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Michigan board censures GOP regent for 'witches' comment

black and white photo of ron weiser
University of Michigan
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The University of Michigan's board has censured a Republican regent who called Michigan'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 state Republican Party, said Friday he takes "full responsibility" for his comments but won't quit despite the board's call for his resignation.

Weiser sparked outrage when he referred to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson as "witches" multiple times. Also, he joked about "assassination" when pressed about two Republicans who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump.

At the 9:30 a.m. Zoom meeting, Chair of the Board Denise Ilitch read the resolution calling for Weiser's censure. Ilitch, chair of the Board of Regents, also removed Weiser from the committee on U of M Flint and Dearborn, as well as the finance committee. Weiser was present, making it the first Board of Regents meeting he's attended in 2021. 

"I agree with part of this resolution, but I will not resign. 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 cancelled," he said.

When the floor was opened for comments, other regents criticized Weiser's language, with many referencing the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer as the result of violent political rhetoric like Weiser's.

"Violent words and violent threats lead to violent actions. When everyone in this state found out that our governor was the target of a kidnapping and murder plot, that should've changed everything. Sadly, it hasn't," said Ilitch. Regent Mark Bernstein added, "We cannot tolerate this dangerous vitriol, not in a state where the FBI thwarted a plot to kidnap and murder our governor: one of three women who Regent Weiser called a witch, who along with our attorney general and secretary of state he said should be burned at the stake."

Regent Jordan Acker noted the response of the campus community, saying that anyone who hopes to lead at U of M should strive to uphold its values, and that Weiser betrayed those values.

"If any of us leading this university fan the flames of hate and division, that is a betrayal of our work and everything the University of Michigan stands for. Tragically, one of us has fanned those flames and betrayed this community." Addressing Weiser directly, he said, "There is no room on this board for those who advocate violence. Make no mistake, that is precisely what you did. You have forced this board to take this painful and permanent step to condemn one of our own."

Acker also rejected Weiser's characterization of himself as a victim of cancel culture, saying "Accountability is not cancellation."

Regent Michael Behm said he wanted to remain apolitical, but that Weiser injected politics into the discussion with his comments.

"Not only are these statements dangerous, abhorrent, and incite violent behavior, they serve to suppress Michigan citizens from exercising their vote and their right to vote, and are a form of voter intimidation." Behm went onto criticize the activities of Michigan Republicans, who recently put forth a 39 bill package in the state Legislature that would make sweeping changes to the state's election laws.

"Instead of coming up with ideas as to why Michigan citizens should vote for your party's candidates, your party is focused on taking away their right and ability to vote," he said. "With absolutely no proof of any voter fraud in Michigan, under Republican or Democrat control, members of your party last week filed 39 bills that serve to suppress and silence voters."

The vote to censure Weiser passed 6-0. Regent Paula Hubbard expressed her disapproval at Weiser's comments but abstained from voting, and Katherine White was absent due to service in the National Guard.

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