Insider: Senators clash over Whitmer appointees, sexism allegation

A Michigan Senate committee abruptly adjourned and two lawmakers argued behind closed doors as a feud continued Wednesday over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's appointees to the Natural Resources Commission.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted on Feb. 13 to reject one of Whitmer's appointees, Anna Mitterling, a biology professor.

On Wednesday, the Senate Advice and Consent Committee recommended blocking another, former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. The committee's decision now goes to the full Senate, which could officially reject Heartwell.

At left is Sen. Curtis Hertel, a Democrat from East Lansing. At right is Sen. Pete Lucido, a Republican from Shelby Township.

Before the committee's vote, Sen. Kim LaSata, R-Bainbridge Township, read a statement that focused on a past allegation from Whitmer's spokeswoman that the Senate was "sexist" in its handling of Mitterling's appointment.

"I do not, nor have I ever, approved or rejected an appointee because she is a woman," LaSata said. "I am offended by Gov. Whitmer’s claim that I would ever use gender to disqualify a person from a job. The governor was all too eager to make a false claim of discrimination against this body."

LaSata said the committee had received 387 appointments and only rejected two: one woman and one man.

Whitmer's spokeswoman, Tiffany Brown, accused the Senate of "sexist, partisan games" when they blocked Mitterling's appointment to the Natural Resources Commission, which regulates hunting and fishing. Brown said the Mitterling's rejection was really about Republicans' opposition to Heartwell, whose appointment had drawn criticism from the Natural Rifle Association.

After LaSata read her statement on Wednesday, Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, pushed back, alleging that no Republican had detailed why Mitterling was rejected.

"Instead of saying what the reasons aren’t, it would be nice to hear, at some point, what the reasons are," Hertel said.

Moments later, Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, who chairs the Senate Advice and Consent Committee and has faced allegations of sexual harassment this year, ended the discussion and adjourned the meeting. Before he departed, Lucido made a comment about "testing" his patience, and he and Hertel headed to a closed-door space behind the committee meeting room where they had what sounded like an argument.

At times, their exchange was loud and the noise could be heard outside the room while it was still unclear exactly what they were saying to each other.

"I was just trying to get an answer to a very simple question," Hertel later explained of his efforts during the committee meeting.

Hertel added of the comment about Lucido's patience, "I am not a child and I don’t work for him. At the end of the day, I work for the people that I represent in my district."

As for Lucido, he brushed off the idea that he and Hertel had a "testy" exchange.

"Testy?" Lucido responded. "Actually, it was cleared up because ... no one was going to entertain as to why they voted the way they did for him. ... The committee was adjourned."

El-Sayed joins CNN 

Former Detroit Health Department director Abdul El-Sayed has joined CNN as a political contributor, the Ann Arbor doctor said Wednesday on Twitter. 

El-Sayed wrote that he plans to share his "perspective as a progressive, Arab-American, Muslim Michigander."

Abdul El-Sayed, the ex-Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Executive Director of the Detroit Health Department, is joining CNN as a political analyst.

The former Democratic candidate for Michigan governor and supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders joined CNN in his new role Tuesday night to comment on the Democratic debates. 

"Michigan is one of the most critical states on the political map," El-Sayed said in a Wednesday statement. "I’m grateful to bring a progressive Michigan perspective to CNN’s political coverage in a dynamic moment in our nation’s political history.”

In 2018, El-Sayed ran for governor as a progressive outsider and his campaign featured events with Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. El-Sayed finished second with 30% of the vote in the Democratic primary, behind Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's 52%.

El-Sayed’s book titled "Healing Politics" goes on sale March 31. He also hosts a podcast called "America Dissected," which covers health-related topics.

Peters fundraising in London

Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, who is running for a second term, is headed overseas this week for a fundraiser. 

Peters is expected at a Friday reception in London, where ex-pat contributors are encouraged to give $100 to $1,000, according to an invitation obtained by The Detroit News.

Under campaign finance law, foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. elections, though Americans living and working abroad may give. 

Nevada U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is also expected to attend. Cortez Masto chairs the fundraising arm of the Senate Democrats — the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The campaign for Peters, a former congressman from Bloomfield Township, declined to comment on the London fundraiser Wednesday. The Michigan Democratic Party pointed out that Peters' opponent, Republican businessman John James, spent recent days in California for his own fundraising events. 

James of Farmington Hills is making his second bid for the Senate after losing to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing by 6.5 percentage points in 2018.