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WMUK reporters covering a Republican watch party were suddenly told to leave

Six people sit around a wooden table with drinks and food. Many are wearing red. Another couple of people stand by the edge of the table.
Jodi Miesen/Cori Osterman
About 70 people turned out by 10 p.m. Tuesday for a Republican watch party at the Fieldstone Grill in Portage.

Two WMUK reporters were unexpectedly ordered to leave a GOP watch party in Portage Tuesday night by 40th State House District candidate Kelly Sackett, who told them to “get out.”

The ejection happened around 10:15 pm after reporters Jodi Miesen and Cori Osterman had been at the party for about two hours, talking with attendees including Sackett, in what looked to be an ordinary evening at a watch party.

Attendees – there were about 70 around 10 p.m. – appeared excited and hopeful in the party’s early hours, especially about reported strong turnout for the election.

Besides Sackett, Kalamazoo County commission candidates Pete Strazdas and Wendy Mazer attended. So did Portage school board candidates Kevin Belson, Emily Crawford and Kimberly Larson, and Kalamazoo Public Schools candidate Dan Koshelnyk.

After the Gongwer News Service projected Proposal 1 would pass, changing term limits and requiring some financial disclosures for lawmakers, Miesen approached Sackett to get her reaction. To Miesen’s surprise, Sackett told Miesen that she and Osterman should probably leave.

Sackett wears a red shirt with ruffled v neck as she looks at her phone, seated at a wooden table with four other people.
Cori Osterman
Kelly Sackett, right, at the GOP watch party Tuesday in Portage.

Sackett said she had been drinking and didn’t think Miesen and Osterman (the only media at the event at that time) should be there any longer. Sackett added that the event was ‘watch party, not a victory party.’

Sackett said Miesen and Osterman could stay and watch returns on TV, but could not talk to anyone attending the party.

When Miesen pressed Sackett on her reasons for ejecting them, Sackett said, “you clearly don’t have the same beliefs as us.” Miesen, taken aback, said that was a “broad generalization,” and Sackett said, “I don’t mean you specifically, I’m talking about NPR.” (WMUK is an NPR member station, but is licensed to the Board of Trustees at Western Michigan University.)

Earlier in the night several attendees expressed gratitude to Miesen and Osterman for covering the Republicans’ watch party, and shared their thoughts on issues such as inflation, education policy, pandemic-related restrictions like mask mandates, and distance learning.

It is routine for media to attend watch parties on election night. Two other WMUK reporters, Leona Larson and Michael Symonds, attended a Democratic watch party Tuesday at Rugger’s Up and Under in downtown Kalamazoo. WMUK learned the location and time of the Republican watch party through a call to the Kalamazoo GOP office, which seemed to take it in stride that reporters would attend the event.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.