A county in western Michigan has declared itself to be a "constitutional county" in an attempt to shield its residents from government overreach at the state and federal level.
On Tuesday, more than a hundred people spoke before the board of commissioners to share their thoughts about a measure to make Ottawa County — which is located between Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan — a "constitutional county." After several hours of public statements, the measure passed overwhelmingly, 9-1. The only dissenter was the lone Democratic commissioner, Doug Zylstra, and one commissioner was absent.
The resolution to protect constitutional rights in the county came about largely because of a grassroots campaign which succeeded in electing conservative commissioners. Ottawa Impact, a 501(c)(4), began as a means of eradicating the "progressive" Republicans on the board who had failed to protect their constituents as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and others shut down businesses and imposed onerous mask mandates on school children in 2020.
The group has since expanded its vision and now seeks to "build an organized, unstoppable, parent-led voter bloc to elect Pro America, Pro Freedom, Pro Parental Rights, Pro Life, Pro Child Innocence, and Pro Education candidates in local elections who will defend American values—and then hold their feet to the fire."
Ottawa Impact has indeed had a sizeable impact on Ottawa County. First, the commissioners, many of whom were elected in 2022 with the help of OI, ended the county's DEI office and changed the motto of the board of "Where Freedom Rings." Now in the new "constitutional county" measure, the board promises not to "authorize or appropriate new funds, resources, employees, agencies … or offices for the sole purpose of enforcing any statute, law, rule, order or regulation that restricts the rights of any law-abiding citizen affirmed by the United States Constitution."
"As we wrote this resolution to declare Ottawa County to be a constitutional county, we recognized the need to protect not only Second Amendment rights but all constitutional rights," said Ottawa County Co-Chair Sylvia Rhodea.
The measure also includes a stipulation that the board will respect "the Ottawa County Sheriff and the Ottawa County Prosecuting authority" and "their respective oaths of office" — so long as they act "in a constitutional manner." Ottawa County Prosecutor Lee Fisher stated that the measure "will not impact the way the prosecutor’s office conducts business." Sheriff Steve Kempker reportedly made similar comments.
Critics say that the measure is mostly symbolic, and some attorneys have claimed that it cannot supersede state or federal laws. "There’s no basis for that anywhere either in the state of Michigan or the U.S. Constitution," said Michael McDaniel, a law professor at Western Michigan University-Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
And many of the speakers at Tuesday's meeting vehemently opposed the measure, often because it reaffirms the right to keep and bear arms, and Gov. Whitmer has just signed a bill which severely restricts gun ownership rights in the state in the wake of the horrific shooting at Michigan State University earlier this year. Timberlyn Mazeikis, who attends MSU, made an emotionally laden plea not to allow her hometown of Holland to be lost "to gun violence."
Despite their disapproval, the measure passed, prompting many in attendance to erupt with applause. A copy of the measure will also soon hang in the board's meeting room to remind commissioners "that the constitutional rights of the people of Ottawa County shall be preserved and protected as the first priority."
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