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Can­didate for dis­trict judge Brendan Sanger joined six other local can­di­dates and first responders at the annual Hillsdale County Patriots Parade, July 3, 2020. Col­legian | Brian Freimuth

Over 400 Hillsdale County res­i­dents lined North Howell Street last Friday evening for the annual Hillsdale Patriots Parade, despite the recent con­tro­versy sur­rounding freedom to assemble under Gov­ernor Whitmer’s exec­utive orders during the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. Seven local can­di­dates walked in the parade to show their support for the patriotic tra­dition and to speak with local res­i­dents prior to the upcoming August 4 primary elec­tions. 

Daren Wiseley, a can­didate to rep­resent the Dis­trict 58 in Michigan’s state house, said he came to the parade because “this is what America is about.” 

“If we can’t cel­e­brate freedom in America then what are we?” Wiseley said.

When asked about his sup­porters who attended the event, Wiseley said, “They’re not scared of Whitmer. They’re proud to be out here doing this, cel­e­brating freedom.”

Another can­didate for state rep­re­sen­tative Andy Welden also attended the parade.

“Inde­pen­dence Day is our cel­e­bration of inde­pen­dence, that’s what it’s about,” Welden said. “I respect those who don’t want to come. That’s their right too. That’s their inde­pen­dence.”

Despite rumors prior to the parade that there would be resis­tance to it from the local police, Hillsdale Mayor Adam Stockford, also cam­paigning for state rep­re­sen­tative in Dis­trict 58, said that was “absolutely not true.”

“I met with the police chief two weeks ago and he expressed no appre­hen­sions at all to me. He helped us design the parade route,” Stockford added. “I talked per­sonally to some of the police officers on the force. They said there was no talk within the department of anyone being upset about the parade.” 

“This is a widely-sup­ported thing in the com­munity,” Stockford added.

Andrew Fink, also cam­paigning to rep­resent Dis­trict 58 in the Michigan State House, did not attend the parade. 

“Our local law enforcement officers have had little time to prepare to manage crowds of an unknown number for the American Patriots Parade tomorrow,” Fink wrote in a Facebook post on July 2 at 9 p.m. “Addi­tionally, state-level law enforcement author­ities have put out guidance that a large public event vio­lates state law, which puts our local police in an impos­sible sit­u­ation trying to manage an event that is sanc­tioned at the local level but pro­hibited at the state level. For this reason Team Fink is not par­tic­i­pating in the parade, even though it’s right down the street from our home in downtown Hillsdale.”

Can­didate for Hillsdale County Sheriff Jon Rutan rep­re­sented his cam­paign in Friday’s parade. 

When asked about the con­tro­versy sur­rounding public gath­erings and Whitmer’s order, Rutan responded that there’s risk in every part of life.

“Tell me when there isn’t a sit­u­ation that’s dan­gerous,” Rutan said. “There are going to be dangers that are always going to face America. Are we going to whither at every one? Or are true patriots going to stand up for what true liberty is all about?”

Rutan’s cam­paign manager Jon Smith said Rutan helped organize this year’s Patriots Parade, as well as a Hillsdale County Memorial Day event earlier this year.

“Nobody was doing a memorial service, but he’s a veteran, and a really hon­orable dude,” Smith said. “Regardless of cam­paigns, this stuff is more important.”

Smith, who is cur­rently running for county com­mis­sioner in Hillsdale, also walked in the parade, rep­re­senting the local Repub­lican party. Aaron Siegel, another can­didate for Hillsdale county com­mis­sioner, and Brendan Sanger, a can­didate for dis­trict court judge, walked in the parade as well.

The parade included several Hillsdale Fire Department fire trucks and local farmers riding their tractors. Children riding the parade floats dis­tributed candy and bottled water to those camped out along the sidewalk. While police officers facil­i­tating the event wore masks, very few members of the audience could be seen wearing masks or social dis­tancing.