GOP-led Senate rejects 13 Whitmer appointees to ‘send a signal’ to her

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a video interview with the Advance, Jan. 26, 2021 | Screenshot

The state Senate rejected 13 of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s appointees Wednesday to “send a signal that [Republicans are] displeased with [the] governor’s actions and refusal to listen [or] work with [the] Legislature,” according to a Senate Advice and Consent Committee document obtained by the Advance. 

Rejecting the governor’s appointees is one of the moves Republicans who control the Legislature have flirted with in their attempts to quash the Whitmer administration’s executive powers during the COVID-19 crisis. As the Advance reported on Wednesday, House Republicans threatened to withhold $2.1 billion from schools unless the Whitmer administration relinquishes its pandemic powers.

Earlier this month, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland) called on Senate Advice and Consent Committee Chair Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) to reject all of Whitmer’s appointees until “Whitmer and her administration have ended all of the shutdowns and reopened the state.” 

Most businesses are open in Michigan during the pandemic. Indoor dining is set to resume Monday with restrictions, although Republicans say this doesn’t go far enough.

Nesbitt said in a floor speech that he was “disappointed” to ask for the Senate to nix Whitmer’s appointments, but argued that it was necessary to maintain “checks and balances” as the founders envisioned.

Sen Ken Horn speaks in the Senate, Jan. 27, 2021

State Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) criticized Whitmer in a floor speech for vetoing GOP priorities last term and said “we saw this government shut down,” even though the government did not shut down. He also blamed the governor for businesses failing, especially immigrant-owned businesses.

“We have tools, too. We’ve been patient with the governor,” he said. “… We have this tool available to us and I am telling you, Mr. President, we will continue to use the tools that we have, regardless of our partners on the other side of the aisle [Democrats], to demonstrate to the governor that we are partners in this. We are a co-equal branch of government. Until that’s recognized, we will continue to use the tools that we have without explanation.”

Last year, Horn compared Whitmer’s mask mandate to Soviet-era East Germany in a Facebook comment.

“My father was tortured by his government in Klein Lueben, East Germany,” Horn said in one comment. “Not liking what I’m seeing here.”

Republican compares Whitmer mask order to Soviet-era East Germany

The Senate rejected appointees include Kristin Totten for the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, Suzanna Shkreli as director of the Office of Children’s Ombudsman, Erin Kricher for the Rural Development Fund Board, James Pearson for the Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System (MPSERS) Board, Emily McDonough for the Data Collection Agency Governing Board, Ronald Campbell for the Barrier Free Design Board, Terry Gilligan and Dennis Mowbray for the Board of Mechanical Rules, Richard Corriveau for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, Thomas Baird for the Natural Resource Commission, David Cozad for the Natural Resource Commission, Cheryl Kobernik for the Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development and Amy B. Cox for the Michigan Travel Commission.

“We are focused on passing a COVID Recovery Plan that supports vaccines for seniors and educators to get our kids back in school safely, along with support for our small businesses and unemployed workers. We’re not going to be distracted by petty partisan games,” Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said in a statement to the Advance on the Senate’s move. 

Katherine Peretick for the Michigan Public Service Commission was noted as a possible add to the list of rejected candidates, according to the document.

The document also listed “avoid hitting an ally” as a purpose for the rejections, although it’s unclear what that means. Nesbitt’s office didn’t return a request for comment.

House GOP: Schools won’t see $2B unless Whitmer admin. surrenders pandemic powers

Nick Occhipinti, Michigan League of Conservation Voters lobbyist, called on the Senate Republicans to “put partisan politics aside” and approve the governor’s appointees.

“More than ever, we need government to work and function properly, yet the Michigan Senate today baselessly rejected qualified appointees to important boards and commissions that serve the people of Michigan and protect our natural resources and health,” Occhipinti said. “We are increasingly concerned that partisanship is standing in the way of the appointment of qualified people who can be a great benefit to our state at this critical moment.  These Michiganders offered their time and talent to serve the people of Michigan, and they were rejected for political reasons – not on their personal qualifications or merits.”

This isn’t the first time Republicans have rejected the Democratic governor’s appointees. Last year, the Senate rejected two of Whitmer’s appointees to the Natural Resources Commission.