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Senate Settles On Hertel For New State Health Director

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s appointment of the state health department stands confirmed. The state Senate had until Tuesday to reject the appointment of Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel.

Hertel is a department veteran who’s already played a major role in the Whitmer administration’s COVID-19 response. And that’s rankled Republicans who say the Whitmer administration has used health orders to circumvent the Legislature.

“We need to be able to legislate again, to do our jobs again,” said state Senator Lana Theis (R-Brighton, “…and the authority to legislate is not vested with the director of health.”

A vote to confirm the appointment is not required under the Michigan Constitution, which only says the Senate can reject an appointment. But Republicans called for the vote with a legally sketchy impact as an opportunity to express frustration with the Whitmer administration’s handling of COVID-19 and Hertel’s refusal to rebuke those policies.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing has indicated that anything is going to be new under this new director,” complained Senator Jim Runestad. “The same one-size-fits-all, strong-armed, unconstitutional approach will continue.”

The use of health orders to impose restrictions on public gatherings, schools, and businesses was a top complaint.

Four Republicans joined with Democrats in the 18-16 vote to affirm the appointment. They were Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) as well as Senators Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), and Jim Stamas (R-Midland).

Senator Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) defended his wife’s appointment during the floor discussion but abstained from voting due to a conflict of interest. He called it “the hardest vote I will ever skip.”

Whitmer named Elizabeth Hertel to lead the MDHHS in January following the resignation of Director Robert Gordon.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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