House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, is not working with a crew of election deniers to investigate unfounded allegations of fraud or misconduct tied to the 2022 midterms.
In fact, he used a request from a Trump-backed House lawmaker to create a new election-related commission with subpoena powers as an avenue to rebuke and ridicule such efforts — both by House Rep. Steve Carra, R-Three Rivers, and the Republican Party as a whole.
But you wouldn’t know that if you believed Pat Colbeck, a former Michigan GOP state senator who has repeatedly alleged widespread election fraud in 2020 and 2022 without providing credible evidence.
On Saturday, organizations called Michigan Fair Elections and Pure Integrity Michigan Elections — two networks of election deniers established after the 2020 race — sent a message to supporters and others from Colbeck.
“I have been requested to provide affidavits of election fraud within 24 hrs in support of discussions with the MI Speaker of the House Jason Wentworth,” Colbeck says in the message.
“The purpose of these discussions has been to obtain an investigation into 2022 election fraud.”
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Documents obtained by the Free Press show Carra did ask Wentworth to establish the new investigative entity. While Wentworth’s lengthy response pokes fun at Carra’s rationale and notes the unprecedented nature of the request, the speaker did ask Carra whether he had any evidence to support his allegations, including signed and notarized affidavits.
“It will be difficult to take them seriously otherwise,” Wentworth said in an email to Carra and other House Republicans.
Carra and Colbeck worked together in the past on efforts to undermine the 2020 election results. Despite Wentworth’s tone, it appears they took his response as a green light to solicit affidavits.
But there is no burgeoning effort among House leaders to investigate any election claims.
“The speaker is not investigating the 2022 election. He is looking to help Republicans move on, run stronger campaigns and retake the majority in 2024,” said Gideon D’Assandro, a Wentworth spokesman, in a statement Monday.
Republicans lost control of the state House and Senate in the midterm elections, but the newly elected Democratic majorities don’t begin their tenure until January.
Wentworth reiterated his faith in the election process during a news conference last week.
“Full responsibility on myself, we lost fair and square,” Wentworth said.
In an email Monday, Colbeck said he “did not believe the election results” but did not answer questions about why he thought he was gathering affidavits in support of discussions with Wentworth’s office. A representative from Carra’s office did not respond to emailed questions.
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‘Half-baked political stunt’
Last week, Carra wrote a letter formally asking the speaker to create a commission that would start work Tuesday to investigate allegations of fraud in the 2022 election. Carra suggested at least six lawmakers support the effort, some of whom believe “there was substantial fraud” in the midterms while “others think there was enough fraud to sway the results.”
The letter presents no evidence, instead relying largely on old, unsubstantiated allegations or conspiracies from the 2020 election. Essentially all major Michigan Republican and Democratic candidates who lost in the midterm elections conceded quickly, including GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon and attorney general contender Matthew DePerno, both of whom spread election misinformation in the past.
In an emailed response to Carra and House Republicans broadly, Wentworth shreds the request through pointed questions that indicate he’s uninterested in giving anyone a platform to share unfounded theories.
In his email, Wentworth takes aim at Carra’s expressed desire for the House to investigate why “a majority of Americans” lost faith in the elections system.
“The legislature cannot be in the business of authorizing pop psychology opinion surveys. Perhaps you are really saying, though, that if over half of Americans distrust a process, that gives us the right to launch an investigation to see if their distrust is justified. Is that really the standard you want?” Wentworth wrote, before using a hypothetical to stomp on Carra’s request.
“Suppose over half of Michiganders surveyed said they distrusted your motives in sending your November 17 letter— that is, they believed this is a shameless and half-baked political stunt performed on state time and solely calculated to inflame an already troubled section of our party. Do you think that would justify the Legislature subpoenaing you? Don’t you think it’s bad practice to justify legislative subpoenas based on opinion surveys?”
The letter goes deeper:
- Wentworth said in 200 years, the Legislature has never created a commission with such powers to review election results. “It would be exceptionally naïve for us to pretend that previous legislators didn’t question election results (especially in the 1800s, where political cheating was much easier and more common),” Wentworth wrote.
- The speaker says Carra’s contention that the commission is not an effort to overturn election results is confusing. “It sounds like you’re conceding up front that this investigation would be an empty exercise — that it wouldn’t have any practical effect no matter what is found,” Wentworth wrote. “Is this concession because you believe there wasn’t enough fraud to make a difference? Or are you truly willing to uncover massive fraud and then do nothing about it?”
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Wentworth’s decision to rebuff the request is a substantial change from how legislative leaders treated comparable unsubstantiated fraud claims in 2020. Although both Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R- Clarklake, and then-House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, never publicly supported Trump’s idea that the Legislature could change the election outcome, both allowed committees to pursue unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.
In the House, that devolved into a lengthy hearing with Trump-affiliated attorney Rudy Giuliani questioning his own witnesses while lawmakers at times sat by passively. In the Senate, lawmakers also heard from Colbeck and a bevy of others who did not provide evidence of widespread fraud but shared conspiracies related to a human error in Antrim County. However, that Republican-led committee issued a report in June 2021 that rejected claims of widespread voter fraud while criticizing anyone spreading election misinformation in an effort to raise money.
Although he has garnered Trump’s support, Carra has never held a Republican caucus leadership position in the statehouse. He recently announced the creation of a new political action committee aimed at raising money for candidates who fail to get donations from traditional GOP megadonors, according to Michigan Public Radio.
Free Press staff writer Arpan Lobo contributed to this report.
Contact Dave Boucher: email@example.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.