Democrats in Montgomery County say an event sponsored by the Chevy Chase Women’s Republican Club is guilty of bad form.
Stopping short of asking the private GOP organization to cancel its Sept. 24 meeting featuring former Iowa Republican Congressman Fred Grandy, lawmakers and others signed a letter this week calling the event inappropriate.
Grandy, who lives in Bethesda and starred as Gopher in the sitcom “The Love Boat,” is known as a conservative commentator who routinely discusses what he calls Islamic extremism, warning listeners of what he says are the risks of having Muslims working in American government.
Guled Kassim, a Muslim, former Marine and Democratic precinct official from Derwood, helped collect politicians’ signatures for the letter.
Kassim said he’d prefer that the GOP group, which has more than 140 members, didn’t bring Grandy’s message to the Montgomery County community.
Grandy’s comments attack the Islamic religion and run counter to the beliefs of many Democrats and Republicans in the county, he said.
“We have the same rights to say those views are deplorable,” Kassim said. “We have the same right to say those views are causing hysteria or feeding into hysteria and are borderline dangerous.”
Manda Ervin, an Iranian-American and founder of the American Islamic Leadership Coalition, said she is friends with women in the GOP club and is speaking up on Grandy’s behalf, although she stopped short of calling herself a spokeswoman.
“We are living in America and the Constitution of this country gives people of this country freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” Ervin said. “And everybody has the right to speak their opinion and so does Mr. Grandy.”
Grandy’s wife, Catherine Mann-Grandy, referred requests for comment to Ervin, who said she has never met Grandy.
While the letter, which includes the signatures of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Senate and House majority leaders Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown and Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg, and more than a dozen legislators and County Council members, doesn’t ask the Republican group to cancel its event, club President Katja Bullock said she believes her group’s right to free speech is being targeted.
“Our club has always been one to listen to various speakers,” Bullock said. “Liberal, hardcore right-wingers, you name it. We try to educate our members on the current issues of the day and let our members make up their own mind.”
The club determines who will speak at events as a group and based on current events.
Bullock’s club is charging $50 per person to attend Grandy’s talk, which will be held in the home of a former club member. Grandy is not being paid for the speech, and the money collected will go into the club’s coffers, Bullock said.
Still, Kassim isn’t buying the First Amendment argument.
“It has nothing to do with freedom of speech,” he said. “If you break it down through everything, it’s about what he has been saying, what he’s bound to say.”
Other recent speakers hired by the club included Anita McBride, chief of staff of former first lady Laura Bush, and James L. Martin, chairman of the 60-Plus Association, as well as GOP campaign advisers.
“Don’t you think it’s a little bit weird?” Bullock said. “They’re trying to stop a Republican group of women. What are they afraid of? And so far we do have a right to freedom of speech. They haven’t been able to take that away from us.”
Del. Sam Arora (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring said he signed the letter to stand in solidarity with people in his community who oppose Grandy’s appearance.
“Here’s a guy who is perpetuating this debunked myth that Muslims in America are attempting to subvert the Constitution,” Arora said. “It’s just hurtful and harmful.”