Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is feeling the heat these days and it’s (thankfully) not a fever from the coronavirus. Some of her citizens are seeing red over her recent executive order expanding the Stay at Home rules that were already in place. It was apparently a bridge too far for quite a few of them because they’ve been organizing protests and setting up social media campaigns to have the order repealed or even demand a recall election. So when it comes to executive authority during a declared state of emergency, how far is too far when it comes to executive orders? (NBC News)
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed one of the most restrictive stay-at-home orders in the country late last week in hopes of containing the coronavirus outbreak in her state — one of the hardest hit.
The backlash has been immense.
Michiganders, many from the more conservative areas of the state, believe Whitmer’s latest order went too far. They accused her of stripping them of their constitutional rights. Online, they pledged to protest, signed petitions calling for her recall and joined Facebook groups dedicated to having the order curtailed.
Whitmer’s executive action extended her prior stay-at-home order through the end of April and toughened it up.
Whitmer is citing the severe blow her state has taken from the virus as justification for her recent order. And it’s hard to deny that Michigan has been taking a beating. They saw a large surge in infections starting at the beginning of this month and they’re now up to more than 25,000 confirmed cases and over 1,600 deaths.
But this Stay at Home order really seems to be over the top in some ways. The order forbids travel to vacation homes even if they are inside the state. Nobody is allowed to go out on the water in a motorboat. Larger stores are being ordered to block off areas “dedicated to carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries, or paint,” in an effort to cut down on foot traffic. Those not in compliance face a fine or a misdemeanor arrest.
The order about not traveling to a vacation home seems to be particularly irksome to many residents and it’s easy to understand why. If you have a family that’s already living together under one roof and they want to travel together in a car to a different residence, what new risk is being created if they observe other social distancing rules during the trip? And… boats? There are few other leisure activities that involve more distancing than fishing and boating unless you tend to collide with other boaters on a frequent basis.
Keep in mind that this is the same governor who claimed to have imposed the needed level of protective measures back on March 17th.
3/3: Created COVID-19 task forces
3/6: Ensured Medicaid waiver for copays & cost sharing for testing
3/10: Declared a State of Emergency
3/11: Recommended mitigation strategies
3/12: Expanded access to telemedicine
3/12: Closed all K-12 schools
— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) March 17, 2020
It must not have worked because back then there were only 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and no deaths. Still, things managed to spiral out of control following basically the same arc we observed in New York City, though obviously on a vastly reduced scale.
I somehow doubt that the coalition pushing back on these orders will succeed in getting a recall vote started. And I’m similarly dubious about their prospects for getting Whitmer to back down and rescind her order. That would make her look weak and feckless in the middle of a crisis. But it’s yet another reminder that officials around the country are currently flexing their muscles in terms of authoritarian power under declared states of emergency. Some of these measures may be necessary, but it’s always dangerous to allow a politician to get a taste of too much power. Some of them tend to become addicted to it.