Michigan Democrats criticize Senate Republicans for blocking appointee who is gay

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Senate Republicans blocked Thursday the appointment of former Rep. Jon Hoadley to the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees, drawing criticism from Democrats who questioned their motives.

Some Democrats accused majority Republicans of rejecting Hoadley, a Democrat who left the Legislature at the end of 2020, because he is openly gay.

But Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, who chairs the Advice and Consent Committee, said the decision was based only on his qualifications and the fact that Hoadley is a student at the university, which he maintained raises concerns about conflicts of interest.

Former Democratic Rep. Jon Hoadley

"I don't think students should be serving on the board," Nesbitt told reporters.

The Senate voted 20-18 to block Hoadley's selection; Sens. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, and Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, voted with Democrats.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Hoadley to the Western Michigan board Feb. 18. In the announcement, the governor's office noted Hoadley was pursuing a master's degree at Western Michigan.

A 1999 opinion from then-Attorney General Jennifer Granholm found that a student who serves on the board of a higher education institution doesn't violate the state constitution.

Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, who is also gay, labeled the Senate's vote "absolutely shameful."

Moss said Senate Republicans had rejected two gay appointees for university boards. The other, in 2021, was Jason Morgan, whom Whitmer had selected for the Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees.

"The most comprehensive policy proposal from the Republican Party from the last weeks and months, the most fleshed out, core value of the Republican Party is preventing LGBTQ people from fully participating in our educational institutions," Moss said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also criticized Senate Republicans.

"If it wasn’t already clear that @MIGOP has declared open warfare on LGBTQ people, it should be now," Nessel tweeted. "@JonHoadley is more than qualified for this position. This vote is outrageous."

Nesbitt said Nessel's comment was disappointing.

"It's the classic left-wing Democrats trying to play victimhood instead of actually dealing with the issues that are at hand," Nesbitt said. "They're always trying to shift from the real issues at hand and trying to shift to a victimhood card."

The governor's office has said Hoadley previously served as the minority vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a member of the House's Higher Education and Community Colleges Subcommittee.

In an interview, Hoadley of Kalamazoo said he didn't want the Senate's vote to distract from the work going on at Western Michigan or the upcoming graduation ceremony.

However, the former lawmaker said there were Republicans who voted against his appointment who had said they would support him in private conversations.

He said having a student serve on the board would be a positive. He added that there have been board members at universities in Michigan with children who attended their schools.

Hoadley ran for the U.S. House in 2020 against Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, losing by 16 percentage points.

Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, told reporters after session Thursday that she believed Hoadley's sexuality played a role in his rejection.

"We've served with these guys for a really long time," Geiss said. "Some of us have served with them our entire times in this Legislature in both chambers. Yes, I believe that is the reason."

Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, said the reasons for the rejection that Republicans offered were "really thin."

"I'd like to hope it's not because he's a gay man," McCann said.

Senate Republicans also rejected Whitmer's appointment of Michael Ryan to the Ferris State University Board of Trustees. Nesbitt said Ryan had a history with the board and would be "toxic" in the position.

The governor's office had described Ryan as a former professor at Ferris State, who retired in 2017 after teaching at Ferris for 40 years.

At the end of the session Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, announced that he will be introducing a resolution to censure Sen. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek.

Bizon pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault battery charge in February in relation to allegations that he inappropriately touched a health care worker during an Aug. 14 appointment, according to court records and a police report

"The fact that John Bizon has had zero consequences for assault while a former member can't even be appointed to a board that he is obviously qualified for is pretty ridiculous," Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said after session.

Nesbitt said Democrats' attempts to connect the appointees' rejection to Bizon was them "trying to shift their narrative." Nesbitt said some Democrats in the Legislature had gotten into legal trouble without repercussions from their caucuses.