The Livingston County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Monday night declaring Livingston County a ‘Constitutional County.’
The resolution was previously discussed at the Courts, Public Safety, & Infrastructure Development Committee meeting on April 17th, where it was approved by Commissioners Deaton, Drick, Fiani, Helzerman, and Nakagiri.
The call to the public was dominated by Republican affiliates: of the approximately fifty speakers who supported the Board of Commissioners, fifteen were either candidates (past or present) or leading members of the GOP’s county, district, or state committees.
The outpouring of GOP support can be attributed to a social media invitation that had been circling prior to the commissioners’ meeting. The post from FEC United Michigan– a right-wing organization named for its proclaimed dedication to family, education, and commerce– invited people to a gathering in the commissioners’ meeting room an hour before the board was set to convene. The purpose of this meeting was supposedly to address a World Health Organization (WHO) treaty on future pandemics. The group commandeered the meeting room, despite Livingston County’s strict stipulations about meetings hosted on county grounds. A statement from the Livingston County Democratic Party notes that the flagrant dismissal of policy is a means of bullying the county commission into complying with the organization’s objectives.
As a result, attendance exceeded expectations, and county officials had to accommodate two additional rooms full of spectators alongside the packed boardroom. Many came with signs and posters declaring their support for the Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Mike Murphy.
Murphy has not shied away from making his thoughts on red-flag laws known and even put out a Facebook video statement explaining his views on red-flag laws prior to the board meeting. Murphy asserted that while he’s “not that guy who believes everybody should have a gun,” he believes that red-flag laws are unconstitutional in that the ability to confiscate weapons equates to “seizing somebody’s property without a hearing” therefore depriving them of due process. Murphy has made it clear that he will not be enforcing red-flag laws in Livingston County. His perspectives place him firmly into the category of ‘constitutional sheriff.’ According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, constitutional sheriffs use their positions as law enforcement officers to pick and choose what laws they will enforce based on their own beliefs and preferences. The organization, which specializes in civil rights and public interest litigation, warns that many sheriffs around the country are susceptible to the influence of “antigovernment groups intent on evangelizing to sheriffs about constitutional sheriff and conspiracy theory ideologies, which are often related.”
Among those in support of the Board of Commissioners’ Constitutional County initiative was Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo. Karamo, who previously ran for Secretary of State, has become a controversial figure in the realm of Michigan politics, and a staunch advocate for various conspiracy theories. She has still not officially conceded the November 2022 election, despite being overwhelmingly defeated by the incumbent Jocelyn Benson. More recently, Karamo came under fire from Republicans and Democrats alike for a meme posted to the MIGOP Twitter page that compared gun control legislation to the Holocaust.
Karamo used her three minutes of the call to the public to thank the board for “defending the Constitutional rights of the people of Livingston County.”
“So many people before me have spoken of the historical realities… we could go on and on and on and on about government tyranny against citizens.”
Karamo then seemingly switched gears to focus on those who have “been victim to false accusations,” herself included. She then alluded to the accusation made by her ex-husband wherein he claimed that Karamo threatened to crash her car with the intent of killing her then-husband and their two daughters over a divorce dispute.
“That happens to so many people,” Karamo explained, “that we’ve been falsely accused of things and then we can have our rights taken away from us, and then we’ll have to go and defend ourselves to have our rights restored.”
Jason Woolford, former candidate for the 48th district of the Michigan State House of Representatives, also addressed the board. Woolford decried the red-flag laws and dismissed the State legislators as “a rogue Democratic party and a few so-called Republicans.”
Rob Rodriguez Pelizzari of Brighton asserted that “gun-free zones are actually criminal empowerment zones,” citing that “96% of all mass shootings from 1999 to present happened in gun-free zones.”
This statistic was most recently refuted by AP News in the wake of the March 27th school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee. Pelizzari went on to add that he and those who shared his values had “been without a voice for so long” before praising the Board of Commissioners for their efforts.
Livingston County’s efforts have also made an impression on counties across the state, with several speakers from Wayne County and a gun lobbyist from Allegan County coming to show their support. Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Ralph Rebandt said he’d use this resolution as a campaign talking point, promoting Livingston County as a “model county” as he travels the state.
Those who opposed the Board of Commissioners’ resolution were fewer in number, but this did not deter them. As one Howell woman was being interrupted by rowdy audience members, she calmly informed them that they were not the decider, nor did they have the right to interrupt even if they were “the loudest voices in the room.”
Judy Daubenmier, Chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party, issued a statement condemning the resolution and addressed the outlined concerns before the Board of Commissioners.
“Although people think it’s just about gun safety legislation, the resolution could be used in the future by MAGA groups to bully the county into ignoring many other laws,” Daubenmier explained. “This resolution not only will make Livingston County families more vulnerable it will also leave the public wondering what laws in the future are going to be tossed by the wayside.”
The Resolution by the Livingston County Board of Commissioners in Support of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Michigan Constitution was approved unanimously and was met with a standing ovation from those in attendance.
In his closing statement, Commissioner Jay Gross argued against the statistics that cite firearms as the leading cause of death among children and teens in the U.S. He dismissed the topic of gun violence altogether, opting instead to highlight his belief that “over a million [children] die from abortion.”
Meanwhile, the WHO, the National Institute of Health, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Journal of the American Medical Association have all reached the consensus that firearms are in fact the leading cause of child mortality. Additionally, the Kaiser Family Foundation– a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to issues in health policy– indicates that 20% of all child and teen deaths in the U.S. are attributed to firearms, as compared to an average of less than 2% in similarly large and wealthy nations.
Commissioner Jay Drick chose to respond to those who had previously pointed out that there is no legal basis for the concept of a Constitutional County.
“I heard that this resolution allegedly was beyond our authority, not found in the Constitution, is made up, is fictional, is phony, is unlawful, is not proper, is some kind of secession from the State of Michigan or splitting from the State of Michigan, or it’s based on QAnon or Proud Boys,” Drick said. “These allegations are 100% wrong.” He went on to urge those present to read the Magna Carta, the U.S. Bill of Rights, and the Michigan Constitution for proof of the resolution’s validity.
Upon further examination, the concept of a Constitutional County is not explicitly outlined in any of these documents but is rather an idea developed and promoted by Kirk MacKenzie, the founder of an organization known as Defend Rural America. An article from Yates County, New York– a county that voted against adopting the title of Constitutional County in August 2022– cites that MacKenzie and his organization “seek to tackle systemic issues in representative government.” Chief among the organization’s concerns are Critical Race Theory, COVID-19 vaccines, and voting machines. Despite Drick’s claim, these talking points are frequently cited by proponents of QAnon and other conspiracy-based organizations.
Despite the uproar from both sides of the aisle, the practical definition of a Constitutional County remains unclear. At the April 17th meeting of the Courts, Public Safety, & Infrastructure Development Committee, Livingston County Republican Chair Jennifer Smith specifically pointed out that this resolution was largely– if not entirely– a symbolic gesture.
The Board of Commissioners will meet next on May 8th.