Rep. Johnson demands apologies from leadership, committee assignments restored

Michigan Capitol, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Detroit state Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson is calling on legislative leadership to refuse to seat any lawmaker who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., or a partner rally that occurred simultaneously at the state Capitol. 

“Anyone who was at that Capitol at that demonstration, at that thuggish behavior, that you were just criminal on Wednesday, any legislator who was there needs to be not seated,” the Democrat said Friday night in a phone interview with the Advance

Johnson specifically made the statement while responding to a question about state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford) and his participation in the D.C. event. 

Asked directly if Rep. Steven Carra, a Republican freshman lawmaker from Three Rivers, should not be seated for his participation in the state rally, as well as his role in supporting and promoting businesses openly flouting and ignoring Michigan Department of Health and Human Services pandemic orders, she replied, “Oh, yeah, he needs to not be seated.”

Johnson is uniquely positioned to understand legislative leadership punishments. In early December, after hours of testimony at the House Oversight Committee from Rudy Giuliani, one of President Donald Trump’s election attorneys, she was targeted with death threats by supporters of the debunked election fraud claims. She responded with a Facebook live video on her personal Facebook page encouraging her supporters to hold those issuing threats and supporting Trump accountable. The accounting she called for? “Hit them in the wallet.”

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But an edited version of her video made its way through right wing media including Parler, and ultimately to a Honduran based YouTuber. That edited video implied she was threatening supporters of Trump with violence.

Republican House leadership moved swiftly and removed her from her committee assignments. Her comments also were condemned by incoming and then-current Democratic leadership, and even Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel condemned her video. 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) called for compassion related to Johnson’s video message.

Behind the scenes, however, Johnson said now-House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) called her, as did Nessel. 

“We already had a conversation about that,” Johnson said of Wentworth regarding her removal from committees. “He told me immediately; he called me and he said, ‘Cynthia, I never… There was never any intention of moving you off of any of your committees.’”

Gideon D’Assandro, Wentworth’s communications director, did not respond to a request for comment about Johnson’s claims. 

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She also said Nessel, who on Dec. 9 issued a statement calling Johnson’s video “unacceptable” and condemned it, apologized in a call Thursday.

“I talked to the attorney general about that last night,” Johnson said. “I told her, I said, ‘You know, I’m really upset with you.’ And she apologized, she did apologize, so. But I need them to do more than just apologize to me.”

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, spokeswoman for Nessel, declined to comment on Johnson’s claim the attorney general apologized to her. 

Johnson said neither former House Minority Leader Christine Grieg (D-Farmington Hills) nor Rep. Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.), the new  minority leader, have called her to apologize nor to speak about her committee assignments this coming session. 

Regardless of the behind the scenes words, Johnson said she expects public action by the leaders — just as they took when following “propaganda.”

“That don’t fly that they can come to me and say, ‘Oh, we really made a mistake on this,’” Johnson said. “Uh-uh, forget that. No. You tell the world, too, that you made a mistake.”