Putting Shirkey’s Latest Controversy In The Correct Context

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey on video as recorded by Jon Smith as they and other members of the Hillsdale County Republican Party met to discuss their censure of him.

If you came here because you were looking for more about Mike Shirkey’s most recent (as of February 11th, 2021) controversial comments, first of all, welcome!  Secondly, buckle up, because there’s a LOT you haven’t been told, and it's not all about our dear poser of a state senator.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, he’s an ass and a half, and he’s about as effective a legislator as damp sod, but while several of the things he said in the video clips you’ve seen are inexcusable, the context in which he said them doesn’t leave him as the primary bad guy here.  He’s still a bad guy, he’s just not the bad guy in this situation.

I was originally going to call this piece “Cut For Time,” because that’s why you haven’t gotten this context.  Today’s newscasts and social media soundbites are too short, and most outside news outlets don’t bother doing deep dives into the goings-on here in Hillsdale County.  With this particular matter, they don’t see the necessary context as necessary, they just see the headline: “State Senate Majority Leader Denies Obvious Fact.”  That’s the situation that has allowed the local Republican Party leadership to frame this entire story their own way in an attempt to take Shirkey down a peg or two.

What you’re not getting is THEIR backstory.  To truly grasp the plot of this unintentional dramedy, you have to know who the characters are.

That starts with the former Hillsdale County Republican Party leadership.

Like the state and national-level parties, the Hillsdale GOP was previously under the control of, what was at the time, the neoconservative majority within the party.  These former heads of the county party were (and still are) not genuine conservatives in the fiscally responsible, small government, individual liberty sense.  They’re the tax-and-spend, fiscally-freewheeling-when-it’s-their-cause, socially conservative, borderline if not full-on theocratic, big-government liberals.  State Senator and Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who represents all of Jackson, Hillsdale, and Branch Counties, is this type of Republican.

If you’ve watched the original video (embedded above), you’ve heard Shirkey say that some years back, Hillsdale’s GOP turned into a “shit show.”  He wouldn’t admit it on the spot because he’s a coward who resorts to deflection or outright lies when confronted, but he was talking, in part, about the type of men he was sitting with.  Maybe not those three men specifically, but their type exactly.

So who are this new crop?

Hillsdale County Republican Party Chair Darren Wiseley most recently ran for and lost the District 58 Michigan House seat which term-limited State Rep. Eric Leutheuser was vacating.  That seat went instead to Andrew Fink, a man from Ann Arbor who moved to Hillsdale County two years prior to running and was backed by a dark money ad campaign conducted by the supposedly “independent” non-profit electioneering arm of Consumers Energy – a big utility corporation here in Michigan which, through that campaign arm, spends a LOT of money on backing their choice of candidates.  Why Fink was their choice remains unclear, but the general assumption is that the reason why the company bought and paid for him is to protect their investment in wind turbines that have been and continue to be built across Branch and Hillsdale Counties.  The amount of dark money spent on pushing Fink was unprecedented for Hillsdale County, and Wiseley was one of the three candidates who got screwed over by it.  That doesn’t justify his current positions in any way, but it helps explain why he ran for party chair shortly thereafter.

Jon Smith, now the party secretary, is a local activist who has worked for several years alongside perennial sheriff’s candidate and self-styled justice advocate Jon-Paul Rutan.  Smith is the man who recorded the video above, which you've seen clips of in the news.  Wiseley was sitting across from him, next to Shirkey.

Sitting next to Smith is believed by locals to be Lance Lashaway, currently a board member for the City of Hillsdale’s Downtown Tax Increment Finance Authority, and an active member of the county party among this group.

I mentioned Jon-Paul Rutan.  He, these three, and a total of about a hundred people from the area took two charter buses to participate in January 6th’s attempted seditious coup in Washington D.C.  Smith even went so far as to do a Facebook Live stream from what he called the “front lines” that day.  In a subsequent video of a meeting of the county party – live-streamed and recorded by active member Penny Swan, another local political activist, who has ran and lost races for Hillsdale city council – at least one person among this group admitted to having been either on the Capitol steps or inside the building, making them eligible for a harrowing phone call from the FBI, and there are several indications that lead many of us around here to believe that the bureau has, in fact, been in contact with them.

