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For The Week Of February 3, 2019 Through February 9, 2019

No Early Partisan Fireworks In Advice And Consent Process

By Nick Smith
Staff Writer
Posted: February 8, 2019 4:37 PM

Having a specific committee for advice and consent of the governor's appointments to departments appeared prior to session to be a setting where both parties, facing divided state government for the first time in eight years, might see some partisan fireworks.

So far, no fireworks have been launched during the first week of hearings held by the Republican-controlled Senate of appointments made by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

In fact, the hearings, each having lasted between 45-90 minutes, have been largely cordial, with members only occasional pressing for more specifics.

When the Senate Advice and Consent Committee was announced it appeared that Ms. Whitmer's appointees may face a harsher spotlight than those under Republican former Governor Rick Snyder. That is, when hearings, mostly pro-forma, were held.

Department of Transportation Director Paul Ajegba's hearing was largely a conversation about how terrible Michigan's roads are and what funding levels, if anything beyond the Legislature's 2015 plan for more funding that reaches $1.2 billion in 2021, would it take to make a serious dent in repairs. Mr. Ajegba dodged multiple questions on specifics of Ms. Whitmer's plans to fix the state's roads, preferring the governor to roll out plans in the coming weeks in her State of the State speech and budget presentation.

Mr. Ajegba faced several questions about various programs and laws enacted by the Legislature that appeared more of a way to get district-specific matters on the director's radar. Not the most earth-shattering material, but good for the director to know the Legislature will be studying his budget closely when Ms. Whitmer rolls out any specifics on how to "fix the damn roads."

Flat budgets were a question raised of Treasurer Rachael Eubanks, who essentially called the question a budget matter that will need to be figured out by the Legislature. Questions were also raised on addressing pension shortfalls.

For Department of State Police Director Joseph Gasper, the focus was on attraction and retention of staff, partnerships with local law enforcement to improve public safety in historically violent urban areas and making sure the MSP's crime lab is not falling behind on processing evidence.

And in the case of Children's Ombudsman Lisa McCormick, the focus of her hearing was on her independence and some background questions on her knowledge of complaints against Larry Nassar while working as an assistant prosecutor for the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office.

Committee chair Sen Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township) said he did not expect a major change in process, but the key would be to determine competency of appointees and making sure there are no red flags meriting their rejection.

So, unless an appointee has some past financial troubles or legal history that might cause considerable heartburn for lawmakers, it appears most if not all appointees should have little problem staying on after the 60-day period provided for lawmakers to approve or reject a department head.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), who has in the past pushed for having more thorough advice and consent hearings, said they should be conducted regardless of the party structure in the Capitol.

Mr. Ananich succinctly summed up the process to reporters this week: "If you put forward people who can't handle questioning … than they don't belong in that position."

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A Case Study In A P.R. Fiasco From Dearborn

By Zachary Gorchow
Posted: February 4, 2019 2:07 PM

Maybe Bill McGraw should thank Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly for firing him as the editor of the tiny Dearborn Historian in response to the article Mr. McGraw wrote for the publication exploring the virulent anti-Semitism of the city's most famous resident, Henry Ford.

In firing Mr. McGraw from the city-controlled publication, Mr. O'Reilly has instead caused the article to spread so far beyond the Historian's miniscule 200-person circulation that its readership is now exponentially greater than it would have been had he let the story be published.

It's the second case in the past year of censorship gone awry in this state. Last year, then-Interim Michigan State University Interim President John Engler forced the rewriting of a series of articles to appear in the MSU alumni magazine about the school's failures on Larry Nassar. Predictably, the articles found their way to other publications and were published anyway, with far greater readership and at the cost of another example of MSU looking to protect its image instead of taking actions to heal the community.

Mr. O'Reilly apparently wasn't paying attention.

First, a few disclaimers. Mr. McGraw and I worked together at the Detroit Free Press and shared a cubicle. I consider him a mentor. I used to live in Dearborn, so I have some sense of the community and its history. I'm Jewish. My family has had in the past and currently has a membership to The Henry Ford, which encompasses the museum and Greenfield Village. And my wife and I have leased a pair of Ford vehicles for years.

Deadline Detroit has published Mr. McGraw's story, which Deadline reported was to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Mr. Ford buying the Dearborn Independent weekly newspaper, which became the launching pad for Mr. Ford's diatribes against Jews.

Mr. O'Reilly apparently didn't understand, a Dearborn spokesperson told the Free Press, why a city-run publication would run a story looking at "negative messages from 75 or 100 years ago."

This is just baffling. The same logic could be used to close every historical museum in the world, lest people be exposed to "negative messages."

Growing up in the 1980s, I had heard about Mr. Ford's anti-Semitism. I knew it was bad, but I did not know or did not remember the details conveyed in Mr. McGraw's story. I learned a lot. And the article goes to great lengths to point out what also is known – that Mr. Ford's descendants and the Ford Motor Company have gone to great lengths with the Jewish community to repair the damage he did.

In censoring the story and refusing its publication to the 200 readers of the Historian, which has no online presence, Mr. O'Reilly has triggered massive coverage of it – The New York Times and various other national media outlets have picked it up.

So now an untold number of people will get the chance to learn, as Mr. McGraw's story recounts, about how Mr. Ford was probably the leading anti-Semite in America and whom Adolf Hitler, many years prior to taking over Germany and starting the Holocaust, once called his inspiration. This comes at a time when an alarming number of Americans do not know basic facts about the Holocaust.

So, in a weird, twisted way, maybe we all owe Mr. O'Reilly a debt of gratitude for bringing more attention to Mr. McGraw's story than it ever would have gotten.

Let's not make this a habit, though, okay? Two examples of censorship in a year in this state is two too many.

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