NEWAYGO, Mich. (WOOD) — These days, former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell is about as far away from city life as one can get.
Shortly after turning in his keys to city hall four years ago, he left Grand Rapids for a home on the Muskegon River near Newaygo, appropriate for his love of the outdoors.
He also left the controversy that goes along with being a politician behind — or so he thought.
“Controversy isn’t new to me, but this one caught me a bit by surprise,” Heartwell told News 8 Friday.
His recent appointment by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as chair of the state Natural Resources Commission has landed him back in the thick of things.
The dust-up traces to his stance on gun rights. One controversy involved Heartwell’s attempt to ban open carry at Grand Rapids City Commission meetings in 2013. While he says he supports the Second Amendment, Heartwell was worried another constitutional guarantee, the right to free speech, would have been curtailed by the presence of guns at public meetings.
“No responsible gun owner wear a badge that says, ‘I’m a responsible gun owner,'” Heartwell said. “An unarmed citizen in a meeting, seeing somebody with a gun, especially if they aren’t unfamiliar with firearms, can be intimated by that.”
Second Amendment advocates want Heartwell off the commission. Groups like Great Lakes Gun Rights are calling for the state Senate to reject his appointment.
In a statement to News 8, Great Lakes Gun Rights Executive Director Brenden Boudreau said:
“The members and supporters of Great Lakes Gun Rights are calling on the Senate to reject Governor Whitmer’s appointment of former Mayor of Grand Rapids George Heartwell to the National Resource Commission because of his vocal opposition to the Second Amendment and his support for radical gun control measures, such as outright bans of certain classifications of firearms. His willful disregard of our state’s preemption law as Mayor of Grand Rapids is a major concern for gun owners, because if he is willing to disregard the law as an elected official, there’s no telling how he will act as an appointed official. Also, the NRC does have regulatory authority over gun rights and hunting rights on state land, and his anti-gun views will shape the policy recommendations that he supports on the NRC. For those reasons, we stand in opposition to his appointment.”
While he’s new to the job, Heartwell doesn’t think his role as commission chair would include the ability to restrict gun rights.
“I can’t imagine that there would be anything that would come before that body that would have an impact on limiting availability of firearms or curtailing people’s right to bear arms,” he said.
But even he did possess that ability, Heartwell said that’s not on his list of priorities.
“I do not come to this with an anti-gun agenda or an anti-hunting agenda,” he said. “I think that’s a label that’s been unfairly placed on me.”
The Republican-controlled Senate’s Advice and Consent Committee on Thursday rejected Anna Mitterling of Mason, another Whitmer appointment to the seven-member Natural Resources Commission, essentially saying her resume was impressive but she didn’t interview well.
Others see the move as retaliation for Heartwell’s appointment.
Heartwell could face his own Senate confirmation vote in the next 60 days.