I know several of these people personally.  I have interacted with all of them at some level over the years.  Despite all my disagreements with Rutan, I voted for him in the most recent sheriff’s election because all of the other options – including the previous undersheriff who had committed forgery of the county treasurer’s signature on an IRS document and had the previous sheriff (himself a theocrat) attempt to cover it up for him – were even worse.  I had supported the second-most-recent effort that Swan had made to get elected to the city council (I even designed her campaign logo as an in-kind contribution).  I’ve had plenty of friendly conversations with Smith.  And while I didn’t support Wiseley’s run for state rep, I readily defended him when he and the candidate I DID support went on the offensive against their carpetbagging, dark-money-funded opponent.

Bringing this back around to the neoconservatives whose positions they usurped, the Republican Party is guilty of exactly the same internal dirty tricks that the Democratic Party is guilty of.  The Democrats actually learned it from the Republicans.  I’ve seen it play out many times with people in my life who ran for local, county, and even state-level office.  If the GOP doesn’t like you, they will not only change all the rules to prevent you from coming anywhere near close to being elected, they will do it with such cold-hearted ruthlessness that it will utterly break you.  My own parents have been victims of this, as my stepfather ran against Leutheuser for the District 58 seat that first time around.  I saw the damage it did to both him and my mother.  Damage that continues to this day.  It’s not pretty.  It’s not acceptable in any way.  It’s devastating.  It’s deeply painful, and it causes rifts that you never in a million years would have expected to form.  I will never forgive the Michigan GOP and their local and state-level Good Ol’ Boys Network for what they did to my family.  Ever.

None of this is to defend who the new county party leadership currently are.  All of it is to say: who those people currently are is not who they used to be.  Over the recent several years, these people have collectively turned their negative experiences into a desire for revenge, control, and what they misguidedly see as justice.  That is what led them to run for and take over the leadership of the Hillsdale County Republican Party.  That is what led them to buy into Nazism, Trumpism, and the Big Lie.  It doesn’t excuse their decisions, behavior, or actions, because they all know better; each and every one of them, and I’ve told them so.  But it does explain those decisions, behavior, and actions.  That’s their motivation.  They got beaten down, and now they want to be the ones doing the beating.

So when you heard Shirkey say that the Hillsdale County GOP turned into a “shit show,” that is what he’s talking about.  When he was asked what that means and he shrugged off the question, it’s not because he isn’t willing to venture a guess, it’s because he’s a coward who isn’t willing to say out loud what everyone, himself included, understood the intent of that comment to be.

Unironically, he’s a coward about saying it because abusers usually are, at heart, cowards, and he’s one of their abusers.

Oh, I told you up front, he’s not in the clear here.  He’s just as in the wrong as they are.  But if you want to know how they got the idiotic opinions that they currently hold, if you want to know why they censured Shirkey for not being the Nazi that they all have become, if you want to understand how he knows how to play them like a fiddle… it’s because he was there all along, watching it play out, and playing his own part in their previous political failures.  He’s gaslighting them with that phrase.

See, here’s the thing: nobody actually likes Mike Shirkey.  The fact that he was ever elected in the first place, and the fact that he’s kept getting re-elected speaks to the success that the MIGOP has had with gerrymandering over the years.  His previous House district map was insane.  It’s no better at the moment, either, and won’t be until our state’s brand-new independent redistricting commission gets the 2020 census results and draws their first map.  His Senate district isn’t gerrymandered, but it’s been a Republican stronghold for its entire existence, and it’s pretty much a given that whoever wins the Republican primary for that seat is the winner of the seat itself.  The party, under its neoconservative leadership, was never going to abandon such a loyal neocon as Shirkey, so when he was term-limited in the House and ran for the Senate, his win was, in every sense of the word, guaranteed.  They never liked him, either, but he adamantly argues for their policies in near-lockstep, so they put up with him.
The only good thing about Mike Shirkey is that he’s term-limited in 2022 and will never hold state-level office again.  Oh, he wants to be governor, but this state will never vote to put him in that position.  His political career is all but over.  Good riddance.

But the sickening, hilarious truth is that his assessment of the censure, the people who approved it, and the entire situation that put him in a position to be caught on camera saying what he did... is absolutely correct.  Wiseley, Smith, Lashaway, Rutan, Swan, and their whole crew went after the county party positions because they thought it would give them some power to use and abuse for the purposes of bringing about a reckoning with those who they believe are in the wrong.  But Shirkey correctly points out that the censure is meaningless, it has no authority, it holds no power, it does not punish him in any way by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s nothing for him to be concerned about.  He also correctly observes that they’re going to find the state party completely unresponsive to their desires and whims, they’re only costing themselves a seat at the table, and that means a complete and total inability to serve their local party members and constituents.

