Democrats and crime
Republicans are trying to put Democratic candidates for the Michigan House of Representatives on the hot seat over whether they will support allowing a fellow Democrat to take office in January even though he was involved in a 1993 armed robbery.
Democrats are furious, calling the move an election-eve stunt with thinly veiled racial overtones.
They have said voters, and not other politicians, should choose their next state representative.
Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, has sent a letter to Democratic, Republican and Libertarian candidates for the 110 seats in the House, asking them to pledge to support blocking Bert Johnson from being seated.
Johnson has no opponent for a seat that covers Hamtramck, Highland Park and a small portion of Detroit.
Anuzis cites language in the state Constitution that bars from the Legislature any person "who has within the preceding 20 years been convicted of a felony involving a breach of public trust."
Johnson pleaded no contest to armed robbery and breaking and entering for his role in a 1993 armed robbery at the Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township. Michigan law considers a no-contest plea to be a conviction, even though it not an admission of guilt.
House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, has said he will not support allowing Johnson to assume office. The last time someone who won the November election was denied their House seat was in 1965.
In the letter, Anuzis writes, "I consider pointing a gun into the face of a Michigan resident and committing armed robbery to be a breach of the public trust."
Johnson said he was present during the May 27, 1993, robbery of a cash box from the country club where he caddied, but that he did not pull the gun. He said he pleaded no contest only so he could own up to his role in the incident.
The police officer who led the investigation has disputed Johnson's story, saying Johnson pulled the gun and ran to a waiting car.
Anuzis asked candidates to respond by 5 p.m. Tuesday. He said that as of Wednesday afternoon, most Republican and Libertarian candidates had responded, but no Democrats. Most who responded said they would oppose seating Johnson, Anuzis said.
Additionally, Republican lawmakers have announced their intent to introduce bills requiring a criminal background check of candidates for the state Legislature, citing Johnson's case as an example.
But Dan Farough, a spokesman for House Democrats, said Republicans are trying to pit Detroit against the rest of the state and divide blacks and whites because Johnson is black.
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