By Rep. Eric Leutheuser
For more than five months now, one person – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer – has held unprecedented and virtually unchecked power over the daily lives of 10 million people in Michigan. And there’s no end in sight – the governor shows no intention of giving up her unilateral power anytime soon, and won’t say if and when she will restore the representative form of government our state and nation are built upon. Indeed, she seems to relish the fact that she is “tough” and “won’t be bullied” when people protest the fact their rights have been taken away.
This isn’t a question about whether or not the Governor had good intentions or had the best advice. Unilateral control – rule by roughly 160 COVID-related executive orders, so far — is not just confusing, it’s dangerous. People have lost their livelihoods, and some, their life’s work. Against a backdrop of self-contradictory or nonsensical rules, faith in our system has broken down. The seemingly arbitrary nature of the rules has needlessly pitted neighbor against neighbor.
Let’s go back to early spring, when the federal government recognized that each state had different risks and capabilities and should craft its own policies in response to the coronavirus. Every state declared a public health emergency.
In Michigan, we approached 1,000 new COVID-19 cases each day, hospitals in some parts of the state were full, and nobody knew what the future would hold. The Legislature authorized and temporarily extended a state of emergency in the early weeks of the pandemic, knowing it was a proper response to quickly and effectively marshal resources at that time. The common goal: “flatten the curve” to avoid overwhelming our health system. The Legislature was actively engaged, passing over fifty pieces of legislation to deal with the crisis.
Governor Whitmer initially invoked her powers under an oft-used 1976 law which gave the Legislature a seat at the table. But since April, she has claimed unbridled authority under the 1945 “Riot Act”. It’s to regain public input that the Legislature continues to challenge this use of the 1945 act in a lawsuit scheduled to be heard by the Michigan Supreme Court next week.
Almost every state is still under a declaration of emergency. But unlike Michigan, the majority have always given their legislatures oversight during the emergency. That’s the key difference. If our governor had simply allowed the input of people from all over the state, through their elected officials, there would be more public agreement and a better consensus about the way forward. Instead, we have a divided citizenry, unanswered questions, winners and losers, and utterly avoidable tragedies.
Consider: as of this writing, casinos have been reopened, yet bowling centers and health clubs have been kept shuttered for five months. Early on, those facilities had worked with the governor’s own administration to create plans to reopen safely, yet she ignored the effort — at least until this month, when demand for better guidance for high school sports clearly revealed the inherent contradictions of her executive orders. In the meantime, health and livelihoods suffered.
Bafflingly, the governor also vetoed the Legislature’s plan to protect health care workers during disasters such as COVID-19, denying our health care heroes legal protection to do their job without fear of unwarranted lawsuits, and bipartisan legislation providing “whistleblower” protection for state employees who might want to share information about policy problems has been quashed by the administration.
And of course, she rejected the Legislature’s plan that would have prevented the placement of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes with healthy residents, unless those homes had separate facilities to properly care for them. She instead left her own inferior policy in place, prompting a request for information from the federal Department of Justice.
COVID-19 can no longer be considered the same threat it was back in March and April, if only because we’ve learned so much, and our hospitals have ample capacity. Perhaps that is why the governor no longer talks about those things, and waves away questions about goals, benchmarks, or the future with the word “science.”
Your voice along with millions of others has been shut out of representative decision-making. We must restore those voices, and the “balance of powers” we expect, deserve, and trust.
Michigan’s new state budget plan has sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan support and should soon be signed in state law, Rep. Eric Leutheuser of Hillsdale said.
Rep. Eric Leutheuser has scheduled a tele-town hall for Monday, August 31st – an opportunity for the residents of Hillsdale and Branch counties to ask questions, provide feedback and get an update on important events at the state Capitol.