Amid a dynamic public health crisis playing out across Michigan is an increasingly volatile political situation boiling between the governor and Republican party.
The GOP is working several angles at the federal and state level in an effort to curb Gretchen Whitmer's executive powers she has invoked as part of her administration's efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Along with threats made by House and Senate lawmakers to file lawsuits against the governor and a potential ballot measure, came a filing from a Republican Congressman Monday.
U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden) sued Whitmer and Health Department Head Robert Gordon in a West Michigan district court on Monday, alleging the governor's executive orders were "unclear" and "unreasonably and unnecessarily interfere with constitutional rights under the rubric of a continuing 'emergency.'"
Mitchell is seeking an injunction into Whitmer's stay-home order that has shuttered much of the state's nonessential businesses and forced residents to shelter in place for the time being. Arguing that residents should be trusted to take the reasonable and private action to protect themselves, the congressman is arguing a point made by many Republicans that the state should reopen its economy sooner rather than later.
In the state Senate, Majority Leader Mike Shirkey is switching gears in an effort to curb Whitmer's powers via ballot petition. After the governor indicated she would veto any bill that would strip the executive seat of its emergency powers, Shirkey has indicated Republicans would push for a citizen-led petition drive. If a petition could accrue 340,000 signatures on a ballot requesting the legislature consider a law change, lawmakers could approve the bill without the governor's signature.
"I think it’s probably the No. 1 priority right now," Shirkey said in a radio interview, as first reported by the Detroit News.
The petition would be aimed at repealing the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act which allows Whitmer to make executive orders during a time of an emergency without the approval of the legislature. Currently, Whitmer's state of emergency extends her executive authority until May 28.
That could be a tough climb for the senator however as much of the state isn't leaving their home, meaning the whole process could take months. It's a reversal from what Republican lawmakers said they intended to do on Friday after both the House and Senate approved resolutions paving the way for a lawsuit against the governor.
While Shirkey said a lawsuit would "probably" come next week, it's unclear which direction a judge could rule. There is precedent for a court ruling however after a court of claims judge sided with Whitmer in a suit filed by residents claiming their constitutional liberties had been infringed upon by the governor.
“But those liberty interests are, and always have been, subject to society’s interests - society being our fellow residents. They - our fellow residents - have an interest to remain unharmed by a highly communicable and deadly virus, and since the state entered the Union in 1837, it has had the broad power to act for the public health of the entire state when faced with a public crisis," said the judge in his ruling.
Whitmer's orders, previously considered some of the most restrictive in the country before loosening them last week, served as the basis for multiple protests at the capital. Following 'Operation Gridlock' in mid-April when thousands of vehicles jammed up streets in Lansing and hundreds of protesters congregated on the capitol lawn, another demonstration was organized on Thursday.
Outrage sparked following photos of protesters disobeying social distancing guidelines in the presence of first responders circulated on the Internet. Then, more images of men armed with assault rifles entered the Senate chambers where lawmakers were working.
While the protests have made a lot of noise, multiple polls show much of the state approves of Whitmer's handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan.
The restrictions appear to be having an effect as the state's daily case and death count have seen precipitous declines since peaking in early April. In Detroit, Mayor Mike Duggan said the city is experiencing among the sharpest declines in COVID-19 related illnesses.
Even with the falling trends comes a grim economic outlook for the state and local governments. Some are expected to report hundreds of millions if not billions in budgetary deficits - which could lead to more layoffs within the government. In the private sector, things aren't much better where more than 1.1 million Michigan workers have filed for unemployment - making up almost a quarter of the state's workforce.