GOP Senate nixes another Whitmer appointee in continued standoff

By: - February 27, 2020 1:58 pm

The Michigan Capitol rotunda | Susan J. Demas

Another Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointee to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) was rejected by the GOP-controlled Michigan Senate on Thursday. 

Former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell was voted down Thursday after biology professor Anna Mitterling was rejected earlier this month. Democrats have said Republicans displayed sexism and were protecting National Rifle Association (NRA) interests, while Republicans said the appointees weren’t qualified.

George Heartwell testifies before the Senate Advice and Consent Committee, Feb. 20, 2020 | Allison Donahue

Before the vote on Heartwell’s appointment, state Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) spoke, calling the Senate Advice and Consent Committee’s recommendation Wednesday to reject him part of a “broken process.” He said the votes show a shift in decision-making by the committee from being about qualifications to politics.

“We have real problems to solve in the state. We’ve got to work together to solve, but we’re not going to solve them by playing politics,” said Hertel, the ranking Democrat on the committee. “We’re not going to solve them by insulting the citizens that are willing to serve for free. These are people willing to give their time because they love the state of Michigan.”

The Senate Advice and Consent Committee is chaired by state Sen. Pete Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.), who is currently under Senate investigation for multiple claims of sexual harassment.

The NRC regulates hunting and fishing in the state.

Hertel spoke at length on the Senate floor on Feb. 14 about Mitterling and her long list of qualifications. He said Republicans immorally used her in a political game.

Before Mitterling’s rejection, Whitmer’s office put out a statement saying Republicans tried to force her hand to withdraw her appointment of Heartwell, because of his stance on gun control. Whitmer did not withdraw and now both appointees have been rejected.

Heartwell, an avid fisherman, has been criticized by the NRA for his comments and actions concerning open-carry regulations during his time as mayor of Grand Rapids. He notably said he didn’t believe guns belonged in City Hall meetings.

“Unfortunately, the long arm of the NRA reaches all the way down to this body,” Hertel said before the vote Thursday.

Hertel said Republicans have refused to justify the rejections of the appointees. On Feb. 14, he “dared” Republicans to defend their votes against Mitterling, but no one came forward.

On Thursday, state Sen. McBroom (R-Vulcan) rose on the Senate floor to speak to Hertel’s previous dare. He said that if Hertel’s desire for an explanation on the rejections was sincere, he wouldn’t have alleged pressure from the NRA.

“You want to blame the NRA? You want to blame sexism?” McBroom said. “That’s not helping the process any.”

The rationale given by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) for rejecting Mitterling was very different than the Advice and Consent Committee’s reasons to bounce Heartwell.

Skirkey said Mitterling seemed to not “understand the intensity of the commission.” and “just came across as being a little bit, not willing to make tough decisions.”

McBroom said the decision to reject Heartwell ultimately came down to anglers and hunters not trusting Heartwell. 

“When we talk about qualifications to serve in one of these appointments, there is not some list and a bunch of boxes to check,” McBroom said. “If the founders of this country when they created our U.S. Constitution only wanted the US Senate to do affirmations based on checking boxes, they wouldn’t have the process they had.”

The rationale given by McBroom was received poorly by Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), who said on the floor saying there still hasn’t been a reason given for disqualifying two qualified appointees.

“To the question of qualifications, you can’t answer that and we know why,” Ananich said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols is a former Michigan Advance intern. She is a Michigan State University graduate who has reported for several publications, including MLive and Michigan State University’s award-winning student paper, the State News, where she covered the many tendrils of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.