It’s been a tumultuous year for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the GOP-led Legislature, which could portend another fight, as she released on Thursday her $67.1 billion Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
They’ve repeatedly clashed over the COVID-19 pandemic since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Michigan a little less than a year ago. State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has emerged as Whitmer’s most prominent critic and recently was caught on tape bragging to GOP activists that Republicans had “spanked her hard on the budget. Spanked her hard on appointments. We did everything we could constitutionally do.”
Republicans have, indeed, fought Whitmer on her administration’s COVID-19 restrictions. When the second wave hit Michigan in the fall, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued orders that limited gathering sizes, closed restaurants to indoor dining and shut down high schools and colleges for in-person learning and banned youth contact sports. Most of these restrictions have since been lifted, with some caveats.
Republicans have rejected nearly 20 of the governor’s appointees to show their opposition to her restrictions. Whitmer told the Advance Thursday that the moves by Republicans were “disruptive and dangerous.”
“These rejections unfortunately are purely partisan. The Republican leadership has acknowledged that. They haven’t afforded hearings or any real assessment of the credentials and credibility and incredible expertise that I have ensured were important factors in the people that I appoint,” Whitmer said.
One of the most vital appointees during a pandemic, DHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel, is set to appear before the Senate Advice and Consent Committee later this month.
“With regard to Director Hertel, I’ve got great confidence in her abilities or I never would have appointed her. And I know she’s got good relationships in the legislature and I’m hopeful that they will support her nomination as they move forward,” Whitmer said.
During that meeting with Hillsdale County GOP activists, Shirkey said he “contemplate[d] inviting [Whitmer] to a fistfight on the Capitol lawn” over her COVID orders in response to the party officers accusing him of “surrendering” to the state’s shutdowns.
Shirkey also said of the pro-Trump Jan. 6 insurrection: “That wasn’t Trump people. … That’s been a hoax from day one. That was all prearranged. … It was all staged.”
On Wednesday, he said he stood by his statement that pro-Trump activists were not responsible, a popular conspiracy theory on the right that has been widely debunked.
“I frankly don’t take back any of the points I was trying to make. Some of the words I chose I do regret,” Shirkey told Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist on the Senate floor in a hot mic moment, adding: “I don’t back down very easily.”
Gilchrist said that Shirkey’s “behavior is beneath the office he was elected to and the standard of decency the people of our state deserve.”
Whitmer told the Associated Press on Wednesday, “I do not have the time or energy to indulge anyone in terms of conspiracy theories or even threats of violence against me personally. I’m going to stay focused on my job. Any legislator who actually wants to get these important issues done and wants to show some leadership on those fronts will find a willing partner in me.”
Michigan Senate Democrats, the Michigan Republican Party and others have called for Shirkey’s resignation.