrats would come to this conclusion. 

But I found it odd to get a strongly worded press release from the Michigan Women's Commission related to Shirkey’s behavior. This is a taxpayer-funded group that’s purportedly all about promoting economic equality for women. 

"There’s a difference between the defense of strongly held policy positions and careless resorts to violent, misogynistic and xenophobic bloviating," said Cheryl Bergman, CEO of the commission, and Shannon Garrett, chief strategy officer of the commission. “Leader Shirkey must take violence against women seriously. Napoleonic rhetoric has consequences.”

It’s worth noting that last August Whitmer moved the Women’s Commission via executive order to the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity — a department she has direct control over — from under the purview of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

In her latest budget proposal, Whitmer requested $366,000 to support the commission’s work. Not all Michigan taxpayers may appreciate their dollars going toward such partisan messaging. 

It’s no coincidence that Whitmer’s supporters in the Legislature and elsewhere are eager to attack Shirkey, who has become a leading opponent of the governor’s unilateral control over the state this past year. And although he’s previously said he’s not interested in running for governor, he’s been sounding like he is. In fact, he recently alluded to that in an op-ed for this paper strongly criticizing Whitmer’s damaging shutdowns and restrictions on the state economy. 

I find it hard to believe so many women are this prudish. Yet turning to #MeToo and slapping charges of sexism on Shirkey is an effective way to silence his legitimate criticisms of the governor’s COVID oversight. 

And it helps clear the field of challengers in next year’s governor’s race.

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques