U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land, right, is refusing to speak about fellow Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema’s recent remarks on same-sex health benefits.
KENT COUNTY, MI – As prominent Michigan Republicans distance themselves from controversial remarks national committeeman Dave Agema made about homosexuals, U.S. Senate candidate and national committeewoman Terri Lynn Land has quietly sidestepped the firestorm.
Land, the former Secretary of State from Byron Township, has refused interview requests, instead choosing to issue only a prepared statement that fails to fully address the comments from Agema, a former state lawmaker and Land’s colleague in the national party.
The statement, which is attributed to campaign spokeswoman Heather Swift instead of Land herself, quickly spins from the topic of Agema renewing his religious belief against same-sex marriage and claiming gays want free medical care because they are dying young from AIDS to disparaging Democrats as desperate.
“Terri does not tolerate discriminatory acts or speech, and believes that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” Swift said in the statement emailed to media this week. “Terri is committed to talking to Michigan voters about the issues that are most important to them: the economy, the budget, and taking back our health care by repealing Obamacare.
“The fact that Congressman Peters’s allies in the Democratic Party are trying to tie Terri to the remarks is clearly an act of desperation after the Democrats’ own poll found Land surging by 9 points.”
When reached by phone, Land declined to elaborate on what she finds objectionable about Agema’s talk to Berrien County Republicans. She deferred to the statement from Swift, a strategy that a Grand Valley State political science professor said is sound.
Neither Land nor her campaign has responded to questions sent via e-mail about how Agema’s comments might be impacting public perception of the Republican Party, and whether Agema should be asked to resign. The campaign also has not responded to an e-mailed question about why they believe same-sex marriage and Agema’s comments about it matter less to the electorate.
RELATED: Dave Agema’s full statements published following controversial gay marriage remarks
Meanwhile, the state’s top elected Republicans, Gov. Rick Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, among others, have stepped out and publicly condemned Agema in interviews.
Bolger, R-Marshall, said he respects religious beliefs that may not make room for gay marriage.
“But I do not respect, and frankly am disgusted by, anyone who demonizes someone because of their sexual orientation,” he continued.
Richardville, R-Monroe, was even more forceful in his dissent.
“He’s not speaking on behalf of me, or I think most of the people who call themselves Republicans, when he says stuff like this,” said Richardville. “It’s not the first time. Hate isn’t one of my values.”
But it makes political sense for Land to stay mum on the issue at this point, said Erika King, a political science professor at Grand Valley State University. King called silence “a realistic approach” that might enable Land’s campaign to steer clear of a divisive GOP tug-of-war.
“What candidates are trying to do (before a primary election) is pull in as much support from the various groups of the party as they can,” she said. “A way to do that is just not to venture yourself into those waters at this point, especially so early in the campaign.
“What she’s trying to do is create a coalition of supporters for her on the issues she deems particularly important, and those are the economic issues, not the lifestyle issues. The other issues are called ‘wedge issues’ that tend to divide people – and frequently divide parties – and these are the one that candidates would prefer to avoid.”
And Democrats have tried to use the issue to their advantage, issuing daily press releases that call out Land for her lack of response while billing Agema’s words as bigoted and ignorant.
The party has suggested Land is showing a lack of leadership that makes her unfit to serve in Washington. Democrats contend she should censure Agema at Saturday’s Republican state committee meeting in Lansing.
“How could a fellow RNC member and worse, a U.S. Senate Candidate running to represent all Michiganders in Washington not disavow the kind of hateful and offensive rhetoric that has no place in our public discourse” Joshua Pugh, the Democrats spokesman asked this week. “(She) should join her fellow Republicans in condemning Agema’s hateful bigotry immediately. Michiganders deserve a leader who will stand up for what’s right – no matter the party.”
Matt Vande Bunte covers government for MLive/Grand Rapids Press. Email him firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.