LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Former Grand Rapids Mayor George’s Heartwell’s controversial appointment to the state Natural Resources Commission remains uncertain after questioning from a state Senate committee Thursday.
Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Heartwell as chair of the commission, which sets policy on hunting and fishing in the state. Critics have come out against the appointment, concerned Heartwell’s stance on gun rights could influence policies for hunting and fishing in Michigan.
It was the first question he addressed during Thursday’s hearing in Lansing.
“Do I believe in the Second Amendment? Yes,” Heartwell told members of the Senate Advice and Consent Committee. “It is a right of U.S. citizens to bear arms.”
As Grand Rapids mayor, Heartwell often went up against gun rights advocates, including with an effort to ban guns from city commission meetings. He admits that would have been unenforceable.
Second Amendment rights groups, including the National Rifle Association and Michigan Open Carry Incorporated, have urged state senators to reject Heartwell’s appointment.
“I met with Mr. Heartwell. Again, great guy, great guy,” Tom Lambert of Michigan Open Carry said at the hearing.
“But you are opposing his nomination?” committee chair Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, asked.
“Because of the issue I’ve raised,” Lambert affirmed.
The debate over Heartwell’s qualifications was not just centered around his views on gun rights. Some members questioned his ability to chair the commission that controls hunting when Heartwell admits he hasn’t hunted in over three decades.
“Should citizens be concerned that the current chair of the Natural Resource Commission has not hunted in nearly 35 years?” Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, asked him.
Heartwell told the committee his decision to stop hunting was personal and not a judgment on others who hunt.
“I can only tell you that support hunting in Michigan. Beyond that, I don’t have a history, a track record for the past 35 years as a proof to put front of you,” Heartwell said.
Based on the line of questioning from the four Republicans and one Democrat on the Senate committee, support for Heartwell or lack thereof was split along party lines.
If his appointment does come up for a vote in the full Senate, it appears at least one Republican will have Heartwell’s back. Sen. Jon Bumstead, whose district includes Heartwood’s adopted home in Newaygo, testified in favor of the appointment.
“There’s a lot of misinformation being spread about George, including the idea he is anti-gun and anti-hunter. These claims could not be further from the truth,” Bumstead told the committee.
The full Senate has 60 days to act on the appointment.
Last week, the Senate rejected another Whitmer appointment to the NRC. Senators said while Ann Mitterling’s resume was impressive, she didn’t interview well. Others see the move as retaliation for Heartwell’s appointment.
“The idea that you all of the sudden have Democratic governor and her appointments are under more scrutiny because of that, and then we change the goal post over and over again about why people are qualified or not qualified to sit on these things, I think proves that politics is the major part here,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, the lone Democrat on the Advice and Consent Committee.