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Michigan county GOP cancels appearance by Huntsman

Published: Wednesday, April 29 2009 12:56 a.m. MDT

A Michigan GOP organization canceled an appearance by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. this weekend, apparently because of his support for civil unions.

The decision by the Kent County Republican Party drew praise from the head of a conservative pro-family group in Michigan critical of what he called Huntsman's "homosexual agenda."

The new chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Ron Weiser, stepped in Tuesday. Now Huntsman will appear at a state party fundraiser during his two-day swing through the state.

"The state party chair called the governor to apologize and said the state is excited to have the governor coming and looks forward to seeing him this weekend," Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said.

Michigan GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Hoff said the conversation between Huntsman and the party chairman was private.

She said in a statement, "Michigan Republicans are excited to host Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. (R-Utah) and listen to his ideas on education reform. Gov. Huntsman has made Republican solutions on job growth a reality — something Michigan Democrats have failed to do."

Huntsman, who is widely seen as testing the waters for a 2012 bid for the GOP presidential nomination, will appear before four or five Republican groups in Michigan on Friday and Saturday, Roskelley said.

She said the appearances are responses to invitations that were accepted because the governor is already attending a Chinese-language conference in Chicago on Friday. Huntsman, who has pledged he will not seek a third term as governor, has yet to publicly acknowledge his interest in the White House.

He found out a few days ago that the Kent County GOP group had disinvited him from a Saturday morning reception. "I don't know what he was told in terms of it being canceled," Roskelley said.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Kent County Chairwoman Joanne Voorhees sent an e-mail saying that was done "after conducting further research on the governor and his change in position on issues" without specifying gay rights.

The e-mail reportedly went on to say "voters want and expect us to stand on principle and return to our roots … unfortunately, by holding an event with Governor Huntsman, we would be doing the exact opposite."

Betty Church, a volunteer at the Kent County GOP offices in Grand Rapids, told the Deseret News no one was available Tuesday to comment.

Gary Glenn, head of the Campaign for Michigan Families, said in an e-mail release that Kent County's "principled stand sends a strong message nationwide that grass-roots conservatives will not embrace liberals who want to abandon the GOP platform's commitment to traditional family values in favor of promoting homosexual activists' incremental assault on religious freedom, marriage and the family."

Glenn did not immediately return telephone calls for further comment.

During the last legislative session, Huntsman came out in favor of civil unions for gay and other nontraditional couples as a way for them to share the legal benefits of marriage.

He has said the GOP nationally must focus on topics that matter most to voters to recoup from last November's losses, such as the economy and health care.

Roskelley said the governor's position on civil unions hasn't been affected by the latest controversy.

Huntsman "feels like this is an issue of equality, something that the Republican Party has long advocated since its inception and first elected president, Lincoln. It certainly reflects the Republican value of individual dignity," she said. For him, "the future of the Republican Party is being a party of ideas and solutions and inclusiveness rather than being rhetorical or moralistic. For the governor, this is an important issue."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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