Whitmer calls GOP Senate spurning key appointments ‘disruptive and dangerous’

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Whitmer office photo

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.  

Republican says balance of power has been ‘emasculated’ as Senate rejects another 5 Whitmer appointees

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.”

Shirkey doubles down on insurrection ‘hoax’ comments amid calls to resign

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.

Allison Donahue
Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.
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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.