Michigan Republican leaders to continue “political gestures” to lift COVID-19 restrictions
LANSING, MI – It’s great that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promoted a “spirit of cooperation” during her state of state address, Speaker of the House Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, said during of a press conference on Thursday.
But she has to prove to Republicans that she thinks so, he said alongside Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey R-Clark Lake at a press conference Thursday.
“The tone of what the governor said is what I think the people of Michigan want to hear,” Wentworth said. “As the Senate Majority Leader said, however, actions speak louder than words, and I look forward to this new sense of bipartisanship.”
Republican legislative leaders spoke to the media virtually and inside the Capitol building on January 28. They not only reacted to Whitmer’s speech, but also explained how they would continue to oppose his COVID-19 orders through “political gestures,” Shirkey said.
One of those gestures occurred during Wednesday’s Senate session, where Republicans blocked 13 of Whitmer’s appointments to state posts.
“Yesterday’s action on the nominations was a determined political gesture,” said Shirkey. “Not a gesture to score points, but a gesture to score a point. Until this governor stops acting unilaterally and invests and encourages and invites the legislature to be a part of some of these decisions, not all of them, then we are relegated to using the tools given to us in our Constitution and our statutes. . “
Whitmer spoke to media earlier Thursday about how Republican lawmakers are failing to show up at administration data-sharing meetings, a point Wentworth and Shirkey rejected.
“We invited the legislature to our model meetings,” she said. “They like to challenge the data, but they don’t show up to meetings where we actually share the data with them. I think it’s really hard to have a thoughtful conversation about the work we need to do as a state to keep people safe if we don’t operate on the basis of facts.
Republican leaders both dismissed the point, saying their fellow representatives and staff did attend the meetings. Both also referred to many of them as “introductions” instead of “conversations”.
“There has never been a data gathering where we don’t have at least two people from the political staff of the Senate or the Senators themselves,” Shirkey said. Sen. Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) before escaping from the Legislature. Senator (Curtis) VanderWall (R-Ludington) is on almost every one of them. We have at least one policy official on each of them, I made about half of them.
When it comes to their political positions on COVID-19, both have made it clear: schools must reopen fully and restaurants must ease some of the capacity restrictions.
Representative Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, unveiled a budget plan that would allocate $ 2.1 billion to K-12 school districts, as Whitmer reallocates power to reopen schools from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to local health departments. This includes $ 363 million for districts looking to reopen by February 15.
Wentworth called criticism from education associations and unions that this was just a political takeover “dishonest”. The Republican priority is to “get the children into the classroom,” he said.
“We are not removing the governor’s pandemic powers or his authority to respond to the pandemic or the authority of the MDHHS to respond to the pandemic,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is get the kids into the classroom. Put the kids in their shoes … Parents want it, science says it, and every other state is doing it.
Schools in Ohio are still closed until at least March, while states like Indiana reopened in early January. The governor “strongly encouraged” schools to offer an option of in-person instruction “by March 1 at the latest″ Speaking at a virtual press conference in the afternoon on January 8.
Health experts have called schools more immune to the spread of COVID-19 than restaurants, which are open in Michigan at 25% capacity.
As for the budget proposal, the Senate is still reviewing it, Shirkey said, but expects to find common ground on it. Republicans will clash with Whitmer over his budget pushes to fund job creation initiatives such as Good Jobs for Michigan. Wentworth called this a “corporate giveaway” that shouldn’t be part of the COVID-19 relief discussions.
“Honestly, it was a slap in the face for small businesses in our state,” Wentworth said. “Last month the governor asked for a deposit in the (unemployment insurance) trust fund… corporate welfare. Here, she disguises herself (Good Jobs for Michigan) as something other than a corporate gift.
Albert’s plan proposed a direct deposit of $ 150 million into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and $ 55 million to “Michigan local job providers” to meet the costs of unemployment contributions. This echoes a previous GOP attempt to replenish the trust fund in December, vetoed by Whitmer.
The Trust Fund initiative aims to prevent an increase in payroll taxes for Michigan companies that pay exclusively into the fund. It is expected to be completely sold out later this year, which would catalyze higher taxes.
Neither he nor Shirkey have completely ruled out considering additional funding for Whitmer’s job creation programs in the future, as Shirkey has said he just wants to discuss it with Whitmer outside of negotiations over the COVID-19 relief.
One area where Shirkey’s stance on Whitmer softened was vaccine distribution, where he said she deserved “a little pardon.”
“It is a very complex problem and a very difficult logistical problem,” he said. “I believe her when she says she wants it to be done vigorously and so on. But again, actions speak louder than words. There was not a single conversation with the Senate, and I suspect none with the House, about how we might actually help improve the process and improve the message. “
The Republican duo addressed a few other disparate issues. On the one hand, Wentworth has declared his priority to advance ethics reform, which includes the ability to view FOIA government records in the legislature and governor’s office.
The initiatives passed with almost unanimous bipartisan support in the House over the past two sessions, but died in Senate committees. Wentworth said he was not acting on previous models of the legislation and would start new, while Shirkey said a bit of “heartburn” he has over the legislation is the disclosure of financial records of legislators.
“It is fodder for (the media) to prey on people and it is unnecessary,” he said. “We already have rules in place to eliminate conflicts of interest, and no one has shown me where those rules were messed up or broken during my tenure, frankly. “
Further, Shirkey called Whitmer’s $ 5 million proposal to completely ban guns on Capitol Hill as “dead on arrival.” Wentworth echoed this, saying it should be done outside of COVID-19 relief talks.
Finally, Shirkey said he expects the Senate to begin its advice and consent hearings on the appointment of MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel to the full post next week. The wait is to ensure that she “finds her sea foot” in order to be able to answer questions in committee, he said.
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