A bill proposed in the Michigan House of Representatives yesterday could either ensure or prevent university boards from representing various parts of the state.
Rep. Michael Bishop (R-Rochester), vice chair of the House Commerce Committee that approved the bill, said an advantage of the bill is that it would ensure that university boards are more representative of the state.
But Regent Olivia Maynard (D-Goodrich) said if the bill is signed into law, her county will never field another representative on the University of Michigan Board of Regents.
Candidates for university boards are currently nominated at party conventions and compete in a statewide election. The House bill proposes creating four voting districts concurrent with the districts used in state Court of Appeals elections. Two representatives from each region would be elected to serve on each public state university board.
Maynard is the first regent ever to be elected from Genesee County. Because the bill groups Maynard’s county with the more populous Oakland County in the second voting district, the two representatives for the district will always come from there, she said.
Rep. Joseph Rivet of Bay City, the ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee, said partisan interests are the true motivation behind the bill.
“It is a very partisan issue,” Rivet said. “The reality is that it’s a method … to ensure Republican control of election offices.”
Maynard said two of the districts traditionally vote Republican and another is usually split. She said legislators should not try to rush to approve a bill that proposes such significant changes.
“This is a pretty serious change. To ram it through in five days without any discussion … is blatant politics,” Maynard said. “I’m very troubled to it coming through in a lame duck session.”
Maynard added that none of the current regents, as well as Regent-elect Andrew Richner (R-Grosse Pointe Park), support the bill.
Bishop said although Gov. John Engler will sign the bill if both the House and Senate approve it, he is not sure that it should become law because some representatives may live too far from the universities to attend all the board meetings and events.
“If you have a board member that lives in the Upper Peninsula, you’re going to have a tough time getting them there,” he said.
Geographical location is not a significant issue, Rivet said.
“I think the talent of the individual is far more important than where they come from,” he said.
He added that some university boards already have representatives from different parts of the state, and that parties can nominate candidates from different regions if they want to.
Maynard said before she became a regent, the University Board of Regents had a representative from Petosky. Because he was a pilot, the regent could fly into Ann Arbor, but a representative driving from northern Michigan would need to set aside two days to attend a meeting, she said.
“It’s really tough. You would be very much handicapped,” she said.
Bishop said despite potential detractions, the bill would reduce the amount of money required to campaign for a university board because voters would be more familiar with local candidates and the candidates would not have to campaign across the entire state.