GOP Senate passes up chance to reject Whitmer’s cabinet

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gets ready to begin her first State of the State address with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist standing by | Casey Hull

What could have been partisan warfare settled into a fairly routine appointment process for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her new administration.

Michigan Senate Republicans had 60 days to reject the Democratic governor’s cabinet picks, and that time has now lapsed. They created a new review panel, the Advice and Consent Committee, chaired by state Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.), to oversee the process.

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

Michigan’s statute specifically states that the panel has 60 “session days” to review appointments — which would have given the body until June.

However, Scott Ray, Lucido’s chief of staff, said his office relies on a 1960 opinion from former Attorney General Frank Kelley that interprets that to mean 60 calendar days.

Lucido has held hearings on Whitmer’s department directors, including Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Director Liesl Eichler Clark, Michigan Department of Transportation Director Paul Ajegba and Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon.

Ray said that part of the process is done, but more hearings could be held for other appointments Whitmer made more recently. The governor also names appointees to a host of commissions, such as the Michigan Board of Respiratory Care or the Michigan Cherry Committee

MDOT Director Paul Ajegba at the Fiscal Year 2020 budget presentation | Casey Hull

Lucido had told reporters that hearings would be “more informal” — an opportunity for lawmakers to ask questions, adding that formal votes by on appointees would be unlikely.

Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown previously told the Michigan Advance that the governor trusted Lucido and his committee to ensure a “fair and thorough process.”

The GOP-controlled Senate’s review process was largely absent during Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder’s tenure from 2011 to 2019. Former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) told the Advance that was because there was “open contact” with the governor. He added that Snyder’s first state treasurer, Democratic former House Speaker Andy Dillon, would have had difficulty gaining approval from his GOP caucus.

Jennifer Granholm at Securing Michigan’s Clean Energy Future conference, August 5, 2010 | Center for American Progress, Flickr

However, during Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration, the GOP-led Senate’s advice and consent process was in full swing. At the end of her term, the Senate used its authority to bottle up several key appointments to state university boards, including Central Michigan University and Northern Michigan University.

Whitmer served in the state Senate during both administrations, from 2006 to 2015.

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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