Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Guest post by Vanessa Garcia Polanco, Science Policy Chair, MSU SciComm
Michigan lost its first chance to have an actual scientist serve on the state’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) yesterday when the State Senate blocked the appointment of Anna Mitterling, an Independent from Mason. Mitterling was a biology professor at Lansing Community College and former wildlife coordinator with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs when Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed her to the NRC last December. She also has a Master of Science in Fish and Wildlife and years of experience in the field. The NRC has exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game and sportfish and is authorized to designate game species and issue official orders establishing the first open season for animals.
Many appointments by the Governor must be confirmed by the Michigan Senate and Mitterling’s was one of them. On Thursday her Senate confirmation failed on a 20-16 vote that split almost perfectly along party lines as her credentials and gender were used against her. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said “It is not just about Mitterling's resume, and it was mostly related to her ability to understand the immensity of that commission and the very important need to provide guidance to departments related to the NRC”. References to “ability to understand” can easily be interpreted as sexist attacks on her credentials and gender, diminishing a woman's intelligence and ability to comprehend administrative and legislative processes. Senator Shirkey also said “Mitterling came across as being a little bit not willing to make tough decisions quite frankly,” once again a biased comment about a woman not being able to make “tough and hard decisions.” A spokeswoman for the Governor later called the Senate vote a “sexist, partisan game.”
At a time when women in science and in politics are in the rise, public discourse that disqualifies and attacks a woman this way is a pitiful reminder of how far we have to go till women’s role in science, public service, and politics is seen as the norm. Democratic Senator Curtis Hertel criticized the GOP's rejection of Mitterling, saying, “she has a master’s degree from MSU in fisheries and wildlife & would have been the first person ever on the commission who is an actual scientist.”
Arguments like Senator Shirkey’s are #attacksonscience. When scientists are denied the chance to serve on federal, state, and local boards and commissions, it diminishes and undermines the role that science plays in our civic and political processes. This is the first appointment in 10 years that is blocked by the Michigan Senate. MSU Scicomm, as an organization that aims to teach MSU faculty and students how to engage with policy makers, communicate science to elected officials and advocate for science based decision making invites you to #standup for science by getting involved in science advocacy.
On Tuesday March 10th, Michigan Presidential Primary we invite you to vote for science and select candidates that will prioritize science-based decision making.
On Thursday March 26th join us for a Panel with Scientists with State and Federal Appointments. So you can learn first hand how scientists impact and shape policy. Register here.
If you are a scientist and you are interested in serving in one of Michigan's over 100 boards and commissions consider submitting your resume at Michan.gov/appoiments.
If you wish to participate in other science advocacy opportunities sign up for MSU Scicomm emails and/or follow us on social media @MSU_Scicomm.
Image credit: Union of Concerned Scientists