Stop the Frivolous Recall

Last week, I received official notice that a group of fringe anti-public health extremists have launched a recall effort meant to overturn our last election and remove me from the County Commission.

A group of anti-maskers, COVID-deniers, Big Lie-purveyors, insurrectionists, and conspiracy theorists from outside Grand Rapids and East Grand Rapids (parts of each make up my 19th County Commission District) have submitted recall language which triggers a meeting of the Kent County Elections Commission to consider certifying the petition language. The Elections Commission meeting will be held this Thursday. The language will likely be certified since it doesn’t need to be truthful or deal with serious issues. Once certified, they will need to collect the required signatures for their petition. If they do get enough signatures, they will trigger a recall election that will cost taxpayers over $25,000.

The recallers are upset because I communicated with my constituents about my thoughts on the Health Department’s mask requirement for schools, their unfounded criticisms of the health order, and the threats of violence I heard during the Commission work session. That’s right, a group of Republican activists want to trample on the First Amendment and toss out an election because . . . I tweeted.

Communicating with my voters is a part of my job that I take very seriously. That’s why I’m very active on social media and send out newsletters about what I’m doing at the County. Many of my constituents did not want to attend an inside meeting with over 800 attendees who almost certainly were not vaccinated and were un-masked. So, in order to get the word out to people, I made a few social media posts. The recall activists may disagree with the opinions I shared, but that’s not a legitimate reason to overturn an election.

However, I believe the tweets are just a flimsy pretext. The real reason they want to get rid of me is because I have been a leader in support of public health in general and the mask requirement for PK-6 students in school in particular. They want to oust me because, as the Democratic Caucus leader on the board, I've worked with my Democratic colleagues to stand with our Health Department. The goal of the recallers is to bully me and silence our voice on the County Commission. But, I will continue to work tirelessly and publicly in support of scientifically-sound pandemic mitigation efforts for over a year and a half. I won’t back down to their threats.

The recall effort is patently absurd, but it has to be taken seriously. As soon as tomorrow, they will be in Grand Rapids and East Grand Rapids trying to get signatures for their recall petition. If they get the required number of signatures, their recall effort will be successful.

I urge you to “decline to sign” their frivolous recall petition and help contribute to our efforts to fight back for public health and democracy. Let’s not let these outsiders come into our district, try to silence us, and attempt to distract us from the important work we’re doing for our community. I will need resources to get the truth out to my constituents. 

I hope you’ll join me in defeating this frivolous recall attempt. Thanks, -- Phil

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You could stop reading now, but if you’re interested, I can place all this in context:

In mid-August I was the first County Commissioner to come out and publicly ask the Health Department to issue a mask requirement in schools if its leadership determined that our children and entire community were in an imminent threat from COVID-19. Along with all my Democratic colleagues on the County Commission, I signed to letter making such a request formal.

On August 20, Kent County Chief Health Officer Dr. Adam London issued a Health Order requiring masking for PK-6 students when inside buildings. The order is meant to reduce viral transmission, protect the community, and minimize interruptions to in-person learning so schools are able to avoid the cycle we have seen in the past: opening, closing, going hybrid, or requiring long quarantines. The order was universally supported by national health organizations – notably the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics – as well as our local medical community. Letters in support of the health order were sent from Spectrum Health, Mercy Health, and Metro Health/Michigan Medicine. Thanks to London’s decisive action, so far, our kids have, largely, been able to stay in school and community spread has been limited.

London’s health order was very reasonable and I publicly supported the decision. By including only grades made up of age groups for which the vaccine is not yet approved and stating that the mask requirement would be lifted 60 days after a vaccine is available for 5-11 year olds, Dr. London has set the precedent that vaccination is the path to remove some mitigation measures. And that’s key. The way to end this pandemic is to get enough people vaccinated so we can reach heard immunity and limit the chances of a vaccine-resistant variant from developing. With today’s news that Pfizer has submitted data showing its coronavirus vaccine to be safe and effective for young children, we may see an FDA emergency use authorization in late October. This would mean the Kent County mask order would be lifted by the time students return from Christmas break. The Health Department is simply trying to prevent the massive outbreaks we’ve seen in the southern US from coming to Michigan before we can get most of our population voluntarily vaccinated.

