With Michigan's state of emergency expiring at midnight, the temperature in Lansing is rising as the political drama between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and GOP leaders in the legislature reaches a fever pitch. Even as leaders in the House and Senate argue Whitmer's next declaration of emergency should be put to a vote, the governor made it clear during a press conference on Wednesday she would be declaring one even without their support.
Among the most controversial actions under Whitmer's declaration is her Stay Home, Stay Safe order that places a blanket shelter-in-place rule on the entire state. House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), and other Republican lawmakers have rebuked the need for a one-size-fits-all rule due to the disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases reported around the state. "We have actions we have been offering to take, some common sense decisions we think would've made perfect sense weeks ago," said Shirkey during an Off the Record segment on PBS.
“They’re acting as though this is a political problem. This is a public health crisis,” Whitmer said Wednesday. The governor's justification for maintaining a shelter-in-place order across the state stems from concerns that rural Michigan is unprepared for the kind of outbreak that Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties have mitigated since the state's first cases were reported March 10.
Shortly before her press conference, the governor's office forwarded two emails to several newsrooms including FOX 2 revealing correspondence between the staff of Mike Shirkey and Whitmer's team. In them, Shirkey's staff proposed "two one-week extensions in exchange for a public agreement that all future stay-at-home-type orders be enacted through bipartisan legislation" instead of an executive order.
Whitmer's team replied with a quote from the governor arguing she "cannot abrogate my duty to act in an emergency to protect the lives of Michiganders...Michigan remains in a state of emergency regardless of the actions you decide to take or not take."
While the breakdown in talks is likely to escalate tensions further in Lansing, it's unclear where the power struggle will land. Whitmer does appear to have public opinion on her side after a poll released 10 days ago showed 57% of respondents approved of her handling. A Michigan Court of Claims' decision also sided with the governor in a lawsuit filed by residents who argued Whitmer infringed on their constitutional authority with her stay-at-home order.
In the ruling, a judge acknowledged the rights asserted by plaintiffs as fundamental, "but those liberty interests are, and always have been, subject to society's interests - society being our fellow residents."
“I am pleased with the court’s decision,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “This pandemic has already taken more than 3,600 lives in Michigan and many more around the world. The primary goal of the Stay Home, Stay Safe order has always been to protect human life.”
Lawsuits were also filed against Whitmer after five Michigan businesses - four out of Metro Detroit - sought relief from the governor's order, claiming she failed to provide justification for the restrictions.
As tensions have continued flaring, Michigan can expect a loosening of more restrictions on business on top of what was relaxed Friday when Whitmer said bike repair shops, landscapers, and nurseries can reopen. More relaxing is on the way after Whitmer said construction could reopen May 7. That includes both commercial and residential work.
Executive actions limiting business have cratered the state's economy and driven unemployment to one of its highest rates ever. One of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy is Michigan's manufacturing industry which employs more than 600,000 workers in the state. As some of the area's larger manufacturers like Ford and General Motors consider how they approach reopening their plants, many businesses are questioning what steps they'll need to take when they do open again.
While industry analysts say the short term response for most manufacturers will be to just survive, some are predicting over a reshuffling of manufacturing back to Michigan in the longterm.
Slightly cooler temperatures on the way Thursday before weekend warm sets in Friday.
Another glut of US unemployment applications is expected
The U.S. government is expected Thursday to issue another bleak report on the layoffs that have cut through America’s workforce since the coronavirus forced businesses across the country to shut down starting last month.
The Labor Department will likely report that several million more people filed for unemployment benefits last week, after more than 26 million applied for aid in the previous five weeks. All told, the layoffs add up to the largest streak of U.S. job losses on record.