By Nick Smith
Posted: September 18, 2023 9:18 AM
Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks says she has not seen a reason for formal advice and consent hearings on gubernatorial appointments so far this session, something her Republican counterpart found disappointing and called a lack of taking part of the job in the Senate seriously.
When Democrats took control of the Legislature in January, giving them total control of state government for the first time since the 1983-84 session, the Senate Advice and Consent Committee was eliminated, and the review of appointments was moved to the Senate Government Operations Committee (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 11, 2023).
The Government Operations Committee is chaired by the majority leader and outside of the few hearings scheduled each session, it is often a place where bills are sent to die.
Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) during a Thursday interview with Gongwer News Service dismissed the idea of holding formal advice and consent hearings on gubernatorial appointments when asked about the status of the process.
"If there's a need to, we will, but at this point we haven't had any concerns," Brinks said.
So far this session, the panel has met once, for an organizational meeting which lasted about five minutes.
Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) in a Friday statement called it "unfortunate" that Senate Democrats are not, he believes, taking the constitutionally provided responsibility of the advice and consent process seriously.
Appointments of department directors and to hundreds of boards and commissions stand unless rejected by the Senate within 60 days.
Nesbitt serves as minority vice chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee. Last session, he was chair of the Senate Advice and Consent Committee when Republicans were in the majority.
"Senate Republicans held advice and consent hearings during the Snyder administration," Nesbitt said. "In fact, I had a hearing when I was appointed Lottery Commissioner."
After being term-limited in the House in 2016, Nesbitt was appointed Lottery commissioner in February 2017, where he stayed until March 2017 ahead of running for the Senate.
Advice and consent hearings during periods of one-party control in Lansing are rare if non-existent. During times of divided government, the opposite has been the case.
After the 2018 election of Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Republican-controlled Senate ramped up advice and consent hearings, with then-Sen. Peter Lucido of Shelby Township serving as chair. Nesbitt replaced Lucido as chair in March 2020 after Lucido was stripped of the chair seat following an investigation into alleged sexual harassment of multiple women.
Most recently, last session, the Republican controlled Senate rejected two appointees to state university boards: Michael Ryan of Big Rapids to the Ferris State University Board of Trustees and former Democratic Rep. Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo to the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees. Republicans said it was due to Hoadley being a current graduate student, while Democrats said Hoadley's rejection may have been in part due to his being gay (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 14, 2022). When Democrats took control of the Legislature earlier this year, the two were appointed again by the governor (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 2, 2023).
Prior to the 2022 rejections, another 20 appointments were rejected by Senate Republicans in 2021: an initial round of 13 people were rejected (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 27, 2021), with five more the following month and two later that spring (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 29, 2021).
In early 2020, senators rejected Whitmer's proposed chair of the Natural Resources Commission
over GOP concerns with the individual's record on gun rights (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 27, 2020). Another NRC appointment was rejected two weeks prior (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 13, 2020).
By contrast, when Republicans controlled the Legislature from 2011-18 during former Republican Governor Rick Snyder's administration, such hearings were rare during his first term.
During his second term, there were occasional hearings on department head appointees, including Nesbitt in 2017. Hearings were held during the 2015-16 session for the heads of departments including Treasury, Insurance and Financial Services, Corrections, the Public Service Commission and the then-departments of Environmental Quality and Talent and Economic Development.
During the administration of Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, the Republican-controlled Senate often rejected appointees. The pushback during that period of divided government included dozens of rejected appointments made by Granholm throughout 2010 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 7, 2010).
Granholm nominees were also rejected by the GOP Senate during the 2005-06 session (See Gongwer Michigan Report, September 13, 2006) (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 9, 2005). The 2005 appointment was the first gubernatorial nominee to be rejected by the Senate since 1990. During Granholm's first term, the Senate would hold floor votes on most department directors. However, during the Engler era from 1991-2002, advice and consent hearings were almost unheard of.
"Providing advice and consent on gubernatorial appointments is an important Senate oversight, regardless of who holds the gavel or occupies the governor's office," Nesbitt said. "Democrats aren't taking this constitutional responsibility seriously."
Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), who also serves on the Senate Government Operations Committee and is minority floor leader, said on Friday that the advice and consent process is "the purview of the majority" so with it being all Democratic control, the lack of hearings is disappointing but not surprising.
"It would be good if they did," Lauwers said of holding hearings.