Question: Why did Governor Gretchen Whitmer switch her position on allowing high school sports to recommence?
Answer: She would say she didn’t, just that she moved the start date up based on ‘the science.’ Remember, this governor does not admit mistakes, and insists that she will not be ‘bullied’ — a self-description never heard from any other governor, because they never felt they had to use it. Meanwhile, as time goes on, it becomes more and more clear that the science the governor uses on COVID-19 is flawed, or her interpretation of it is. Hers is a very subjective definition of the word.
Question: Why is state Senator Majority Leader Mike Shirkey saying the things he’s saying? And will he keep saying them?
Answer: For his sake, and the sake of his Senate Republican caucus and the Michigan Republican Party, they had all better hope he puts a sock in it. Loose lips sink ships, and Shirkey has proven to be inept as a spokesman for his caucus and for the GOP legislative agenda vis a vis Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. It’s not so much what he says in disagreement with the governor on policy, particularly as it relates to her handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s what he says when he thinks he’s off the record, or in private conversations, or speaking to Hillsdale College groups on campus or elsewhere in his district, or embellishing his opening Senate prayer with remarks to Lt. Gov. Garland Gilchrist into a hot mike, which was quickly replicated on the Internet and went viral. He fails to understand that, in the age of Twitter and iphone videos, you can’t talk the way your predecessors did 10 or 20 years ago. He doesn’t seem to grasp that damage to his image and reputation also damages his ability to advocate and negotiate with his fellow legislators and with the governor, even if it’s on a completely different subject. The news media lies in wait for Shirkey’s next gaffe. You can’t talk about the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol as a “hoax” or call legislative Democrats’ ideas “on the bat shit spectrum” or say you would like to “spank” the governor without its affecting your credibility and authority to determine what the state budget should be.
Seven or eight years ago, when he was still a member of the state House, Shirkey was considered a rising star not only in the Legislature but in the state Republican Party. He was a key figure in helping Gov. Rick Snyder cobble together Healthy Michigan, the Michigan component of Obamacare, in a sharply divided chamber. He was hailed in the news media, and he was easily elected to the state Senate, then elevated to the leadership role two years ago. Since then, however, it’s a been a rocky road. The two Speakers of the House Shirkey has served with, Lee Chatfield and Jason Wentworth, have proved far more circumspect and adept in expressing themselves and staking out their positions in a credible way without getting sidetracked by making gratuitous comments on subjects over which they have little influence, as Shirkey has. Even Thomas Albert, the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has shown he can take strong positions and state them forcefully and be very critical of the governor in a far more focused and articulate way than Shirkey.
Shirkey is personally likeable. Even Democratic state Senator Curtis Hertel, Jr., says he considers Shirkey a personal friend. And so far the Senate GOP caucus seems to have his back. But can that last if Shirkey’s behavior persists? The last time one of the caucuses, either Democratic or Republican, either House or Senate, unhorsed a Speaker or Majority Leader was in 1977, when the majority Senate Democrats defrocked Bill Fitzgerald and replaced him with Bill Faust. Could that happen again?
If not, will Shirkey’s verbal gaffes cost Republicans at the ballot box next year? Will his undisciplined tongue allow Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to score victories that will ripple on down the ballot and sweep most Republicans out of office? If Shirkey can get a grip and put a stop to his blunders now, re-position himself, and deliver the goods on policy in a positive way, maybe his party will dodge the bullet. But if Shirkey continues on his disastrous course, it may cost his party in 2022. Remember, Shirkey himself is term-limited. He can’t run again, and nobody knows what the new district lines are going to look like after the new apportionment commission completes its work. Democrats believe the new maps for the state House, Senate and Congress are going to look a lot better for them than the ones in place during the past two decades. Republicans have held the majority in the Senate for a phenomenal 37 straight years, but they may be hard-pressed to keep that streak going next year with new districts, a carload of open seats, and new maps, especially if Gretchen Whitmer rides roughshod over the GOP gubernatorial nominee. And, by the way, who will that be? There’s no George Romney or John Engler or even Rick Snyder in sight, and Mike Shirkey has probably already removed himself from the running. Who else will even want the nomination?
Question: Former Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura COX has accused her successor, Ron WEISER, of paying Shelby Twp Clerk Stan GROT to get out of the 2018 Secretary of State race, and for giving a conservative activist tens of thousands of dollars more to do essentially nothing. Cox filed charges alleging campaign finance violations with Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. How might all this hurt the State GOP?
Answer: It’s been hurting for the past two weeks; let’s see what happens next. The big question is whether it’s an intra-party blip that will go away, or whether it remains an issue deep into 2022, an election year. Chairman Weiser must realize he’s got to put this controversy behind the Michigan Republican Party sooner rather than later.
Question: According to recent polling, Secretary of State Jocelyn BENSON has a 48% positive-36% negative job approval rating, which is better than Attorney General Dana NESSEL’s 43%-38% rating. Is that surprising considering all the accusations of cheating that Republicans have been making about the 2020 Presidential election?
Answer: Benson’s numbers relative to Nessel’s are about what they were two years ago when the two of them were elected. Benson defeated her Republican opponent by more than Nessel beat hers. Both women have declined somewhat in popularity, as might be expected during the tumultuous two years we have just experienced. Neither will ever be as popular as, say, Richard Austin and Frank Kelley. That being said, you don’t beat something with nothing, and the Republicans will have to produce nominees for both Attorney General and Secretary of State next year who are not only capable and credible, but have some name ID and campaign cash. They’re going to need all of that.
Question: Will passing the state budget for Fiscal Year 2021-22 go as smoothly this year as it did in 2020?
Answer: Probably not, but much depends on how much more COVID-19 relief aid comes from Washington, D.C. That’s what saved the governor and Legislature last year. However, even if more manna is forthcoming from the nation’s capital, majority Republicans in the Legislature have really got their backs up now, as has been demonstrated with their rejection of gubernatorial appointees and their move toward passing a COVID-19 supplemental appropriation at odds with Whitmer’s request. New House Speaker Jason Wentworth sounds like he’s ready to play hard ball. We may be in for a very bumpy ride.