What do we know after the two recent Republican candidate forums? The first by the League of Women Voters on June 24, and the second by the Livingston County GOP on June 30, each had some interesting moments. There was also a county GOP forum in February for the candidates for the 8th Congressional District, but this column is concerned only with the June events.
I’ve always thought local candidate forums a sacred duty of local news organizations; after all, who knows a community and understands the issues facing it better than its local news folks?
Voters deserve to see how candidates handle tough questions, whether they demonstrate grace under pressure, and whether they are smart enough, tough enough, and savvy enough to represent them well.
This year’s forums had the added challenge of taking place in the midst of a pandemic. Everything is different. In some ways, it’s easier for folks to speak from the comfort of their homes, but it comes with fingers crossed and at the mercy of the internet and available technology. And as convenient as these remote meetings have been during the past few months, they lack the energy — the snap, crackle and pop — inherent with in-person events.
I organized candidate forums for more election cycles than I can remember when I was at the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus. I know full well the effort and challenges that go into organizing forums, and the time and care that go into writing questions.
Now that I publish The Livingston Post, I have an easier job, forum-wise, as I’ve teamed with WHMI 93.5-FM and the revived League of Women Voters means that the responsibility and effort in putting on the forum and writing the questions is spread out. That’s a good thing.
It’s from my perch of experience that I offer up a few observations from the two Livingston County candidate forums in June.
GOP Primary race for the 8th Congressional District
Michael Detmer no-shows the League of Women Voters forum
I’ve had my money on Mike Detmer winning the GOP primary for the 8th Congressional District for a while. He’s the Republican who has openly embraced white supremacists, loves guns, hates masks and social distancing, and has threatened to sue Buddy Moorehouse for calling his campaign a train-wreck on this very website. (You can read all about him by clicking here.)
It is unclear whether recent news of Detmer’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy will harm his campaign. Detmer has been, hands down, the loudest, most controversial, most colorful, and most energetic campaigner of the current cycle. And that’s what’s accounted for his success thus far.
Unfortunately for voters, Detmer was a late drop-out for the League of Women Voters forum, citing a schedule conflict, though he had accepted the invitation in advance. What he considered more important than blocking out an hour to answer a few questions for voters from wherever his happy place is, I don’t know.
So, while his fellow candidates all showed up to answer some pretty substantial questions on issues of great import to the community, Detmer sat it out.
The losers here are the voters.
The other candidates in the Republican primary — all of whom showed up for the League of Women Voters forum — are Alan Hoover, an Iraq veteran and entrepreneur from Ortonville in Oakland County; Paul Junge of Brighton, a former prosecutor and TV news anchor; and Kristina Lyke of Fowlerville, an attorney at Lyke Law in East Lansing.
You can watch the League of Women Voters segment on the 8th Congressional District candidates below:
GOP primary race for the 47th state House District
Bob Bezotte no-shows the county GOP forum
I am still scratching my head about why Bob Bezotte pulled out of the Livingston County Republican forum for the 47th state House District. He showed up for the League of Women Voters event, and everything went well; I thought Bezotte had a good showing.
But a week later, Bezotte pulled out of the county GOP forum in dramatic fashion. He refused to take part because Meghan Reckling, another candidate for the seat who is also chair of the county GOP, posted a picture of herself on Facebook “sitting on a deck with the majority of the question-writing committee.”
After Bezotte pulled out, he wanted a statement read at the event explaining his absence. When his request was turned down, Bezotte sent out a press release, outline the reason why he was refusing to take part in the forum:
“As many of you know, one of the candidates for this race is the current chair of the Livingston County Republican Party that is sponsoring the debate, as well as a member of the elections committee who organized the debate.
The County Party recently appointed a committee to write questions for tonight’s event. Almost all members of this committee are friends, family and /or supporters of the chair.
This past week, the chair posted on Facebook a picture of herself sitting outside on a deck with the majority of the question-writing committee. The appearance of this post presents a challenge to the impartiality of the question-writers’ process, however unconsciously done.”
Now, I don’t know how many people are members of the county GOP. However many there are, I am guessing that they all know Meghan Reckling since she is the chair, and it is, after all, part of her job as chair of the party to know its members. Like many institutions in Livingston County, Republican politics is in large part a family affair, so that there were connections between the question writers shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. And it’s my understanding that the letter writing committee included people nominated by the various campaigns, with forum moderator Sheriff Mike Murphy — who served as Bezotte’s undersheriff for many years — making the final choice of which questions to use.
