Michigan GOP official cancels Huntsman event in protest

Published April 29, 2009 10:59 am
Politics » An anti-gay rights group hails move to nix speech.
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Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s appearance at a Michigan county Republican Party event was scrapped this week after the county chairwoman said that hosting the moderate Utah governor would mean abandoning the party's conservative principles.

Kent County Republican Party Chairwoman Joanne Voorhees abruptly canceled the party fundraiser scheduled for Saturday.

"The voters want and expect us to stand on principle and return to our roots. Unfortunately, by holding an event with Governor Huntsman, we would be doing the exact opposite," Voorhees wrote in an e-mail quoted in The Grand Rapids Press .

Voorhees did not specify which issues she felt were contrary to the party's principles and did not return messages left at the party headquarters and on her cell phone.

The group Campaign for Michigan Families praised the cancellation, attributing it to Huntsman's support of civil unions, and urged the Oakland and Kalamazoo county parties, where Huntsman is also scheduled to speak this weekend, to do the same.

"Presumably he is testing the waters [for a presidential run] and we hope he realizes now the waters in Michigan will be hazardous to someone who endorses the homosexual activist political agenda," said campaign director Gary Glenn.

Like Utah, Michigan adopted a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage in 2004. The two amendments are almost identical. Huntsman said last week that he believes Utah's amendment may not ban civil unions, although Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and former Rep. LaVar Christensen, who sponsored the amendment, disagree.

Chris Beckering, the vice chairman of the Kent County Republicans, said Vorhees booked the Huntsman event and axed it entirely on her own.

"This was a decision that was made unilaterally by her, and it was not a party decision," he said. "There was some concern about a lack of attendance that I know of."

Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said there was no explanation given when the event was canceled. She said the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Ron Weiser, called the governor and apologized for the inconvenience. The state party also has arranged for Huntsman to appear at another fundraiser Saturday morning, instead.

"Michigan Republicans are excited to host Governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr. and listen to his ideas on education reform," said state party spokeswoman Jennifer Hoff. "Governor Huntsman has made Republican solutions on job growth a reality, something Michigan Democrats have failed to do."

Huntsman has made several appearances at Republican events and fundraisers in several key presidential states -- North Carolina, South Carolina and now Michigan -- a common practice for White House hopefuls, which Huntsman insists he is not.

Huntsman said last week that "I don't seem to be headed in that direction." But his profile on the national stage has been continuing to climb.

Roskelley said the governor gets numerous invitations to appear at events and when he is in the region and they fit his schedule he tries to accommodate as many as he can. He is speaking at a Chinese language conference in Chicago later this week, before the Michigan events.

She said the governor has seen the requests for speaking engagements increase lately.

"I think that the Republican Party is looking for ideas and solutions and Governor Huntsman is one of many party leaders who is providing a vision and idea that will help the party," she said.

Asked last week about the future of the GOP, Huntsman said "I don't know where the party is moving. The party isn't going anywhere."

"The party is recasting itself, which may take a few years," he said. "I have no doubt about the Republicans' ability to re-emerge. It simply means they're going to have to focus on real issues, appealing to new demographics that we lost."

This is a corrected version of the original story which contained incorrect information about a Kalamazoo County anti-discrimination ballot measure.

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