Michigan board censures GOP regent for ‘witches’ comment

National

This August, 2020 photo, shows Ron Weiser, left, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, and Ronna Romney McDaniel, National Republican Committee chairwoman. Michigan Republicans, once the national model for the party’s mainstream, have lurched sharply rightward in the past decade. (David Guralnick/Detroit News via AP)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The University of Michigan’s governing board on Friday censured a Republican regent who called the state’s female Democratic leaders “witches” whom the GOP would prepare for a “burning at the stake” in the 2022 election.

Ron Weiser, who chairs the Michigan Republican Party, said he took “full responsibility” for his “poorly chosen words” to activists but said he would not quit despite the board’s call for his resignation.

“I pledge to be part of a respectful dialogue going forward and challenge my colleagues and others to do the same. I will not be canceled,” he said during a virtual meeting.

Regents said they had no legal authority to remove Weiser because he was elected by the public. But they said he should step down because his “violent, sexist” language had endangered the lives of state and federal elected officials and brought the school negative attention.

Weiser, 75, sparked outrage recently when he referred to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, state Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson as “witches” multiple times. Also, he joked about “assassination” when pressed by crowd members who were angry that two GOP congressman voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump over the deadly Capitol riot.

“Ma’am, other than assassination, I have no other way other than voting out,” he said March 25. “OK? You people have to go out there and support their opponents.”

A censure is a formal statement of disapproval. Five Democratic regents of the university — which has roughly 61,000 students across campuses in Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn — also voted to remove Weiser from his committee assignments. Weiser and the board’s other Republican did not vote; a sixth Democrat was absent.

Weiser founded an Ann Arbor-based real estate company and is a major Republican donor and fundraiser. He and his wife have given more than $120 million to the school, ranking among its top 10 individual donors. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Slovakia.

Regent Jordan Acker, a Democrat, said Weiser “fanned the flames of hate and division” and noted the governor was the target of an alleged kidnapping plot by anti-government extremists. He said Weiser’s comments were “no accident” and not, as Weiser said, offhand.

“Accountability is not cancellation,” Acker said. “What you said contributed to a culture of violence.”

Denise Ilitch, a Democrat who chairs the board, said regents have a fiduciary responsibility to the university and “can’t just turn it on and off.”

“It has become clear that serving as chair of a statewide political party is simply not compatible with serving on this board,” she said. “The situation is only likely to intensify as we get closer to the 2022 elections and the state party chair becomes more and more of a public focal point.”

If Weiser truly loves the university, she said, he will resign.

The board could later consider removing the Weiser name from various campus structures — which include an academic building, athletic tunnel and club, and a center and an institute.

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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This version corrects that five Democrats, not six, voted to censure Weiser and call for his resignation.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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