Some Michigan GOP reps don’t disclose ethics plan votes

Detroit News staff

Several Michigan Republicans are declining to say how they voted Monday in a closed-door, secret-ballot meeting about gutting the independent Office of Congressional Ethics and putting it directly under lawmakers’ control.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, did not disclose his vote on the matter.

House Republicans abruptly reversed themselves Tuesday following an outcry from constituents and Democrats, as well as a suggestion from President-elect Donald Trump that changing the nonpartisan ethics board shouldn’t be a priority for Congress. Republicans convened an emergency meeting where they unanimously voted to undo the change.

Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, issued a statement saying he opposed the rule change when it was first proposed during a late Monday meeting of the GOP caucus.

“It is vital that Congress is held to the highest ethical standards,” Moolenaar said. “I believe any changes to congressional ethics rules need to go through the regular committee process to ensure transparency.”

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, told WPNW 1260-AM on Wednesday that he voted against including the ethics office reforms in a GOP-written rules package. But Huizenga is not a fan of the ethics body, which he said has become a “political weapon.” He noted the office may accept outside, anonymous complaints, and said investigations can be tedious and expensive for members.

“All we’re trying to do is clean this up; however, it was a complete distraction. It was bad timing,” Huizenga said. “I was not in favor of doing this. We’ve got bigger fish to fry. Let’s go do that and solve this in a bipartisan way.”

A spokesman for Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said Upton supported the resolution striking the changes from the rules package Tuesday, but did not specify how he voted Monday.

“He believes any changes to the OCE must be bipartisan and fully transparent to the American people,” Tom Wilbur said by email.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, did not disclose his vote on the matter.

“Michigan’s First District has entrusted him to make sure the institutions and processes meant to secure ethical behavior are working. Reducing waste, streamlining processes, and returning power to the people are among his highest priorities,” Farahn Morgan said by email. “His unofficial vote Monday and every official vote he takes moving forward will reflect that.”

A spokeswoman for freshman Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, said he “does not disclose the discussions or vote tallies that take place during conference meetings,” which are held privately.

The offices of Reps. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, and Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, did not respond to inquiries about Monday’s vote.

Reps. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, and Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, missed Monday’s last-minute meeting of the GOP conference, as they were not yet in Washington. According to their offices, both oppose the proposed changes.

The Office of Congressional Ethics was created in 2008 after bribery and corruption scandals landed several members in prison. The body investigates allegations of misconduct by lawmakers, officers and staff.

Lawrence sworn in by herself

On the opening day of Congress, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, missed the en masse swearing-in of members by House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin on Tuesday afternoon.

Ryan administered the oath of office to Lawrence individually a short time later on the House floor, after most members had left the chamber and after he swore in House officers.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence

Lawrence was present earlier in the day to vote for Democrat Nancy Pelosi for House speaker, and also participated in a late-day vote series on House rules.

Lawrence’s office initially was mum on the reason for her absence, but she isn’t the first to miss the group swearing-in.

On Friday, Lawrence indicated in a statement that she missed the en-masse swearing-in ceremony because she was hosting friends and family for the special day.

"I had a wonderful time celebrating with family and friends during our open house and swearing-in ceremony," she said. "I was able to have a personal swearing in with the House speaker -- it was pretty cool!"

The U.S. Constitution requires that federal and state officials take an oath of office before assuming their duties.

First day party for Mich. lawmakers

Three members of the Michigan delegation made a show of bipartisan solidarity on Tuesday, hosting a “Michigan Hall” open house in honor of swearing-in day for Congress.

Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; Amash and Moolenaar planned the event together, as their offices are across from one another on the first floor of the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill.

By chance, the majority of the Michigan’s delegation offices are in Cannon, with Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, and Bishop as well as freshmen Bergman and Mitchell on upper floors of the building.

Meekhof takes in ‘creepy’ autonomous car tech

Michigan Senate Minority Leader Arlan Meekhof toured the CES technology show in Las Vegas this week, talking to autonomous vehicle manufacturers and suppliers about a technology he’s both thrilled and frightened by.

“In my opinion, it’s very exciting, but it’s also kind of creepy at the same time when you don’t have control of your own car,” said Meekhof, R-West Olive. “It’s a little weird.”

Detroit automakers are among a growing number of companies working to rapidly develop self-driving vehicles, and officials believe Michigan is poised to be an industry player because of a new state law that will allow the public to buy and use fully autonomous cars when they are available.

“We want to keep that brainpower in Michigan,” Meekhof said of the new law, signed last month by Gov. Rick Snyder. “All those cool jobs.”

Senator describes ‘fixed income’ struggles

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who earns nearly $72,000 a year for his taxpayer-funded work, raised eyebrows Wednesday with a Facebook post describing the challenges of living on a “fixed income.”

The Canton Republican said various expenses and tax increases he opposed, including new fuel tax and registration fees, have forced him and his wife to “find ways to reduce expenses to keep our financial head above waters.” They’ve switched cellphone providers and cut cable television, Colbeck said, indicating he and his wife now watch their favorite shows via “rabbit ears” or online.

“It is possible to save money while improving service. I hope this lesson sinks in during this year's state appropriation process,” he wrote.

Liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan quickly blasted Colbeck for complaining about his cellphone bill while Flint residents continue to struggle with contaminated drinking water.

“There are many committed public servants who earn every penny by showing up to work each session and doing excellent constituent relations and I don’t hear them complain about their salary,” said Executive Director Lonnie Scott.

“On the other hand, Patrick Colbeck, who gave over $30,000 to his own campaign in 2010, wants us to believe that he is just another victim of disastrous cuts and budget decisions by his fellow Republicans. I’m not buying it.”

Colbeck responded later Wednesday: “To all of my new found friends at Progress Michigan struggling to understand that ‘fixed income’ = ‘constant income’ = ‘income that does not change,’ thank you for proving yet again that the biggest threat to the so-called ‘progressive’ movement is someone who knows how to improve services while saving money.”

Contributors: Melissa Nann Burke and Jonathan Oosting