Jacques: Hey Democrats, not everything is sexism

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Michigan Democrats have hit on a new strategy: Slap the label of sexism on anything that doesn’t go their way. 

It’s effective in shifting attention from bigger policy issues and putting Republicans on the defensive. 

The latest example came last week, following the Senate’s 20-16 largely party-line vote to block Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s appointment of Anna Mitterling, a biology professor at Lansing Community College, to the Natural Resources Commission, which governs hunting and fishing. 

More:Michigan Senate casts rare vote to block Whitmer natural resources appointee

Such appointments don’t usually get much attention, and it’s the first time the Senate has rejected an appointment since Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, behind her, acknowledges some guests during the State of the State address at the Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 29, 2020.  She is flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, left, and Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, right.

Senate Republicans have concerns about the direction in which Whitmer is taking the commission, and their biggest beef seems to have been with another, more recent Whitmer appointee, former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. Pro-gun groups, including the National Rifle Association, have spoken out against Hartwell’s appointment to the commission. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, knew his caucus had concerns about adding both Mitterling and Heartwell to the commission, so he tried to negotiate with the governor ahead of time. If Whitmer would pull Heartwell, the Republicans would back Mitterling. 

Shirkey saw it as a compromise. But those negotiations backfired. 

Whitmer’s office responded in typical fashion, by calling names. The governor took to Twitter, writing:

“The Senate Republicans rejecting Anna Mitterling from serving on Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission is baseless, cruel, and disgusting. Their phony excuses are an insult. Anna, and Michigan, deserve better.”

Whitmer’s communications director Zack Pohl put it this way:

“To recap, today Republicans in the Senate are voting to reject a qualified woman who has dedicated her life to wildlife conservation from serving on the NRC because they didn't get what they want. These sexist, partisan games from the caucus of Pete Lucido are truly appalling.”

If you’re wondering why Pohl is invoking the name of Lucido, a Republican senator from Shelby Township, it’s because in recent weeks he’s faced accusations of making inappropriate comments to women and is now being investigated by the GOP Senate leadership. He’s also the chair of the Senate Advice and Consent Committee that initially had concerns after questioning Mitterling last month. 

By using the term “caucus of Lucido,” Whitmer’s administration is implying that all Republicans struggle with sexism and are somehow major creeps. It’s these charges of sexism that are especially disconcerting to Shirkey. He calls them “shameful.”

“It has nothing to do with it,” Shirkey says. “For my governor to go so low as to label the caucus with Sen. Lucido’s name tells me all I need to know about true motivations.”

Negotiating over appointments isn’t anything unusual, he says, and he was hoping to work amiably with Whitmer. 

So much for that. 

Whitmer called for civility in her State of the State address last month, saying it’s citizens’ “responsibility to stand up to hate and harassment.”

Whether you disagree with Senate Republicans’ decision to block Mitterling is one thing. But taking it to the extreme Whitmer’s administration and fellow Democrats did is another. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why an appointee could be rejected that have nothing to do with sexism. Turning Mitterling into a victim just because she didn’t keep her commission post is a bad precedent to set.

“How do you label what happened last week as civility?” Shirkey says. “It’s just sad.” 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques