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Senate rejects another Whitmer appointee to hunting panel

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2013, file photo, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell gives his ninth annual State of the City address in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Republican-led Michigan Senate on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, blocked another of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's appointments, Heartwell, the former mayor of Grand Rapids, to the state panel that regulates hunting, after gun rights groups expressed opposition and a key senator said he was concerned because the nominee no longer hunts. (Rex Larsen/The Grand Rapids Press via AP, File)

LANSING (AP) — The Republican-led Michigan Senate on Thursday blocked another of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s appointments to the state panel that regulates hunting, after gun rights groups expressed opposition and a key senator said he was concerned because the nominee no longer hunts.
George Heartwell, the former mayor of Grand Rapids, was rejected on an almost entirely party-line vote. The rare move came two weeks after the Senate nixed Whitmer nominee Anna Mitterling for the Natural Resources Commission following Whitmer’s refusal to pull Heartwell’s nomination.
GOP Sen. Ed McBroom, of Vulcan, said Heartwell is not trusted by hunters and anglers at a time they are frustrated with the state Department of Natural Resources.
He “is not somebody that the folks in my district are saying, ‘We trust this guy’s got our best interests at heart and is going to go forward with policymaking and advice to the department that I trust is going to change a situation that is in turmoil,'” McBroom said.
Democratic Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., of East Lansing, accused the Republican majority of rejecting Heartwell, a Democrat, due to “politics” — not this qualifications — and said he would have been an independent voice on the panel.
The National Rifle Association had criticized Heartwell’s involvement in one of billionaire Mike Bloomberg’s gun control groups, and Michigan Open Carry had opposed his support as mayor for an unenforceable ordinance prohibiting guns at public meetings.
“I think it’s unfortunate that outside influences have had so much effect in this process,” Hertel said. “I think it’s unfortunate that the long arm of the NRA comes all the way down into this body and gets to choose who’s on the Natural Resources Commission. I think that’s inappropriate.”
Heartwell, whom Whitmer also appointed to chair the seven-member panel, said last week during his advice-and-consent hearing that he does catch-and-release fishing but stopped hunting about 35 years ago, when he was in his mid-30s. He said he respects hunting and hunters’ rights, and he believes in the Second Amendment.
He said he adamantly opposed the presence of armed civilians in public meetings when he was mayor because he believed — and still believes — that “the open carry of a firearm in a public meeting has a chilling effect on freedom of speech.” The ordinance conflicted with state law and was unenforceable.
Sen. Peter Lucido, a Republican from Macomb County’s Shelby Township who chairs the Senate Advice and Consent Committee, said he listened to his constituents and others who weighed in.
“We can do better than what we saw,” he said. “We can do better because we have better out there. It’s a very big business. People that don’t have a clue, that haven’t hunted in 35 years and have religious beliefs against it — I have some concerns.”
Heartwell said last week that he went through a “significant life transition” in his mid-30s, selling his share in the family business and attending a theological seminary.
“I made a personal decision at that point in time that killing things was not for me. … It was not intended nor would I want it to be read today as a judgment on others who hunt. I support hunting, but it wasn’t right for me,” he said.
Tiffany Brown, a spokeswoman for Whitmer, said the Senate’s rejections of Heartwell and Mitterling are departures from its tradition of approving well-qualified gubernatorial appointments made by a governor of the opposite party.
“George Heartwell is a former Christian minister, an avid fisherman, former gun owner, who testified in a public hearing that he supports the Second Amendment and the right to hunt,” she said. “It’s sad that Sen. Lucido would rather waste time on partisan games than focus on getting things done for the people of Michigan.”
Before his appointment by Whitmer, Heartwell served on the State Transportation Commission as an independent. Then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointed him to that panel in late 2015.