GRANDVILLE, Mich. (AP) -- A state lawmaker has taken a break from the ongoing state budget talks to hunt snow sheep in Russia.
Rep. David Agema stayed in session until 4 a.m. Saturday and voted three times against a proposal by Democrats to raise the state income tax before leaving on the two-week trip, said his chief of staff, Karen Spoelman. The House of Representatives worked without a resolution throughout the weekend.
The Grandville Republican had planned the trip for three years, long before he was elected to his first House term last November, said Trevor Pittsley, a member of Agema's staff. The representative had a 100 percent voting record on 360 House votes before missing a vote taken Saturday and two votes taken Tuesday, according to the MichiganVotes.org Web site.
Agema informed House Speaker Andy Dillon, a Democrat, as well as House Republican Leader Rep. Craig DeRoche, Spoelman told The Grand Rapids Press for a story published Wednesday.
"The speaker assured Dave this would be a good time to go. He was assured things would be worked out," Pittsley said.
Dillon's office, however, said he was not informed.
"Not only was it not cleared with our office, but we were unaware until we found out that he was gone," said Dillon spokesman Greg Bird. "The speaker says that he had no idea that the representative was going to be taking a trip."
Agema's absence was listed as not excused. Only Dillon has the power to excuse an absence.
"Dillon's a liar," Spoelman responded, insisting that Agema spoke directly with the speaker. "Dillon was fully aware this was happening."
Phyllis Washburn, DeRoche's press secretary, said the Republican leader has "known for a long time" about Agema's trip.
"We knew when he was coming in that he was going to miss these weeks," she said. "The timing is unfortunate."
Agema, 58, a retired fighter pilot and machine shop consultant, would have lost thousands of dollars by canceling the trip, Spoelman said. Russian snow sheep hunting expeditions can be very expensive.
"This is an opportunity of a lifetime," Spoelman said. "He was faced with a very difficult decision. He was around all spring, all summer."
Agema's chief of staff was not certain where in Russia her boss had gone.
"It's so remote, we can't even get in touch with him," Spoelman said.