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Criminal characters turning up in GOP leadership roles

Jack Lessenberry

Paul Welday, a deeply conservative former candidate for Congress, called it the most disturbing election in the Michigan Republican Party’s history.

No, he wasn’t talking about President Obama, but about his party’s choice of a man named Darwin Jiles as the party’s new ethnic vice chair. Jiles, who is 29, was arrested a year ago and charged with shooting a man in an Auburn Hills trailer park.

He ended up pleading guilty two months ago to a misdemeanor. He is now on probation, and cannot possess firearms or leave the state without permission. Earlier, as a juvenile, Jiles was charged with two counts of assault with intent to murder, and pled guilty to assault with intent to do great bodily harm.

Yesterday, during an interview with Gongwer News Service, Jiles seemed to alternate between belligerent and conciliatory about all this.

On one hand he said he was the victim of malicious smear tactics and character assassination, and threatened lawsuits against those spreading “lies and slanders” about him.  But he also said he wanted to be a positive role model, an example for troubled inner city youth of someone who has transformed himself.

Positive role models are certainly a good thing.

State Senator Bert Johnson, a Democrat from Highland Park, has never concealed that he served time for armed robbery as a youth, but his conviction was more than 20 years ago.

It isn’t clear how much delegates to last week’s GOP state convention knew about Jiles’s background, or that his latest guilty plea was as recent as December. It is clear, however, that he defeated the incumbent, one Linda Tarver, with help from Dave Agema, the highly controversial Republican National Committeeman who has posted racist rants on Facebook.

Republicans are certainly not the only party with members with criminal backgrounds. Democratic State Representative Brian Banks was reelected last fall despite eight felony convictions for things like bad checks and credit card fraud.

But suddenly an amazing set of bizarre criminal characters have turned up in leadership roles in the Republican Party itself.

There is of course Kwame Kilpatrick, who is now in federal prison.

But suddenly an amazing set of bizarre criminal characters have turned up in leadership roles in the Republican Party itself.

State committee member William Rauwerdink did lose his seat at last weekend’s convention after it was learned that he served nearly four years in prison for massive financial and accounting fraud. State party officials apparently knew nothing of this until it was exposed by Macomb County blogger Chad Selweski.

Rauwerdink, by the way, had been ordered to pay nearly $300 million in restitution to his victims.

Last year, another Republican state committee member, Doug Sedenquist, had to resign when he was sentenced to prison for extortion. Earlier, he was involved in a bizarre armed standoff with police in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Republicans have also learned that Randy Bishop, their Antrim County chair, is a two-time felon.

There does seem to be a disturbing pattern here.

Unlike the Democrats I mentioned, all of whom were chosen by the voters, these are all internal party officials selected by the GOP itself.

It will be interesting to see if the party, under new chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, will now decide that it is time to clean house.