Month: August 2020

Posted in Politics

Michigan’s Coronavirus Response Stretches Constitution

This article first appeared in the Daily Signal, a publication of the Heritage Foundation.

During the past several months, COVID-19 policies have stretched the constitutions of Michigan and other states, as well as the U.S. Constitution.

Governors across the country have governed by executive order instead of working with their legislatures or county health departments on solutions. This distorts the separation of powers in our constitutions, both state and national.

In my home state of Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued more than 160 executive orders, which cover such issues as training requirements for pharmacists, establishing a food security council, and setting safety requirements for grocery stores, restaurants, and pharmacies.

The constitutional overreach of a few of the orders caused the Republican Legislature to sue the Democratic governor over two executive orders declaring an emergency.

One executive order was upheld by a lower court and the other was struck down. The Legislature is appealing the first and the governor is appealing the second. Because of the urgent nature of these lawsuits, a judge recently sent them directly to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Unlock Michigan, a coalition of citizens concerned about Whitmer’s lockdown orders, has started a petition drive for November to repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of Governor Act, which has no time limit. The petition would keep the 1976 Emergency Management Act, which requires the Legislature to approve the state of emergency every 28 days.

Governors across the nation have executed some controversial executive orders during the pandemic. In the process, the U.S. Constitution is being stretched.

For example, although the First Amendment ensures freedom of the press, Whitmer changed the traditional pool-based system of press conferences to a Zoom system that required reporters to submit questions ahead of time.

After several journalists complained, Whitmer said that she was requesting questions in advance so there would be a backup if the system went down, not for screening purposes. Then the governor said that since the system worked, there wouldn’t be a need to pre-submit questions in the future.

The First Amendment right that allows churches to gather has been a national issue throughout the lockdowns.

In defiance of their governor’s order in late May, a few Illinois churches exceeded a 10-person limit for in-person worship. They filed a lawsuit challenging her policy, pointing out that liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, and superstores were open.

Across the nation, churches have been divided about following the mandates. Some are obeying them by meeting outdoors, wearing masks, and keeping social distance. Services are livestreamed for those who choose not to attend in person.

Others have ignored indoor mandates on numbers by wearing masks and keeping social distance. A few have held large outdoor services, mostly without masks.

Americans’ rights under the Second, Fifth, and 14th Amendments also have been stretched.

On April 15, more than 3,000 people gathered in Lansing, Michigan, mostly in cars, for Operation Gridlock, defying Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders—which have been among the most restrictive in the nation. Some left their cars to protest, most without masks.

Four Michigan residents filed a lawsuit against the governor, alleging that the stay-at-home orders violated their Fifth Amendment and 14th Amendment rights to due process. One plaintiff owns a landscape company and had to lay off 15 workers.

Between 800 and 1,000 protesters returned April 30. A few were carrying weapons and tried to enter the Capitol. Michigan has no law prohibiting guns in the Capitol, but the protesters were stopped by state police.

Legislators debated the policy afterward. Perhaps a simple solution is to not allow loaded guns inside the Capitol.

Unfortunately, this is an election year, so more money has been spent on the federal, state, and local levels than otherwise would have been the case.

We are piling up debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay back.

The governor’s emergency and disaster orders expired April 30 after 28 days, under the 1976 law (the Legislature needs to approve any extensions).

This didn’t stop Whitmer from again declaring a state of emergency and disaster under the 1945 and 1976 laws. Her action prompted the lawsuits.

We should assume our leaders have good intentions about what to do during this pandemic. However, we ought to have a robust policy debate within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.

Dale Murrish is a 36-year resident of Michigan, an engineer who has worked his entire career in the transportation industry, and a member of SAE. His opinions are his own, not those of General Motors, his employer.

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Posted in Politics

In Michigan, Governor’s COVID-19 Orders Crush Businesses

This article first appeared in the Daily Signal, a publication of the Heritage Foundation.

Probably no topic since World War II has dominated the news as long as COVID-19 has. Many articles have focused on the policy differences between states and countries.

When focusing on the policies of my home state of Michigan, one should ask: Are these policies keeping people safe? Are these policies helping people to flourish?

Unfortunately, under the leadership of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the state’s policies are failing on both accounts.

Metro Detroit was one of the hardest-hit areas in the nation, probably due to travel related to the auto industry. Whitmer, a Democrat, has allowed businesses to reopen slowly. Many think too slowly.  

