Political Insider: Whitmer shakes up her legislative lobbying team

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office has a new chief lobbyist in Lansing amid the continuing budget standoff with the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature.

On Tuesday, Whitmer announced that Greg Bird, who had been Whitmer's director of legislative affairs since the beginning of the year, would shift to a new position as managing director of legislative and external affairs at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-public agency.

In this Aug. 28, 2019 file photo, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a news conference in Lansing. Whitmer supports opening an impeachment inquiry, saying in a written statement that Congress should use its “full investigatory powers” to find out what happened between Trump and Ukraine.

Jen Flood, who had been the governor’s director of public affairs, will now be the director of legislative and public affairs. And former state Rep. Thomas Stallworth III, a Democrat from Detroit, will begin serving as Whitmer's legislative and external affairs senior adviser.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, touted Flood and Stallworth in the press release announcing the staffing changes.

"Gov. Whitmer has made a smart choice in putting Jen and Tommy at the helm of her Legislative Affairs office, and I look forward to working with them in their new roles,” Ananich said.

The changes come as Republican lawmakers and Whitmer remain in a standoff over nearly $1 billion in vetoes Whitmer made to the GOP-controlled Legislature's approved budget for the year. Whitmer also used her administrative powers to transfer $625 million within individual departmental budget plans.

Whitmer's team had argued the Legislature's budget didn't do enough to fund schools, communities and roads and had hoped the vetoes and transfers would bring Republican lawmakers to the bargaining table. Instead, legislative leaders have argued for reducing the governor's power to make budgetary transfers.

The stalemate has persisted for about two months as rural hospitals, sheriff's departments, charter schools and nonprofits have called on lawmakers to restore funding that was vetoed or transferred elsewhere.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel answers questions from the media in this Sept. 23, 2019, file photo.

Nessel's a-maizingly blue bet

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel tried to put an environmental twist on the traditional University of Michigan-Ohio State football game bet.

The Plymouth Democrat proposed on Twitter that she would wear the red-and-gray colors of Ohio State if the Buckeyes win on Saturday. But if the Wolverines prevail, Nessel proposed that Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost would have to ensure that "Ohio starts regulating phosphorous run-off into Lake Erie creating deadly toxic algae blooms."

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost

But Yost refused to act as though Ohio has avoided taking action on the annual algae growth that fouls one of the Great Lakes. 

"@GovMikeDeWine has a robust plan to mitigate runoff feeding the algae in Lake Erie, a vital resource to Buckeyes & Wolverines," the Republican legal eagle said.

Instead, he promised to "sing 'The Victors' from the 50-yd line at the Shoe" if a "miracle" happens and Michigan wins. 

Nessel relented and accepted Yost's offer "due to our mutual inability to enforce non-existent run-off abatement laws and bc UM is playing an 11-0 team we haven’t beaten in 7 years."

But Michigan's top lawyer tried to keep the green upper hand, noting that no matter which team wins, "we are keeping the UP; you still get Toledo."

An 18-foot hog made appearances in the Lansing area last week to protest efforts to scale back Michigan's term limits.

Hog-wild protests on term limits

Efforts to scale back Michigan’s term limits law have an unconventional foe: An 18-foot hog making appearances in the Lansing area. 

The large pink pig displayed in Ithaca and St. Johns last week bore large black lettering on the side saying, “Don’t touch our term limits!” shortly after former lawmakers announced a federal lawsuit challenging the restrictions enacted by voters in 1992. 

“The pig symbolizes the gluttonous attempt by the Michigan Legislature to keep feeding at the public trough on the taxpayer dime,” said a statement from the non-profit group “Don’t Touch Term Limits.”

The group said the lawsuit by former legislators and other efforts from groups proposing a ballot initiative to scale back the 1992 law are proof that the system is working. 

“When lobbyists and career politicians are suing to overturn term limits we can be certain we have something worth fighting to keep,” said Scott Tillman, the group's state coordinator.

State lawmakers are limited to serving a total of 14 years across the two legislative chambers — three, two-year terms in the House and two, four-year terms in the Senate.

Opponents to the current term limits have said the restrictions allow little time to build across-the-aisle relationships and they foster inexperience in the chambers, which allows lobbyists who guide new lawmakers on complex legislation. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, have held preliminary discussions with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and government reform group Voters Not Politicians about a possible ballot initiative in 2020.