If any Michigan voters thought that the initial rhetoric about 2019 bipartisan cooperation in Lansing was real, just consider how unusual was the House Republicans’ rejection of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive directives to overhaul the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
The Michigan Legislature has not rejected an executive order since 1977, when both chambers, with Democratic majorities, overturned a directive from Republican Gov. William Milliken.
In contrast, GOP Gov. John Engler issued executive directives in the 1990s that made several changes in Michigan’s environmental protection bureaucracy. In 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, in his first executive directive after taking office, imposed an abrupt change of direction, splitting the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and DEQ into separate departments.
Those orders never faced a vote of opposition in the Legislature.
Whitmer’s executive order reorganizes the DEQ into the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. But it was her elimination of new environmental protection oversight panels created by GOP lawmakers in December, just before the end of the 2017-18 legislative session, that has caused an uproar among Republicans. These committees will be dominated by industry representatives, and many of the lawmakers who pushed for their creation were term-limited and are now out of office.
More importantly, the premise in 2018 that the DEQ permit process had established an anti-business bias when dealing with corporate pollution discharges or developers’ encroachment on Great Lakes wetlands was a myth. According to the House Fiscal Agency, more than 99 percent of DEQ decisions in 2017 regarding environmental protection matters resulted in the department siding with business interests.
Whitmer has portrayed her departmental changes as an increased emphasis on clean drinking water. House Republicans who voted to block her executive order said the governor’s claim that they were opposed to enhanced clean-water efforts was “insulting.”
As The Detroit News reported, Whitmer put the best face on the setback, laughing off suggestions that her first dispute with the GOP-led Legislature will jeopardize efforts to build relationships across the aisle.
Meanwhile, the House resolution to overturn Whitmer’s executive orders sits in a Senate committee, awaiting action, while the proposal’s fate is somewhat uncertain. Could a bipartisan resolution to the House resolution be in the works?
What a compromise on an executive order would look like is uncertain since a rejection of a governor’s executive directive has not occurred in more than a half century.
But, if collegial bipartisanship has any chance in Lansing over the next two years, the next few days might play a determining role.
Whitmer Photo: Susan Demas/Michigan Advance