Six days after the order was issues, on August 26, County Commission leadership called a special work session on “children and COVID 19.” Note that work sessions are not official Commission meetings and are optional for commissioners to attend. Certainly, there were some caring parents who want a safe environment for their children in schools and spoke to these concerns with decorum. They deserve our respect. However, their voices were largely drowned out by loud, angry and disrespectful people. Too many in the crowd frequently behaved as a mob. I have never seen anything like it in my ten years in public service and I was appalled by their actions. They continuously shouted interruptions, booed those who supported the mask requirement, cheered those who threatened violence, yelled at Commissioners and the chair, and generally behaved badly.  

Here’s a little of what I heard and some of what I criticized on social media at the time:

  1. Bonnie B. from Grand Rapids threatened us with “World War III.” (3:11)
  2. James S. from Cedar Springs said that sometimes men “must do unreasonable things” and told Commissioners we should be aware of Marvin Heemeyer, a man who used an armored bulldozer to destroy his local town hall, the home of the mayor, and several other buildings in 2004 in a rampage over his violations of a health order. Another women pointed out that we should be aware that such actions are sometimes taken. (2:52)
  3. Lynn J. from Jenison (Ottawa County), said the “time to talk is done” and told the Health Department to “bring guns” if they wanted to visit his house because he would “defend himself.” (4:54)
  4. Shaun Y. from Wyoming told us he was “junk yard dog” with “his teeth out” and he was going to “come for everybody.” He ended, “Adam London I will come for you. I promise you. Put that on record.” (4:59)
  5. A different man to my left continually yelled “I’m coming for you Adam London” from his seat many times, especially when the crowd entered long shouting sessions. He was very hostile and I kept my eyes on him for much of the meeting.
  6. Angela Rigas, a State House candidate from Caledonia, called on parents to “confront the bully” Adam London. Rigas called London a “child abuser” who “should be arrested” for selling out “children to big pharma.” She ended her comment by shouting “hold the line” which is her catch phrase. It references her call to fellow insurrectionists on January 6th in Washington DC to physically confront law enforcement officers protecting Congress as it was engaged in certifying a free and fair election. (3:02)
  7. Adam, who didn’t give his name or hometown, purposefully hid his hand behind his back during his testimony as he spouted conspiracy theories about “communism” and “equity laws.” I interpreted his actions as a threat. (6:08)
  8. A woman claimed that social distancing and mask wearing were “satanic rituals.”
  9. Several speakers, including a Sparta School Board member, denied the existence of the COVID-19 virus and spread the conspiracy theory that the pandemic is actually a “plandemic,” a “scamdemic,” and/or a "hoax." They usually refused to even call the vaccine by its name, simply referring to it as "the jab." (2:26, 5:42, etc)
  10. Several speakers called Adam London a “tyrant” or “dictator” and there were several references to mask requirements being equivalent to the Holocaust. One woman said the CDC was going to send unvaccinated people to “concentration camps.” (4:34)
  11. Many speakers claimed Adam London was guilty of “child abuse” and one woman called for his arrest on charges of child abuse. Another woman pointed at every County Commissioner and said, “you are guilty of allowing child abuse.” (6:26)
  12. A speaker claimed that the mask requirement was part of a Communist plot planned back in 1956. Several other speakers claimed a public health order provision that has been Michigan law since the 1970s was actually communism or would bring communism or Marxism to America “in less than five years.” (3:30, etc)
  13. A man told us that COVID was “science fiction” and made the claim that mandates were “financially-driven.” Several speakers spread the false belief that the mask order was issued because it would bring fiscal benefits to the County, the Health Department and Adam London personally from federal grants. (5:19)
  14. I was continually shocked to hear people say the virus has a 99% survival rate. The callousness to the fact that almost 700,000 Americans have died of COVID was very hard to hear.

It is vitally important that citizens be able to exercise their right to give their opinions to elected officials and governing institutions. But, what troubles me about the crowd on August 26th was the overheated rhetoric, especially threats, intimidation, and bullying aimed at our staff and our elected officials and based on disinformation.

I will listen to the people of Kent County, but I won’t dignify or legitimize COVID-deniers, insurrectionists, conspiracy theorists, and Big Lie-purveyors. I will not hesitate to openly and fully criticize their beliefs. I will defend our Health Department, support prudent decisions to keep our children and community safe, keep our kids in school, and do everything I can to end the pandemic.

I hope you’ll join me in defeating this frivolous recall attempt. Thanks, -- Phil