Michigan Department of Civil Rights inconsistent in its criticism
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is expected this month to interview director candidates for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and one topic the commissioners might consider discussing during the interviews is consistency.
In the early stages of Michigan's 2012 U.S. Senate race, many believed incumbent U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, was vulnerable. Former congressman Pete Hoekstra was a leading Republican candidate in the field of those who challenged Sen. Stabenow. But right out of the starting blocks, Hoekstra stumbled over his "China ad," which aired in Michigan during the Super Bowl.
The ad was widely criticized and characterized by the mainstream news media as being racist, insensitive and offensive.
However, the Hoekstra campaign was not the first in Michigan to use campaign against an opponent for "sending jobs to China." In 2006, the re-election campaign of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm attacked Republican challenger Dick DeVos, claiming that as the head of a company, he had chosen to hire employees in China while laying off Michigan workers.
What might not be generally known is that in 2012, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, which sets policy for the department, took a position on the issue. However, the Civil Rights Commission did not take a position on the issue of China being used in politics when Democrat Jennifer Granholm was governor. Most of the appointees on the commission are still from her tenure as governor.
The Civil Rights Commission publicly labeled the Hoekstra ad as "offensive." Michael Zelley, who was then-Chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, released this statement at the time:
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was deeply disappointed by the offensive content in Mr. Pete Hoekstra's ad that appeared during last weekend's Super Bowl. Michigan has a proud tradition of welcoming people of all races and nationalities to our state. We applaud Mr. Hoekstra's more recent decision to remove the ad from his website and television media rotation and are hopeful he will refrain from such disturbing messages in the future.
John Truscott, of the Truscott Rossman Group in Lansing, who worked on the 2006 DeVos campaign and the Hoekstra gubernatorial campaign in 2010, maintains that the Civil Rights Commission shouldn't have criticized the Hoekstra ad after ignoring Granholm's use of the same issue.
"Of course the civil rights department didn't weigh in when Granholm attacked Dick Devos on China, and the Granholm people attacked on multiple fronts," Truscott said. "I guess it wasn't as personal because Granholm's ads didn't feature a person like the one in the Hoekstra ad, but if you listen to what they said in 2006 you still got the same sort of feeling."
So, is this an example of a double standard employed by the Civil Rights Commission?
"I think you would find a lot of people who would say so," Truscott said. "It was not only an over reach, it was political advocacy.
"Now, was it smart politically for Pete Hoekstra to use that ad? No, not in my opinion," Truscott added. "It got a lot of criticism. But then to have the department of civil rights pipe in with its comments, I mean really, that seemed to be totally political."
MDCR Communications Director Vicki Levengood defended the department's decisions wihtout addressing the inconsistency in targeting Hoekstra but not Granholm.
"The Michigan Civil Rights Commission did not weigh in on the political arguments raised in any campaign, only the specific offensive and stereotypical characterization of Asians and Asian cultures in the Hoekstra ads," Levengood said.
"The members of (the) MCRC felt strongly that the characterizations of Asians and Asian cultures in the Hoekstra ads were demeaning and offensive, and not in the best interests of Michigan citizens or the Michigan economy," she added. "The commission was not alone in its condemnation of the ads. Leaders from a variety of organizations and both political parties voiced their disappointment with Rep. Hoekstra and his decision to create and air these ads."
When asked if it was the job of the Department of Civil Rights or the Civil Rights Commission to review political ads and publicly interpret their content, she said the commission is responsible for protecting "civil rights without discrimination."
"It is up to each member and the commission as a whole to determine how best to meet that obligation."
Two Michigan Civil Rights Commission meetings have been scheduled for this month, on July 22 and July 29. It is believed the commission will likely choose a new department director on July 29.