Beginning in 2020, retired attorney Bob LaBrant, who once had been Senior Vice President for Political Affairs and General Counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, became increasingly estranged from the Republican Party. What was the motivation for his metamorphosis?
Let’s hear it from LaBrant in his own words:
“I publicly supported Joe Biden for President over the Republican Party’s cult leader, Donald Trump. I thought claims that the election was rigged were bogus and submitted written testimony to the State Board of Canvassers in December, 2020, calling on the Canvassers to perform their statutory duty and certify the statewide election results.
“As a heart attack and cancer survivor, the Covid pandemic affected not only me and my wife personally, but also our daughter, two grandchildren, and our two great-granddaughters. Our two great-granddaughters, ages 3 and 5, attend preschool and kindergarten, respectively. Back in 2020, both were without any immediate prospect of Covid-19 vaccination. My daughter and granddaughter are both Florida teachers. Both of them and their husbands were vaccinated in 2021 and have received subsequent boosters. Today both great-granddaughters have been vaccinated. But they live in a state with an irresponsible governor (Ron DeSantis) who currently prohibits, by his executive order, local mask and vaccine mandates, putting my family members at risk just to score cheap political points.
“Not surprisingly, I viewed state Senator Mike Shirkey’s ‘Unlock Michigan’ petition drive, in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic, as ideological foolishness, long on protestations of individual liberty and natural immunity but short on keeping Michiganders alive, out of ICU’s and hospitals.
“This was all taking place while Donald Trump refused to wear a mask, called on lockdowns to end, and promoted quack Covid remedies. In Michigan, self-styled militia members using their “right” of open carry, brought their AR-15s and stormed into the State Capitol to protest gubernatorial shutdown orders. Senator Shirkey met with those protestors.
“I decided to fight back against this madness by challenging how Unlock Michigan was being funded, by using my knowledge and years of experience with the Michigan campaign finance law. This soon brought me into conflict with former colleagues and former political allies who supported Unlock Michigan. If those folks want to call me a “RINO, ” I wear that label with pride.
“There is an old adage in politics, of which I have a much better appreciation of today — There are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only interests. My interest is in my, and my family’s health and well-being. Although I regret that former friends no longer talk to me, if I had to do it all again, I would.
“The day I filed my complaint I received a call from a former colleague I had worked with urging me to withdraw my complaint. He sincerely believed that there would be serious repercussions for me if I did not. I declined his request.
“I eventually had a grievance filed against me with the Attorney Grievance Commission (AGC) by Heather Lombardini, a former co-worker at the Sterling Corporation, where I had been a part-time employee for five years before I left in June 2017. That was three years before the pandemic and three years before Unlock Michigan was organized.
“Lombardini serves as President of Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility (MCFR), which Sterling organized and she manages. She alleged, that by filing my campaign finance complaint against MCFR, I had somehow released privileged and confidential information. Did she seriously believe MCFR had a secret plan stored away that I was privy too, to launder more than $1.8 million through MCFR to give to a yet-to-be-formed ballot question committee?
“The Lombardini grievance went on to bizarrely suggest that my motive for filing my campaign finance complaint was to ingratiate myself with Governor Whitmer in order to be re-appointed to a fourth term on the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC). In my answer to the grievance, I told the AGC I had no interest in serving another term when my term of office expired, but the speculation as to my motive was utter nonsense. Did the complainant seriously think, if my goal were a fourth term on MERC, I would ignore what impact challenging the improper funding of the Senate Majority Leader’s favorite ballot question committee would have on my appointment, which requires the advice and consent of the Senate? My re-appointment would have been dead on arrival.
“The grievance was as meritless as it was silly, and within weeks it was dismissed. I can make public the dismissal of this grievance under MCR 9.126(A), which provides that, at my option as the respondent, the final disposition of a request for investigation not resulting in formal charges may be made public.
