Seventeen years ago, in August of 1995, a movement was born in Ionia County Michigan calling itself the “Ethics in Good Government”, or EGG for short. It was headed up by a lay preacher named Cliff Lazurus and funded by Ionia County’s most nefarious slum lord. Brandishing the usual right-wing platitudes about government tyranny and black helicopters about to be sent by the U.N. these would be reformers organized a recall effort against nearly every elected township official not in line with their agenda, be they Democratic or Republican.
This movement emerged in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in which members of a Michigan Militia were implicated. In a rehearsal for what would be repeated in 2009 by the so-called “Teabaggers”, township halls were flooded with irate citizens shouting down town meetings, many protesters dressed in the camouflaged garb of Militiamen uttering dark threats to township officials. It was pure brown-shirt tactics carried out at the local township level with the predictable effect.
I happened to hold the position of Democratic Party Chairman at the time, and was also employed at the local radio station as an account executive. As the local scene was reaching a crisis, it so happened that the head of the Ionia County Republican Party, who happened to also be the elected county prosecutor, was making his monthly appearance on the radio station’s daily “Viewpoint” program. I decided to put off making sales calls and wait and speak with him when the program ended.
When the program was over I went into the studio and sat down. “Ray”, I said, “we have a problem.” I then suggested that the parties join forces and publicly announce that we would, both parties, support any township or county official so challenged by this group whatever their party affiliation. “Can you get your group to go along with it?” he asked. ‘I’ll resign if they don’t” was my reply. So we agreed to each of us go to our respective parties and get motions passed to the effect that we would support elected members of the opposite party if challenged by this group.
The respective meetings, were both tumultuous, for such action was unheard of in this jurisdiction. The Republicans had a tougher time of it since most members of the EGG group were libertarians and more closely aligned ideologically to their party. Indeed several of the chief organizers were at the Republican affair. But, as the majority party holding nearly all the county-wide offices , they were, as I pointed out to the Republican Chairman, in a position where they had much more to lose. On our side I made the point that if we wanted to be players on the county level we needed to stand up and take a position in defense of sound local governance. After previously securing the support of several of the local party chieftains the motion was introduced at our monthly meeting and, after much haggling, and with more reticence, it was passed. On the other side, a much more heated ordeal produced an identical result.
Accordingly the way was cleared for me to meet with Mr. Vogt, the County Prosecutor and hammer out a joint press release in which we came to the defense of our elected representatives.
It made front page in the Ionia Sentinel-Standard and touched off a howl of protest from the EGG group to the effect that we were silencing them with strong-arm tactics, violating in the process their constitutional rights to free speech.
Working weekends on a second job at the local dollar store, I spent a lazy Sunday afternoon composing a letter to the editor in which I took the would-be Adams’ and Madisions’ to task, informing them in no uncertain terms that they have never been restricted from speaking, that we as political parties have a right to function as anyone else in the political arena, and that the next time they read the constitution they should do so only after enlisting the help of someone who can explain to them what it means.
Two days after my letter was published I got a visit at my home. It was Cliff Lazarus. He spent nearly two hours trying to convince me that the objects of his organization were right and honorable. I told him that he was in service of a villain; that the only object his sponsor had in mind was to ensure that no ordinance would be put into place which would require him to fix up his properties, nor sell homes without sewage hookup or floors to people who were mentally challenged. Cliff did his best to persuade me, but I told him that if he was going to throw that lame shit I can hit it out of the park at will, and the letter to the editor was a roof shot clearing the light standards. “Cliff”, I said, “I can crank that kind of response out in my sleep”. He returned disappointed to his movement leaving me to wonder once again how the “lord works in mysterious ways”.
The public actions taken by the leadership and both political parties in the face of local barbarism served to energize the local community. The day after the Sentinel published my letter to the editor, I was making my rounds down Main Street when out stepped John McNamara, then the City Attorney. “Great job, Joe”….he yelled out as we headed in opposite directions. Accordingly the EGG movement quickly began to lose traction. In the subsequent recall elections only one elected official, an Orleans township supervisor was recalled from office. Later when the slum lord himself stood for election to the County Commission he was roundly drubbed in a heavily conservative district.
Past as Prelude: I am recalling these events as a demonstration of what happens when the power structure decides to act. This is what happened in the 1950S when Bill Buckley led those in charge of the Republican Party to purge itself of the John Bircher’s. This is what happened when the Republican establishment joined forces with those on the “left” to censure Joe McCarthy. This is what happened when the Democratic Leadership spoke out against the idiocy of the Libertarians posing as “leftists” at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. We are beginning to hear murmurs within the Conservative movement in opposition to the Idiot-wrong. The Speaker as well as John McCain have mildly chided Representative Bachmann for her charge that one of Hillary Clinton’s aides has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and that the movement is infiltrating the State Department. A Republican Congressman from Ohio has resigned his seat, citing the inability of his party to be reasonable and to compromise in order to get anything done. A New York Congressional Republican has likewise criticized his party’s intransigence. What’s missing here, is what was missing in Ionia County prior to that meeting at the radio station between the two party Chairmen—the voice from the top.
This is not your father’s Romney. George took on the tin hats in his party, openly fielding Republican challengers to elected Republican members of the house that were so far wrong that they would prove useless in the greater effort to move the state forward. George, famously, refused to endorse Goldwater in 1964, uncomfortable being associated with extremism. George not only took stands on principle but, more importantly, acted on them. Not so his son.