Whitmer threatens to veto any end-runs around citizen referendums

New gov. signs 6 more directives, bans campaigning on state money, private email

By: - January 4, 2019 1:42 am

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

In her third day on the job, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a bold move and threatened to veto legislation that would take away citizens’ right to referendum.

The Democrat signed six more executive directives today, including Executive Directive 2019-7, in which she writes: “I intend to veto legislation that circumvents the right to a referendum.”

For the last eight years, Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder frequently signed legislation passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature that contained money to implement it, known as an appropriation. Legally, that has barred citizens from initiating referendums against hot-button laws like Right to Work.

In 2012, citizens got a referendum on the ballot overturning the Emergency Manager law and voters tossed it. However, six weeks later, the Legislature passed a similar bill in that Lame Duck session, which Snyder signed. This time, the new law contained an appropriation, which served as an end-run against another referendum.

“State government must be open, transparent and accountable to Michigan taxpayers,” Whitmer said in a statement about the directives. “To continue to earn public confidence, we must set good examples and act ethically at all times. This series of executive directives underscores the high expectations and integrity Michiganders should expect from the dedicated public servants who serve in state government.”

Whitmer’s action today could set up showdowns this term with the Legislature, which continues to be led by the GOP.

On Wednesday, Whitmer signed her first executive directive aimed at preventing crises involving PFAS and Flint’s water by mandating that department-level state employees “who become aware of an imminent threat to public health, safety or welfare must immediately report it to their department director or agency head.”

Rick Snyder

She also signed executive directives today prohibiting the use of state resources to campaign for public office and the use of private email for state purposes. The measures are aimed at ensuring ethical practices in her administration, according to her office. Together, they would also add reporting requirements for public money or property.

The directives create a new process for state employees to report financial issues they might see and bans the use of private email for public business. Under Snyder’s administration, there had been cases of state officials using private email for official duty, according to the Detroit News.

In 2013, David Behen, Michigan’s former chief information officer, had four state employees use private email addresses to communicate with charter school supporters and representatives from a technology company involved in a project to cut costs, according to The News. Snyder later axed the plan.

Former Attorney General Bill Schuette, who Whitmer defeated in the 2018 election, had been accused of using state resources for campaigning and other private matters.

Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who lost the GOP gubernatorial nomination, had called for an investigation into his rival after alleging that the attorney general used staff as witnesses on real estate documents.

Calley had also accused Schuette of hiring political operatives to work on his constituent relations staff in 2017 and 2018 and had directed staff to join a conference call to talk about “presidential politics” in 2015, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Free Press reported the Schuette even offered state employees financial incentives to land endorsements for Jeb Bush in 2015, who was then a GOP presidential candidate.

According to Whitmer’s office, the directives would do the following:

  • Executive Directive 2019-2 restores a practice first initiated by Gov. G. Mennen Williams by issuing instructions to state departments and agencies requiring the reporting of irregularities relating to public money or public property.
  • Executive Directive 2019-3 establishes the basic policy of the executive branch of state government for standards of ethical conduct for department directors, appointees of the governor and employees within the executive branch.
  • Executive Directive 2019-4 focuses on prohibiting, soliciting or receiving political contributions in state facilities. Section 57 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, 1976 PA 388, as amended, MCL 169.257, prohibits an individual acting for a state agency, department, division, bureau, board, commission, council, authority or other body in the executive branch of state government from using funds, personnel, office space, computer
    Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

    hardware or software, property, stationery, postage, vehicles, equipment, supplies or other public resources to make a contribution or expenditure or provide volunteer personal services that are excluded from the definition of contribution by the Act. Section 1-12 of the rules of the Michigan Civil Service Commission prohibits state classified employees from engaging in unauthorized political activities while on duty and prohibits the levying, solicitation, collection or payment of any type of political assessment, or the authorizing or ordering of any such activity in the state classified service.

  • Executive Directive 2019-5 prohibits the use of private email to conduct state business.
  • Executive Directive 2019-6 establishes the basic policy for the executive branch of state government regarding departmental and autonomous agency activity with budgetary implications. It is intended to reinforce the need for departments and agencies to examine each of their actions for any resulting budgetary implications.
  • Executive Directive 2019-7 establishes the basic policy for the executive branch of state government regarding legislative activity by state departments and autonomous agencies. Coordination of legislative activity within the executive branch of state government is important for the effective and efficient administration of state government.

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this report.

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.