Hearings for Whitmer appointees to be ‘informal’ process

Senate Advice and Consent Chair Pete Lucido, Feb. 5, 2019
Senate Advice and Consent Chair Pete Lucido, Feb. 5, 2019 | Nick Manes

A key member of Michigan’s GOP-led Senate indicated Tuesday he has no plans to use the Advice and Consent Committee to hold up appointments made by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The hearings were largely absent during the tenure of former Gov. Rick Snyder, during which time Republicans controlled all branches of state government, as the Advance noted in a story last month. But this term, a new Advice and Consent Committee was convened to approve Whitmer’s nominees.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announcing new environmental executive orders, Feb. 4, 2019 | Nick Manes

In an era of divided government, the committee could be used by Republicans to stall Whitmer’s appointments, as opposed to ensuring they possess basic competence to fulfill their jobs.

However, Chair Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) told reporters on Tuesday that hearings will be “more informal,” designed so members can ask important questions of appointees. He said formal votes by the Republican-dominated committee would be unlikely.

Lucido’s comments to reporters came just after the committee conducted a 90-minute question-and-answer session with Paul Ajegba, Whitmer’s pick to head the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). He’s an almost 30-year veteran of the agency.

Noting the sorry state of Michigan’s transportation infrastructure, Lucido said, “These are questions that have to be [asked].”

MDOT Director Paul Ajegba in an interview at the state’s emergency operations center I Michael Gerstein

Unlike the U.S. Senate, appointments made by Michigan’s governor can be seated without any hearings. The state Senate has 60 days to call a full vote and reject the nomination, otherwise the appointee is automatically confirmed.

Lucido was the only committee member during Tuesday’s hearing to give any indication that Ajegba’s confirmation could be in jeopardy, although he quickly walked that back.

At one point during the proceedings, the Macomb County lawmaker demanded that Ajegba provide an answer on how M-59 through metro Detroit would be rebuilt, adding, “Otherwise, this process is not going in the direction it should be.”

Lucido and other committee members later said they believed Ajegba would make for a well-qualified department head.

Susan J. Demas

Since Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) announced the formation of the Advice and Consent Committee, former GOP lawmakers told the Advance that the hearings would be a barometer for how the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic executive branch get along.

The approach taken on Tuesday would be the right one, at least according to what former Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema (R-Wyoming) said when he spoke with the Advance last month.

“Gov. Whitmer was elected … and has the right to appoint people with the same philosophy and ideology she has,” Sikkema said at the time. “The role for the Senate is proper vetting for history, background and competence.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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