As more time passes since state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) was caught on camera making violent, sexist comments as well as echoing baseless conspiracy theories that the Capitol insurrection was a “hoax,” it becomes less and less likely that he will face any real consequences for his words and actions.
“As for him resigning that would be up to him. But you know, Sen. Shirkey is very resolute in his opinion.” — State Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor).
Some Democrats are calling on Shirkey to resign or give up his leadership position. But so far, Republicans and major donors haven’t made any significant moves to pressure Shirkey or force him to step down — or even make a real apology.
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Shirkey was caught on a surreptitious recording during a small meeting in Hillsdale County with party officials. He said, among other things, sexist and inappropriate comments about Whitmer and furthered conspiracy theories about the January 6 insurrection.
“That’s been a hoax from Day One,” Shirkey falsely said of the insurrection. “It was all staged.”
Speaking on the tape about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Shirkey says “we spanked her hard on the budget. We spanked her hard on appointments,” also saying that he thought multiple times about challenging the governor to a fistfight on the state Capitol lawn.
“I frankly don’t take back any of the points I was trying to make.” — State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake)
Shirkey’s office sent out a broad and carefully-crafted statement quoting Shirkey as saying “I have many flaws. Being passionate coupled with an occasional lapse in restraint of tongue are at least two of them. I regret the words I chose, and I apologize for my insensitive comments.”
But then Shirkey was caught on a hot microphone during Senate session talking to Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist effectively taking back his apology. “I frankly don’t take back any of the points I was trying to make” but rather “some of the words I chose,” said Shirkey.
Reaction from Senate Colleagues
The Michigan Democratic Party has called on Shirkey to resign. However, most Democratic officeholders have not gone so far.
Gov. Whitmer has said in response to the comments that she’s staying focused on getting the state through the pandemic.
Some Democrats are saying he should lose his leadership position, but it should be up to his Republican caucus or Shirkey himself to do that.
“I think his caucus should declare a vote of no confidence in him and remove him as leader and choose someone else to lead their caucus,” says state Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor). “And as for him resigning, that would be up to him. But you know, Senator Shirkey is very resolute in his opinion.”
“Continuing to play into the lie that led up to the January 6 riot and siege is just really unfortunate coming from someone who is supposed to be a leader,” says Geiss.
“Majority Leader Shirkey’s comments are his own and don’t reflect my feelings or beliefs.” — State House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell)
Republicans, however, have been mostly silent on Shirkey’s comments. State House Speaker Jason Wentworth’s office released its own statement, saying “Majority Leader Shirkey’s comments are his own and don’t reflect my feelings or beliefs. It’s disappointing that this situation is detracting from the important work we are doing every day.”
Another Republican colleague, Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) — who avoided consequences for his own offensive action in April of last year when he wore a Confederate flag mask on the floor of the state Senate — told Bridge Michigan that Shirkey is “a good, honest leader.”
No Likely Consequences
It doesn’t look like any of this is going to mean much for Shirkey’s position as Senate majority leader. While many Democrats and progressive groups have called Shirkey out for what he’s said, the Republican caucus has been mostly silent on the issue with no signs of trying to oust him from his leadership position.
And there haven’t been any repercussions from donors to Shirkey. While the CEO of major donor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan said it was “deeply disappointed and strongly disagree” with Shirkey’s comments, it has not committed to stopping contributions to Shirkey’s campaign accounts or those of his Republican colleagues.
Now the question becomes how this could affect the relationship between Shirkey and the governor, as well as Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature.
The governor and lawmakers are working on a budget as well as a massive COVID relief bill. And that has already been a very contentious negotiation with Republicans trying to get Whitmer to give up some of the governor’s pandemic powers.