Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan opened her annual State of the State speech on Wednesday by pleading with lawmakers to find common ground in fighting the staggering effects of the coronavirus pandemic in the state.
“Based on the political environment this past year, you might think Republicans and Democrats in Lansing can’t find common ground on much of anything,” said Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat. She noted times when there had been bipartisan action in the Capitol. “Let’s tap into that same energy and end the pandemic, revitalize our economy and get our kids back in school.”
But Republicans were having none of it.
Hours before Ms. Whitmer gave her speech, Republicans in the State Senate refused to approve 13 appointments she had proposed for slots in state government, such as the leader of the Children’s Ombudsman Office, the Civil Rights Commission and members of agriculture boards.
Republicans said they had rejected the appointments because they felt Ms. Whitmer was not including them enough in decision-making surrounding restrictions placed on businesses to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“She has continued to circumvent the Legislature,” said State Sen. Aric Nesbitt, a Republican from Lawton. “I understand it’s not easy to compromise and try to work with 148 members of this Legislature. We have to use every tool available to compromise, and one of those tools is to not support her appointments.”
Republicans in the State House of Representatives followed suit, offering a Covid relief plan that would withhold $2.1 billion in federal funding meant for schools to cope with the pandemic until Ms. Whitmer relinquished her authority to shut down in-person learning and sports during a health crisis. That power would shift to local health departments under the Republican plan.
The public and pointed rejections of the governor’s appointments and authority came as the 2022 election cycle began ramping up. Ms. Whitmer is up for re-election in 2022, and no top-tier Republican has come forward to challenge her.
Forced to speak remotely instead of in front of both chambers of the Legislature because of pandemic protocols, Ms. Whitmer offered plans to fix roads, provide extra hazard pay to teachers and allocate state resources to help residents who have lost their jobs during the pandemic find employment.
But it was the coronavirus, which has infected more than 600,000 state residents and killed more than 15,000 since it was first reported in Michigan in March, that dominated her address.
She said she planned to start a statewide tour to talk with Michiganders from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats alike, to try and find common ground as the state emerges from the pandemic. The tour is designed “to focus on what unites us, improve how we talk to each other,” she said. “My mission is to find common ground so we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.”
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