For example, after the first few weeks, when all Michigan businesses were developing plans to safely reopen, landscape companies, outdoor painters, carryout restaurants, and most construction companies could have reopened. The “essential” businesses should have quickly shifted to “safe to reopen” businesses.

Generally, officials shut down entire states instead of simply targeting hard-hit counties. Surely, Douglas County, Nebraska, which includes Omaha and has a population density of 1,680 per square mile, has different needs than Cherry County, Nebraska, which is larger in size than Connecticut with a population density of less than one person per square mile.

Compare that to Manhattan, which has a population density of 71,000 per square mile, plus many commuters.

Whitmer could have left open Northern Lower Michigan and the entire Upper Peninsula—more than half the state’s area.

She could have said, “Please don’t travel to Northern Michigan if you’re from Metro Detroit,” and announced “customs checks” by  state police at the I-75 Zilwaukee Bridge.

 “Are you from Wayne, Oakland, or Macomb County? Headed to your cottage? Do you have enough food to avoid going to grocery stores? OK, enjoy your trip.”

It seems disingenuous for Whitmer to close many businesses unnecessarily and then beg Congress for help. We are piling up debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay back, either by higher taxes or inflating the money supply.

Some of the “essential” businesses that were open throughout the pandemic suffered large losses in gross income during March and April while people “sheltered in place.” Business picked up in May, allowing landscapers to operate as well as the sale of garden supplies and plants. But even essential businesses are unlikely to recover the lost income.

Other stores and restaurants fared worse, remaining closed until recently. Some of the smaller businesses will not survive. Many are highly leveraged, with expensive rent.

However, owning the building is no guarantee if your business folds. The owners of Kim’s Restaurant in Troy retired after 44 years last August, but the building is still for sale.

Whitmer has issued more than 150 executive orders this year, the highest in the nation. The latest order is about the training of pharmacists. Many orders have been rescinded, but the governor is bypassing the Legislature with orders that look a lot like laws.

On June 1, Whitmer lifted the stay-at-home order for residents and allowed retailers, restaurants, and bars to reopen, but she kept gyms, hair salons, indoor theaters, and casinos closed.

In contrast, President Donald Trump has issued 35 executive orders so far this year.

It’s not right for the governor to pick winners and losers.

The big box stores and large businesses and companies will survive. Stores that sell groceries and paper products have thrived. For a while, Home Depot was not allowed to sell paint or other “nonessential” supplies. At least that kept the playing field level with smaller hardware stores, which remained closed. DoorDash, Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and the Postal Service have increased their business.

The state prohibited orthopedic surgeons from doing surgeries until around July 1. If my broken fibula had happened during the COVID-19 crisis, I probably could not have had “elective” surgery to close the 5-millimeter gap in my ankle joint and install a pair of plates on the broken bone.

People in pain waiting for joint replacements got an early taste of what single-payer socialized medicine (which has been relabeled “Medicare for All”) would be like.

Meanwhile, abortion clinics were open.

“A woman’s health care, her whole future, her ability to decide if and when she starts a family is not an election,” Whitmer said. “It is a fundamental to her life. It is life-sustaining, and it’s something that government should not be getting in the middle of.”

I recently stopped at a new subdivision filled with construction vehicles, from landscaping to exterior and interior carpenters to window, drywall, and painting companies. Most of the 2,400-square-foot ranch houses have been sold. The construction manager said he was off work for six weeks. He was fortunate to have kept working for MI Homes. Many others in the construction industry were laid off, collecting unemployment.

Fortunately, houses are still selling well. MI Homes’ supply chain is still disrupted, though. Many suppliers had shut down to conserve cash, wary of a recurrence of the economic pain of 2000-2010 (which included the high-tech auto industry recession and the 2008 mortgage crash).

One of the more tragic ways in which individuals have been affected by Whitmer’s inconsistency is increased depression from being unemployed. Past data indicates more suicides occur during times of extended unemployment. Work is life-sustaining, even if no income is lost.

Many senior citizens in Michigan have been in solitary confinement for four months, with the only visitors appearing through closed windows and talking on cellphones. The fortunate ones live on the first floor.

Surely there can be a safe alternative to this.

Whitmer needs to be reminded that the right way to lead a state during a pandemic is to keep people safe and flourishing. All people.

Dale Murrish is a 36-year resident of Michigan, an engineer who has worked his entire career in the transportation industry, and a member of SAE. His opinions are his own, not those of General Motors, his employer.

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