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DeVos Takes Hard Right on Religion in Public Schools

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The truth about Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos' hard right values is being revealed more and more every day. Aside from fighting the minimum wage increase, funding campaigns to gut Michigan's public schools, lobbying Congress for job-killing "free" trade policies, supporting a group that is boycotting Ford, pushing for tax policies that favor the wealthy, DeVos now says he wants public schools to teach his religious beliefs as if they were science.

According to the Associate Press, DeVos said last week that he wanted to see the scientifically discredited body of thought called intelligent design as science in Michigan's public school classrooms, which many political observers believe and even proponents of the concept admit is a thin cover for teaching a version of Christian biblical doctrine. The AP article quoted him as saying: "I would like to see the ideas of intelligent design that many scientists are now suggesting is a very viable alternative theory. That theory and others that would be considered credible would expose our students to more ideas."

DeVos, according to Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson, has given thousands of dollars to organizations that support teaching religious concepts as science and has even helped financially support lawsuits by religious groups to force public schools to do so. Of course, intelligent design isn't scientific theory as much as it is unprovable – thus unscientific – guesses about the nature of human origins. Supporters of science have argued that if intelligent design is to be taught in public schools it should be taught in world history and humanities courses along with other creation stories.

DeVos' comments about the need to teach religion as science has his GOP handlers in a tizzy. His campaign managers wanted to present DeVos as a candidate who is a simple corporate bureaucrat aloof to the extremist religious elements in the Republican Party. This image, however, appears to have generated little emotional support among his base and has failed, despite an estimated 13 to 1 spending margin against Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, to push him ahead in the polls.

In fact, recent polling indicates that the race is a dead heat, and some polls even suggest a slight and widening lead for the governor larger than the margin of error. (A Lansing-area television station publicized a poll in mid-September showing Granholm with a 50 to 42 lead.)

Perhaps DeVos' ranting about teaching creationism was calculated to invigorate his campaign's flagging efforts. His comments might be seen as an attempt to change the conversation of the campaign from the jobs issue, which he initiated, to something he thinks he can more easily handle.

Truth be told, Governor Granholm isn't losing the debate on jobs and the economy in Michigan.

DeVos came into the campaign using the slow economic recovery from the 2001 Bush recession to attack Granholm. He blames her for the results of NAFTA-like deals – which he favors – that have gutted US manufacturing and have especially hit Michigan hard. He believed that a few platitudes about the need for change, with no real plan other than more tax cuts for the rich, would convince working families to support him.

Granholm wrested the initiative from him by presenting her record on revitalizing Michigan's economy. Her record of approaching potential investors personally and convincing them to build businesses here is strong despite an obstinate Republican-controlled state legislature that has blocked all of her proposals (including provision of additional funding for education and health care) on a partisan basis.

Granholm was further aided by revelations that DeVos, despite his claims to be a "jobs maker," cut almost 1,400 jobs in Michigan while in the top spot at Amway. Additionally, his company put together a $220 million investment plan a couple of years later that proceeded shamelessly to develop its manufacturing properties in another country without restoring those jobs in Michigan.

These revelations clearly showed the truth behind DeVos' image as a business leader: he is more interested in personal profits than the common good of the people who work at his company and their families. How could he be expected to do anything different for all of the working families of Michigan?

Unfortunately, DeVos' attempt to change the subject by injecting religious politics into his campaign may backfire. Because mainline Protestant churches, the Catholic Church, and many Jewish and Muslim religious leaders have openly rejected teaching intelligent design as science and view such efforts as tainting religious values, it isn't likely that DeVos' statements will garner much new support.

At a time when Michigan working families need a levelheaded response to economic crisis, DeVos may just have proven to many independent and undecided voters what most of us have known all along – he isn't the right woman for the job.

--Joel Wendland can be reached at
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--Joel Wendland is editor of Political Affairs.
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