2017-08-24 / Columns

DeVos and McDaniel Are on Target

Michigan Politics
By George Weeks

Two former chairwomen of the Michigan GOP, both members of prominent state political families, have significant roles in Washington, thanks to President Donald Trump, and are saying the right things on the current controversy about race relations.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, niece of former Governor Mitt Romney, who was the 2014 presidential nominee, is Trump’s choice to head the Republican National Committee. She came out last week on national television against white supremacy, saying, “It has no place in our party.” Obviously.

While McDaniel heads the national party, it is former Michigan GOP Chairwoman Betsey DeVos who, based on her family’s long leadership role in national politics (her father once was the GOP national finance chief) and her current role as the U.S. Secretary of Education, is getting the most national attention.

DeVos, a longtime school choice advocate from the Grand Rapids area, said in an e-mail to Department of Education employees that “racial bigot” white nationalists involved last week in Charlottesville, Virginia, were “totally abhorrent to the American ideal.”

The Detroit Free Press said that at one point DeVos tweeted that “it is every American’s right to speak their mind, but there is no room for violence or hatred,” and said she was “disgusted by the behavior and hatefilled rhetoric displayed.”

DeVos is in the Trump cabinet, only after surviving a narrow conformation process - a single tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate.

But now DeVos, in the media, is one of the most cited.

Early this year, DeVos got flack for suggesting that historically black colleges and universities were “pioneers” of school choice, a comment seen by some as insensitive as the only choices for black students to pursue higher education.

DeVos told the Associated Press that these black college efforts “provided choices for black students that they didn’t have. My intention was to say they were pioneering on behalf of students that didn’t have another choice.”

“At the same time, I should have decried much more forcefully the ravages of racism in this country.”

In remarks to her department, DeVos said, “While we should be anticipating and celebrating students’ returns to campuses across the country, we are engaged in a national discussion that has stirred ugly, hate-filled conversations and reopened hurtful wounds from our nation’s past.”

In the many years I have covered DeVos, I have never seen her so ontarget as she was last week.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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