On the opposite side of that coin, while nearly everything the Hillsdale County Republican Party’s current leadership stands for is dead wrong, they are correct in that Shirkey is advocating “going along to get along,” which is exactly how the state and national-level parties keep everyone in line with the whims and dictates of the powers that be.  That’s not acceptable.

But you’ll never change that about either of the major parties.  In fact, you’ll never change that about any political party, at any level, anywhere, ever.  That’s the nature of party politics.  That’s part of why George Washington warned us not to form political parties at all.  That’s why I personally reject political parties altogether and vote based on my principles.  You can fight City Hall.  You CAN’T fight The Party.

So what does it all mean, and why does it matter?

Well, for one thing, it shows that Nazism is an insidiously creeping ideology.  What I mean by that is, it takes over by speaking just enough truth mixed with the lies that otherwise rational people believe it, are corrupted, then open the floodgates for the more violent, purely evil ideology to take root.  That’s what happened to the Hillsdale County Republican Party.  Nazism found the rejects, those who had been beaten and broken by the neoconservatives, told them they had to stand up and fight back against the corruption, and pushed them to revenge for what was done to them.  Accompanying that were the messages that only THEY were real Americans, that anyone who thinks differently from them are traitors to this country, that Trump is the godhead of good governance.  Yeah, yeah, I know; but when you’re as downtrodden as these people have been, you're particularly vulnerable to buying into completely insane ideas when the people pushing them play to your victimhood.  That’s how Nazism achieves its goals: sneaking in disguised as the solution to your personal problems.

For another, it shows that the Republican Party is not long for this world because they didn’t learn the lesson the last time.  Let’s go back to our high school American History classes.  Remember who the Republicans are?  And I’m talking about the whole party; the Nazis, the neocons, the Reaganites, the Goldwater guys and gals… everyone under the Republican Party tent.  They’re the Whigs.  They’re the part of the Whig Party that didn’t fracture into other minor parties or join the Democrats.  Ironic that the same problems which caused the formation of the Republican Party – the Whigs’ denial of reality, refusal to stamp out bad actors, and lack of any real ideas – are the problems that are causing its destruction.

I have no sympathy for Shirkey, the Hillsdale GOP, or anyone who continues to this day to call themselves a Republican.  They all know better.  They all did it anyway.  They all deserve the consequences of their respective actions.  I washed my hands of it all a long time ago.  The Republican Party as an entity will continue to destroy itself from within, they will never hold major elected office again, and good riddance to the lot of them.

Who would have guessed that, 167 years after the Republican Party was founded under the oaks in Jackson, Michigan, the events that played out some 21 miles southwest at a restaurant in Jonesville would encapsulate the very essence of its demise?

…Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that: the restaurant where they met is Spangler’s, which is currently facing massive punitive fines for defiantly keeping its dining room open during the lockdown.  That’s why Shirkey and the Hillsdale GOP chose to meet there.  The food is pretty good, too, don’t get me wrong, but they met there for political reasons.

I’m not unsympathetic to Mitch Spangler’s situation; I understand why he did it – it’s a new location that he sank a lot of money into just before the pandemic developed, and he can’t afford to shut down entirely.  But he didn’t have to, and while he was taking a financial hit by doing delivery and pick-up only, so was everyone else.  He’s not special and he doesn’t get to defy the rules, especially not when Hillsdale County had the worst infection rate per capita in the entire State of Michigan at the time.  There were other ways he could have generated more revenue.  Many other restaurants, here and elsewhere, found them.  If Spangler had gone about it the right way, he wouldn’t be facing those fines, and contrary to his claims otherwise, his restaurant would still be open.

The fact that he did it the WRONG way and is now playing victim is exactly what gave the Hillsdale GOP the incentive to meet with Shirkey there.  They were making a political statement by using that particular restaurant to meet with the highest-ranking elected official in their state’s party to accuse him of, among other things, not opposing the state's lockdown measures more strongly.  Thus continues the cycle of Nazis recruiting and using those who have a bone to pick with the system.

And now you know -- to borrow a phrase from the late, great Paul Harvey – the rest of the story.