Speaking as one who has gone through the question-writing process many times, I can attest that it’s a tough job: you want to ask questions about the issues the community cares about most, and you want to be thorough, and you most certainly want to be fair. Fairness matters — A LOT. Just think how bad it would look for the local GOP if the questions were somehow unfair to one candidate and slanted toward its chair?
I’ve known Bob Bezotte for years. As the former Livingston County Sheriff, he carried a gun and caught bad guys for a living. That’s a job for a tough guy, and it’s hard for me to believe Bezotte would back down from anything, especially questions at a candidate forum.
At any rate, his absence from the forum was quite noteworthy.
Wes Nakagiri flouts rules, throws his weight around
The League of Women Voters was specific about the use of the recordings it produced from its Republican Primary Forum on June 24, 2020:
The League of Women Voters reserves the right to publicize the forum and may, at their option, invite the media or some other entity not associated with any of the candidates or campaigns to provide televised, radio, or other coverage of the forum. Copyright ownership of the tapes or transcripts resides with the LWV. The candidates and their supporters will not use the forum, portions of the forum or any audio clips, video clips or transcripts for political advertising, or other purposes without written permission from the League of Women Voters.
That seems pretty clear: “If you want to use our stuff, ask.” It is, after all, the League’s property.
But apparently that means nothing to Wes Nakagiri.
The Livingston County Commissioner took portions of the League’s videos of the race for the 47th state House District, and used them in a Facebook post (below) in support of Meghan Reckling, chair of the Livingston County Republican Party, and against Bob Bezotte.
Not only did Nakagiri use clips for which he should have asked permission, he also posted his own editorial commentary over the visuals.
When the League very nicely asked Nakagiri to remove the post, he refused, citing the “doctrine of fair use.” And he claimed that his pilfered video “provides voters with additional knowledge that goes beyond the original candidate forum, noting clear differences between the two candidates.”
Nakagiri completely ignores the fact that Reckling and Bezotte are among the FOUR candidates in the Republican primary for the state House seat being vacated by Hank Vaupel, who is term-limited. The other candidates are Yvonne Black of Marion Township — who also took part in the LWV forum — and Zachary Dyba, of Brighton Township, who did not.
Apparently, Nakagiri considers Reckling and Bezotte the only two candidates that matter.
Then Nakagiri accused the LWV of wanting to “suppress” what he called his “informational video,” which is anything but, especially when you consider his adding in his own editorial comments.
And to top it all off, not only did Nakagiri refuse to remove his doctored video, he did so in an email not as citizen or candidate Wes Nakagiri, but as County Commissioner Wes Nakagiri, even using the county seal in his email.
Nakagiri showed us all that he thinks he knows better and best.
Most jaw-dropping moment (at least she was honest)
The PFAS contamination and the “DO NOT EAT” Huron River Fish Advisory has been a huge source of concern for a couple years now. I thought most people knew about the threat of PFAS, also referred to as “forever chemicals.” I figured any serious candidate for state office would know about it, too.
Apparently I was wrong.
The question asked at the League of Women Voters forum was: “PFAS contamination continues to be a significant threat to water resources in Livingston County. What steps do you plan to take to protect the environment in our county?”
Unfortunately for Yvonne Black, she was first up to answer the question in the segment for the 47th state House seat. She asked moderator Jon King of WHMI to repeat the question before confessing to not knowing what it was.
“Well I am not really even familiar with it, so I really can’t talk on that subject because I am so busy in many areas I can’t focus on everything,” Black said. “But I didn’t really even realize, I know there’s contamination in water everywhere in our Huron rivers, and you know again this goes back to years of neglect, and we just need to be proactive and cautious and caring about what we do to our environment.”
Black ended with citing personal responsibility as the key to cleaning up pollution.
“We are neglecting personal responsibility,” she said, adding that we need to address environmental pollution on a community basis, rather than through state regulations.
Watch the League of Women Voters segment on the 47th District below:
GOP primary for Livingston County Prosecutor: There’s the beef
The meatiest, most substantial and interesting discussions between candidates in both forums was in the race for prosecutor. Livingston County Prosecutor William Vailliencourt is being challenged by former judge David Reader in what is shaping up to be at its core a referendum on disgraced former judge Theresa Brennan.
Do yourself a favor and watch the entire League of Women Voters segment on that race below.