By Jon King /

A survey sent out to candidates for city council in Brighton and Howell is drawing criticism about trying to politicize what are supposed to be nonpartisan races.

On Saturday, the Livingston County Republican Party emailed out the five-page survey (posted below), which stated that it was not for the purpose of endorsements by the party, but instead, “to educate and inform the residents about your positions on issues of importance here in Livingston County.” After requesting typical biographical details about candidates and their top three priorities, as well as what they see as the biggest challenges facing their particular municipality in the next five years, it then veers into issues that have become hot-button political topics not normally seen in nonpartisan council races.

One question asks each candidate if people “in the local parks and recreation system” should be “allowed to use the locker room of their choice regardless of their gender?” It also asks about the “defund the police” movement and whether candidates “oppose training programs for municipal staff that assume racism occurs in all interactions and views an individual’s race as the basis of privilege?”

In response to the survey, Brighton City Council candidate Jordan Genso told WHMI that it was “inappropriate” for any survey from a political party in nonpartisan races, but that this particular survey “goes beyond just inappropriate” as the questions “were undeniably designed” to bring the “toxic political atmosphere that exists at the state and national levels…to the local level.” Genso said he has spoken with many voters in Brighton, “and not one has felt it necessary to ask about bathroom usage, because obviously that’s not an important issue facing our city council. The local Republicans may want to use the culture war to turn city council into a micro version of Congress with its extreme tribalism, but I trust the residents of Brighton would prefer candidates who focus on building community rather than dividing it.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by Howell City Council candidate Kevin Shopshire, who said the survey contained “loaded questions” with a “completely false and inaccurate” framing. “If I was running for the state house or senate in the GOP primary, I would answer them. I'm not.”

Bill Albert, also a candidate for Brighton City Council, had a different interpretation. “As a candidate for public office, you will frequently receive questions from residents, business owners, local media, and yes, sometimes political parties. You may not always like the questions that are asked, but I believe it is fully within their right to question candidates about their positions. If a candidate does not want to respond or believes a question is not relevant to their race, they can choose not to answer.”

Howell Councilwoman Jan Lobur told WHMI that while she had not seen the survey, she would be concerned if any party was trying to force a nonpartisan position into a corner. "City council is a non-partisan governing body serving "at large" and representing all city residents regardless of their political views. I have done my best to do so in the past six years and will continue to do so if I'm elected."

When asked about those concerns, Livingston County Republican Party Chair Meghan Reckling told WHMI that the survey clearly states the “Livingston County Republican Party will not use the survey for endorsement purposes and will be posting candidate responses to help educate and inform voters before the August primary. Any candidate who objects to any questions asked in the survey is free not to respond.” However, she did not respond to a query about what the motivation was for asking a question about locker room usage and what municipality was that an issue in.

The bathroom gender question follows the recent controversy generated by Reckling when she posted on social media that a planned “Drag Queen Bingo” fundraiser for the Livingston Diversity Council during the Howell Melonfest next month was “disappointing” as it “sexualized” a family-friendly event. There was immediate push back from many in the community who noted the 21-and-over-only event was set to take place in the festival’s beer tent and was no more inappropriate than the popular Bras For a Cause fundraiser held for many years by local realtors in which men dressed up in drag and paraded on a stage for charity donations.

The “Drag Queen Bingo” event has since sold out with discussions underway about adding a second show and/or moving it to a larger location.

Reckling is also the Chief of Staff for State Senator Lana Theis, who earlier this year introduced a bill to prevent transgender athletes from participating on the team corresponding to their gender identity.