ESCANABA - While in Escanaba Friday, Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger responded to questions about his involvement in an alleged election scandal in Grand Rapids last May that has led many to call for his resignation.
The Michigan Democratic Party filed a formal complaint Thursday asking Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to investigate whether Bolger's involvement in the 76th District House race violated the law.
"What we're seeing, because it's a political fight, is there's a new attempt everyday to try to drag it back up and renew the fight and create a new reason for it to be a media story, when the underlying issue has already been resolved," said Bolger.
Rep. Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids entered the race as a Democrat but switched to the Republican primary within a half-hour of the May filing deadline. Schmidt then offered to pay 22-year-old Matthew Mojak to run in the Democratic primary. Mojak later withdrew.
The Associated Press reported this week that text messages from May 14 show Bolger was actively involved in the plan to recruit a Democrat for the ballot. Bolger texted Schmidt: "Any luck finding ur Dem in ur district? That's the last piece we need."
An 8-page investigative report by Republican Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth was released Tuesday. "What it showed was that in that party switch there was the recruitment of a Democrat on the ballot. So the investigation was 'were there any rules broken or were any laws broken?' And the result of the investigation was that no, there weren't," said Bolger.
While no filing laws were broken, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson will determine if a $2,000 check written from Schmidt's campaign account and payable to his son, Ryan, who recruited Mojak, violates campaign contribution rules.
"The questions was, and it says in the report that no money changed hands. So the referal to the Secretary of State was to find out if any campaign finance rules were broken," said Bolger.
Bolger claims the Democrats were not hurt by the recruitment of Mojak. "The Democrat was recruited for political reasons, but the bottom line is that today the Democrats are in exactly the same place they would have been if that Democrat had not filed and he later withdrew," he said. "That same place is they have an opportunity to put a Democrat on the ballot here that will be on the ballot in November."
Democrats in the 76th District will now have to campaign for a write-in candidate for the August primary.
"If that person had not filed and later withdrawn, then, because the Democrat switched to become a Republican at the last minute, that would have been open. When it's open there's a write-in process on the August ballot and if they get enough write-ins on the August ballot, then they appear on the November ballot," said Bolger.
"Politically they don't want to talk about why Rep. Schmidt switched, and he switched because he was frustrated by the politics. Since the moment he switched, they've been attacking him for that switch," said Bolger. "They've tried to make the switch a bad thing...because they don't want him to be talking about why he switched.
"I know that right to life was a big piece of it. The other was just the overall atmosphere. He said he wanted to reach out, and he wanted to work in a bipartisan manner, and he was told he couldn't, he had to fall in line," said Bolger.
Bolger believes that Schmidt found the Republican Party to be more welcoming of people who don't vote along party lines. "That's respected on our side of the aisle. We understand that there's differences of opinion, and so we respect that," he said.
As for Mojak, Bolger can only speculate as to why he withdrew from the Democratic primary. "I have never spoken to him, but I think he withdrew out of politics," he said.
Bolger doesn't think that "the games" are over yet. "We have four Republican House members downstate who are being challenged by what appear to be plants. Challenged by people who have only Democrat ties who are running. The point is, it should not be about political games. Although those political games happen on both sides, they should not happen on either side," said Bolger.
"I think both sides are playing political games or talking about politics, and that's a distraction," he continued. "What we need to be focused on are...results and focused on solving problems," said Bolger.
While Bolger does not believe he violated any rules, he says he now knows that is not enough.
"Politics is a highly-competitive environment, and I work within the rules to to prevail or to win. It's not a game. It's not about winning a game, because politics is not a game," he said. "Living within the rules is not a high enough standard."