By state Rep. Beau LaFave, of Iron Mountain
The greatest strength our nation has is its diversity. Diversity of ideas, culture, religion, political ideology, heritage, age, and population density has led to technological innovations and economic upward mobility that never happens in hegemonic regimes. Radical ideas sometimes work, and repressive top-down regimes aren’t where innovation comes from. During a global crisis, we must lean on our greatest strengths if we are to overcome the hurdles we must face.
Michigan is the most diverse state in the most diverse country that has ever existed in the history of the world. We are two separate yet connected peninsulas. We elected a Republican president and Democrat governor. We are home to the 18th largest city in the US and only California produces more agricultural commodities than Michigan does.
However, our greatest strength is not being utilized to combat the coronavirus outbreak. A one-size-fits-all approach, such as the governor’s statewide ‘stay-home’ order and closure of “non-essential” businesses is creating an economic and – soon to be – bigger problem.
Simply put, the state can’t operate without tax dollars coming in. If no one is working, no one is funding the state of Michigan. We can’t keep up this approach forever. The longer Michigan remains shutdown, the revenue pool that funds our most vital services will disappear. This would mean inevitable cuts to teacher salaries, road repairs, first responders and law enforcement, and – yes – unemployment benefits.
The contrast in population density between the city of Detroit and Dickinson County is extensive, and it’s the main reason why the virus is impacting urban regions of the state more than rural Michigan.
As data continues to show the city of Detroit and surrounding metropolitan communities as epicenters of COVID-19, that same data is reporting rural regions of the state – especially those the Upper Peninsula – are not at significant risk to overwhelm medical services.
This is why we need a more targeted, regional approach. There’s no disputing the severity of this public health crisis – COVID-19 has devastated southeast Michigan. Detroit is not ready to transition back to normalcy, but healthy rural Michigan residents – particularly people in their 20s and 30s who reside outside of the virus hotspot and do not have underlying health conditions – want to get back to work.
There are hundreds of thousands of Michiganders and many small businesses across the state that have been forced to shut down and into unemployment over the governor’s personal assumption they are not “essential.” I don’t know about you, but every paycheck one relies on to provide for themselves and their families is essential. Rather than having a debate about which jobs are “essential” or “non-essential” we should be focused on determining which jobs can be performed safely.
It’s very possible for certain industries in rural Michigan to open back up while still adhering to safe practices and social distancing. All it would take is a small, common-sense adjustment by the governor to allow home construction and remodeling projects, dock work, marina operations, landscaping and lawn maintenance companies, and other businesses that can move their services and sales online to resume. One could also argue these fields of work can better adhere to social distancing than the recreational marijuana shops the governor is so fond of.
The health and safety of Delta, Dickinson and Menominee county families and residents across Michigan will always remain my top priority, but our communities know better than anyone that we must also deal with the negative economic and social impacts of COVID-19 at the same time.
That’s why I opposed the extensions of both the statewide emergency declaration and the stay-at-home order through April 30. My opposition to these orders will continue if the governor remains unwilling to listen to the pleas of rural Michigan families and refuses to take into consideration the ideas brought forth by the state Legislature and the federal government.
If we are going to get through this crisis together, we need to take a more targeted approach. The governor’s top-down philosophy of managing the coronavirus outbreak isn’t working for rural Michigan. Local municipalities and health departments are more attuned to the needs of their local communities. They should have the ability to make social distancing rules for safe business operation.
What’s even more frustrating is out of the 26 states that are currently utilizing federal CISA guidelines, 20 are using the most recent guidelines. Michigan is not one of them. These guidelines are specifically in place to protect public health while allowing more Americans to get back to work under safe, social distancing practices. Unfortunately, our governor would rather remain an outlier to increase the likelihood of being chosen as a vice presidential candidate.
As a life-long Yooper, sitting on our hands at home isn’t in our DNA. A one-size-fits-all mandate to shut down the entire state is preventing us from utilizing our strengths and maximizing our efforts to combat COVID-19. It’s the wrong way to protect public health and take a positive step toward recovery.