LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — In a narrow vote Tuesday, the Michigan Senate voted to approve Elizabeth Hertel as the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The vote had been in question because of Republicans’ continued frustration with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some Republicans had vowed not to approve any of the governor’s appointments until she consented to let the Legislature weigh in on some of the orders and other actions taken to combat the pandemic.
Hertel’s nomination to replace Robert Gordon has been contentious. Republicans have said she will approach the pandemic the same way he did, and that’s not the direction they want to go.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, some Republican members cited the arrest of a Holland restaurant owner for violating the state’s most recent dine-in ban and a license suspension as one reason they would not vote to approve Hertel. While Gordon’s name was on the most recent dine-in ban, Hertel was already serving as MDHHS director when Marlena Pavlos-Hackney was arrested last week.
Hertel’s husband, Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr., D-East Lansing, abstained from voting but in remarks about his wife’s nomination told his colleagues to “do what you believe is right.”
In the end, four Republicans joined all Senate Democrats present to approve Hertel 18-16. One of those Republicans was Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.
“My vote in favor of Elizabeth Hertel’s appointment does not reflect agreement with her decisions as deputy director and now as director of MDHHS, but rather my belief that her background and expertise make her qualified for the job,” Shirkey said in a statement following the vote. “To her credit, in the short time since her appointment, I have had more conversations with Elizabeth than I did over two years with her predecessor. That communication with the Legislature must continue if we are to repair the damage done by the incompetence of the previous leadership.”