Michigan Senate rejects Whitmer appointee to hunting panel

Posted at 7:07 AM, Feb 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-14 12:14:49-05

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s appointee to the state commission that regulates hunting and fishing, which Democrats said was payback because Whitmer refused to pull a separate nominee who is opposed by gun-rights groups.

The GOP-led Senate’s 20-16 vote to reject Anna Mitterling of Mason for a spot on the Natural Resources Commission marked the first time in nearly a decade that the chamber voted to turn down a governor’s nominee.

Whitmer named Mitterling, a Lansing Community College adjunct biology professor, to serve as an independent on the seven-member commission in December. She formerly worked as a wildlife coordinator with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and is a hunter.

Democrats said Republicans blocked Mitterling — the vote was almost entirely along party lines — because they opposed Whitmer’s decision last week to appoint former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell to the commission. The NRA this week criticized Heartwell over his involvement in billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s gun-control groups and urged senators to reject him.

“The reality is that those in the majority are mad about a man, so they’re going to take it out on a qualified woman,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., an East Lansing Democrat.

Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said she refused to acquiesce to a Senate “demand” and pull Heartwell’s nomination to “save Anna Mitterling, a woman who is uniquely qualified to serve on the Natural Resources Commission.” She accused Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Senate Advice and Consent Committee Chairman Peter Lucido of playing “sexist, partisan games.”

Asked if the Senate would have been OK with Mitterling had Heartwell not been appointed, Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, said he had tried “to find a compromise position” with Whitmer and “our governor decided not to compromise.” He said some senators did have “serious concerns” with how Mitterling answered questions during the advice-and-consent process.

“Resumes tell a portion of the story,” he said. “The real story comes out when there’s interviews and conversations.”

Shirkey said it had “nothing to do with her resume” and was “mostly related to her ability to understand the immensity of that commission and the very important need to provide guidance to those departments that are related to the NRC. She looked like she just came across as being a little bit not willing to make tough decisions, quite frankly.”

His comments were denounced as sexist by some Democrats. Other groups criticized the Senate, which acted just before a 60-day deadline — after which Mitterling’s appointment would have stood.

“Anna Mitterling has exactly the qualities we should be looking for in NRC appointments. She is an active sportswoman, has a graduate degree in fisheries and wildlife, teaches environmental science at the college level, is a mother, a young professional, and brings a fresh perspective from a generation that has seen declines in participation in hunting and fishing,” said Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited.

When Whitmer appointed Heartwell, a Democrat, she also made him chairman of the commission. The NRA and another group, Great Lakes Gun Rights, took issue because he was a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization that was co-founded by Bloomberg when the current presidential candidate was mayor of New York City. It later merged with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and both are part of Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety organization.

“If confirmed to chair this commission, Heartwell will follow his billionaire backer and do what he can to harass and hinder gun owners and sportsmen,” the NRA said.

Asked if Republicans planned to block Heartwell, Shirkey said the process should play out. Brown, Whitmer’s spokesman, said Heartwell is a lifelong angler, conservationist and “true public servant” who “will serve the people of Michigan well on the NRC.”