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Snyder ignites controversy with anti-LGBT appointment to civil rights board

Did Governor Rick Snyder intend to name an anti-gay activist to the state civil rights commission? Or is this one that just slipped past him?

Democrats and Republicans are asking, “What was he thinking?”

Snyder seems to have rekindled the fight over LGBT rights in Michigan with his appointment of Ira Combs to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

Combs, a Pentecostal minister from Jackson, is an African American Republican. He is also one of the most prominent and active anti-LGBT activists in the state.

Which makes this one of the most controversial appointments to the civil rights commission in awhile. And Snyder made the appointment as the civil rights commission is being asked to enforce housing and employment protections for the LGBT community.

And as - even though this has quieted down for the moment - the debate over expanding the state’s civil rights law is still hanging out there. Snyder has endorsed an expansion to cover LGBT people which makes this appointment even more perplexing.

At a recent press conference, Snyder was asked if he knew about Ira Combs’ history as an anti-gay rights activist before making this appointment.

“Hopefully we can have a civil rights commission that recognizes that people can have differences of views, but let’s work together on making sure that people are encouraging diversity,” Snyder answered.

Snyder says Combs’ background on racial justice and assisting people with disabilities was behind his decision. But he wouldn’t say whether he was aware of Combs’ views on LGBT rights, or if he finds them troubling.

So, does the governor consider naming an anti-gay activist to the board to be “encouraging diversity?” He won’t say. And Bishop Combs did not respond to our request for an interview.

Democrats in the Legislature are calling for a state Senate confirmation hearing on Combs. Republicans are not super anxious for a hearing. They know it would likely become a rambunctious spectacle that would draw protesters.

This week there’s supposed to be a meeting between a representative of the governor and someone from the LGBT rights groups. We will see what comes of it.

But one meeting will not settle this.

It’s safe to say Rick Snyder has guaranteed that gay rights and how this appointment should have been handled will be an election issue, and a question the people who hope to succeed him will have to answer.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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