The state Senate is one step closer to confirming Gov. Rick Snyder’s appointment of a former Consumers Energy lobbyist to a panel that regulates utilities.
The state Senate Energy and Technology Committee signed off on the appointment of Norm Saari to the Michigan Public Service Commission during an advice and consent hearing on Thursday. The Senate Government Operations Committee and the full Senate are expected to follow suit.
Saari told the legislative panel that he no longer has any financial connection to Consumers.
“I have no pension from Consumers Energy. I have no retiree healthcare from Consumers Energy. I have no life insurance from Consumers Energy. I don’t get a senior citizen discount on my energy bills and I pay for my light bulbs,” he said.
“I have no financial interest in any of the organizations that I will be part of regulating.”
But critics of the appointment say his background still creates a conflict of interest. They say it should disqualify him from the job.
Saari most recently served as chief of staff to state House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) and former speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall).
Because of his former role, lawmakers on the panel quizzed Saari on what role – if any – he played in a recent scandal. Some Democrats charge that he may have ignored evidence that state Rep. Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) used state resources to cover up his affair with state Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell).
Saari told reporters that he believes he addressed the situation appropriately. But he declined to comment further on the scandal in front of the Senate panel.
“I do have a meeting scheduled next week with the House Business Office as part of their investigation,” he said. “And I feel an obligation to communicate through the investigation before I make any other public comments.”