“The Michigan Chamber was listed as a Gold Sponsor at the 2021 Michigan Republican Mackinac Conference, a perfectly legal donation to the administrative account of the Michigan Republican Party. Other sponsors listed on a sign at the Grand Hotel include CMS Energy, and DTE. None of these utilities made any contributions directly to Unlock Michigan, either. Did any utilities or the Chamber make any donations in 2020-2021 to MCFR?
“The Detroit News published in an August 29, 2021, article that the DTE-affiliated organization, Michigan Energy First, in 2019 contributed $650,000 to the Michigan Republican Party administrative account. Another Detroit News article on February 11, 2021, listed DTE as a Gold Sponsor of a fund-raising reception to the 501 C (4) organization, Michigan! My Michigan! Heather Lombardini was listed on the reception invitation as the contact person.
“When the late Hugh McDiarmid, former Detroit Free Press political columnist during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s wrote about the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, he almost always added this phrase: “a very Republican organization.” It was as if Hugh’s typewriter keyboard had a key that when stroked added that phrase next to the Michigan Chamber’s name.
“I was never offended by Hugh’s reference any more than Bill Marshall, Sam Fishman, Frank Garrison, or Mark Gaffney would have been offended if Hugh always referred to the Michigan AFL-CIO as “closely tied to the Democratic Party.”
“I learned over the years that whichever party controlled a legislative chamber and its committees mattered. That party sets the agenda.
“Party loyalty, however, has its limits. Donald Trump hijacked the Republican Party. The Republican Party today acts like a Trump cult. Its party leaders and elected officials have been drinking the Trump Kool-Aid for far too long.
“My life experience has come full circle. Back in 1974, the conservative Republican Congressman I worked for on Capitol Hill and later back in his Wisconsin district office, Harold Froehlich (WI-8), demonstrated to me his political courage by voting, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, “aye” on two articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon (Article 1, obstruction of justice; Article 2, abuse of power). Harold Froehlich knew those committee votes against his party’s President would cost him re-election. They did, in the November, 1974, election,
“Harold Froehlich, as a lawyer and later judge, had respect for the rule of law and felt a duty to the Constitution and his oath of office. He paid a political price, but he ended his congressional career with honor and on the right side of history.
“I thought Trump twice deserved impeachment. The Trump administration appalled me: the nepotism; the daily violation of the ’emoluments’ clause; the disregard of norms; the flouting of the separation of powers doctrine; Trump’s too cozy relationship with Putin and the strongmen ruling Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea; Trump’s willingness to weaken NATO; the utter chaos at the White House; and the firings by tweet. Trump’s megalomania and narcissism, for me, were too much.
“More disappointing to me was the utter silence from most of the Republican Michigan Congressional delegation, afraid to be the recipient of the next Trump tweet. Fred Upton, Justin Amash, and Peter Meijer, of course, were the exceptions. Capping it all was Trump’s malfeasance in handling the pandemic that killed, by Memorial Day 2021, more than one million Americans. That figure represented more deaths by Covid than we suffered in World War I, World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
“In August, 2020, I wrote an opinion piece for the Detroit Free Press opposing the Republican petition drive to repeal the 1945 Emergency Gubernatorial Powers Act (Unlock Michigan). I asked whether a strong Republican governor like John Engler or Bill Milliken would have sat idly by and let the legislature strip him, as the governor, of his emergency powers during a pandemic?
“I later joined the Lincoln Project’s effort to elect Joe Biden president. The Free Press wrote an article featuring former Governor Rick Snyder and me, as Republicans, now supporting Biden.
“After the election, I submitted testimony to the Board of State Canvassers and co-wrote an opinion piece for Crain’s Detroit Business, warning that the election results needed to be certified as required under Michigan election law. Without timely certification, the Republican state legislators from Michigan who flew out to Washington to confer with Trump at the White House and spent the night at his D.C. hotel, might attempt to implement one of Rudy Giuliani’s crazier schemes, having the Republican controlled legislature alone, in the absence of certified electors, appoint 16 presidential electors supporting Trump ignoring the fact that Biden carried Michigan by 154,000 votes.”