The Michigan Senate rejected more than a dozen Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointees to various boards and commissions Wednesday as a show of disapproval against her COVID-19 response, hours ahead of her scheduled State of the State address.
The Republican-led chamber voted 19-14 along partisan lines to reject 13 of Whitmer’s appointments, including Children’s Ombudsman appointee Suzanna Shkreli.
The governor has the authority to appoint people to hundreds of state board and commission positions, although the Senate has 60 days to reject certain appointments by majority vote in a process known as advice and consent.
Historically, that power isn’t used much. But since Whitmer took office, her appointees have been subject to more scrutiny — and in February 2020, the Senate voted to reject two appointments to the Natural Resources Commission, Anna Mitterling and George Heartwell.
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The Whitmer appointees rejected Tuesday include:
– Kristin Totten, Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board
– Suzanna Shkreli, Children’s Ombudsman
– Erin Kricher, Rural Development Fund Board
– James Pearson, Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System Board
– Emily McDonough, Data Collection Agency Governing Board
– Ronald Campbell to the Barrier Free Design Board
– Terry Gilligan, Board of Mechanical Rules
– Dennis Mowbray, Board of Mechanical Rules
– Richard Corriveau, Michigan Civil Rights Commission
– Thomas Baird, Natural Resources Commission
– David Cozad, Natural Resources Commission
– Cheryl Kobernik, Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development
– Amy Cox, Michigan Travel Commission
In a floor speech, Senate Advice and Consent Committee Chair Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said he was disappointed to recommend the rejections, but said advice and consent was a “tool” to pressure her into working with the legislature. He specifically criticized the administration’s pandemic-related public health orders issued by the Health and Human Services director after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Whitmer didn’t have the authority to unilaterally continue the state of emergency.
“Throughout this governor’s time in office, our governor has done everything possible to avoid working with elected members in this chamber as our founders intended,” he said. “If the governor will not even listen to the courts, we must use every tool, granted to us, to the Senate, to encourage her to put the tough work necessary to compromise with the people’s representatives.”
Several Senate Democrats denounced the move, calling it a partisan attack that had nothing to do with the experience or fitness of the appointees chosen by Whitmer to serve in those roles.
“This is rank politics,” Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said. “We’re in divided government. Maybe you haven’t gotten the memo, but I’m going to let you know. It takes compromise, it takes a two-way street, not just getting up here whining.”
The Senate didn’t take up all of the Whitmer appointees currently within the 60-day advice and consent window. One notable recent appointee subject to Senate review is Elizabeth Hertel, who last Friday was named director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services after former Director Robert Gordon abruptly resigned.
Republicans first floated the possibility of rejecting Whitmer’s appointments after she announced a continuation of the statewide, indoor restaurant dining ban through Feb. 1. The administration has since announced restaurants will be allowed to reopen with capacity limits and curfews on that date, but Republicans have remained concerned about the parameters of that reopening and the ongoing ban on certain high school sports.
Senate Republicans mull rejecting Whitmer appointees until coronavirus restrictions are lifted
The Senate vote comes ahead of Whitmer’s annual State of the State address, which will be broadcast virtually at 7 p.m. Her address is expected to focus heavily on the state’s economy.
On Tuesday, Whitmer told MLive Michigan’s economic recovery and the state’s efforts to contain COVID-19 are “completely intertwined.”
“… You can’t fix the economic crisis without fixing the health crisis and so the plan to recover has got to have strategy on both fronts. And I think that’s why this moment and this recovery plan is so important, and it’s also why I’m hopeful that we can find common ground, and that this will transcend the usual partisan arguments,” Whitmer said.