News Story

Political Pushback On Whitmer's Lockdown Expansion

‘Better to treat Americans as responsible citizens’

The state of Michigan has the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 coronavirus cases in the U.S., with 25,635 as of April 13. The 1,602 deaths linked to COVID-19 here represent the nation’s third-highest death toll among the states.

Citing the risk of these numbers rising further, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extended the length and scope of a earlier stay-at-home executive order, making it run through the end of April. This expanded scope has generated widespread complaints from the public, and for the first time in this pandemic, some serious partisan political pushback to the state’s virus response measures has emerged.

One factor causing Whitmer’s orders to be perceived as draconian by some are provisions limiting what big-box retail stores can advertise and sell.

Businesses not deemed “essential” have been shuttered or had their operations limited under Whitmer’s original March 23 stay-at-home order.

This order was effective through April 13 and received broad public support and little opposition. That is not so for the extension, which has been rebuffed by some residents and leading political figures.

“OUR Governor IS DESTROYING OUR HEALTH BY KILLING OUR LIVELIHOODS!” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey stated in an April 10 Facebook post.

“Under the guise of protecting our health....she is DESTROYING our HEALTH by killing our Livelihoods,” said Shirkey, a Republican. “Yes, I just repeated myself because I am obsessed with making sure everyone understands what’s happening. Three-peat: SHE IS DESTROYING our HEALTH by KILLING our livelihoods.”

House Speaker Rep. Lee Chatfield released a statement critical of shutting down even more activities, saying, “Governor Whitmer should be asking what jobs and activities can be done safely. ...Today's executive order is not that solution.”

Many have taken to the internet to express their dissatisfaction.

An online petition was launched three weeks ago on Change.org, calling for the governor to be recalled. As of 3 p.m. on April 11, it had 79,000 signatures. Within 60 hours, the figure had spiked to 205,000 signatures, an addition of 126,000 in less than three days. The petition has no legal standing and is an indicator of public dissatisfaction.

There is now a Twitter protest against Whitmer’s executive order planned for 1-3 p.m. April 14, going by the hashtag #LETMIPEOPLEGO.

Accounts of public pushback against the new restrictions in Whitmer’s extended stay-at-home order have now gone national.

USA Today ran a story on April 13 about a proposed state capitol protest on Wednesday with the headline: "Did Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer go ‘too far’ with stay-home order? Protesters plan in-vehicle rally Wednesday in Lansing."

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board reserved for Whitmer the strongest criticism it leveled at political leaders in its April 13 lead editorial titled, “It’s Still America, Coronavirus or Not”:

“Perhaps the most excessive decrees have come from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,” the editorial stated. “In addition to shutting down ‘non-essential’ businesses, as many other governors have done, Gov. Whitmer has barred Michiganders from traveling to each other’s homes. ‘All public and private gatherings of any size are prohibited,’ the Governor explained at a press conference. ‘People can still leave the house for outdoor activities,’ she generously allowed, and outdoor activities ‘are still permitted as long as they’re taking place outside of six feet from anyone else.’”

The editorial continued: “Under Gov. Whitmer’s order a Michigander can buy a bag of candy or a lottery ticket, but not a pack of seeds or a can of paint. He can enjoy a boat ride by himself or with his dog—but not if his boat has a motor. The logic of these seemingly arbitrary distinctions must elude most Americans.”

The editorial board concluded, “Better ... to treat Americans as responsible citizens.”

Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson devoted a segment of his daily television program to Whitmer’s actions.

“Last week, Whitmer banned all gatherings anywhere for any reason of any size including in people’s private homes, as if she is allowed to do that,” Carlson said. “Not only did Gov. Whitmer close most stores in the state, she banned the few that remained open from selling items that she deemed unnecessary.”

Then Carlson displayed a clip of Whitmer saying in a press conference, “Big box stores will also have to close areas of the store that are dedicated to things like carpet or flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries or paint. If your are not buying food or medicine or other essential items, you should not be going to the store.”

Whitmer has been a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, and so has Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, who was elected as a Republican but left the party after clashing with Trump.

But on April 11, Amash also criticized Whitmer’s expanded lockdown.

“Governor Whitmer’s latest order goes too far and will erode confidence in her leadership,” Amash said on Facebook. “She should immediately reassess it.”

Amash said that Whitmer’s restrictions could lead to more harm.

“People will not long tolerate extraordinary restrictions on liberty that contribute so little to safety,” the Grand Rapids-area independent wrote. “Eventually, even basic measures, such as social distancing, will be ignored as people grow restless.”

John Truscott, once a press secretary to former Republican Gov. John Engler and one of the state’s best-known public relations personalities, summed up his feelings in April 11 Facebook post.

Truscott posted a Facebook a meme featuring a painting of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, which created the nation’s current constitution.

At top of the painting were the words, “JUST TO BE CLEAR NONE OF THIS MATTERS IF THERE IS A VIRUS.”

“Saw this post from a lawyer,” Truscott wrote. “Pretty much sums it up.”

And the author of a conservative website is claiming that Whitmer herself is not following the executive order.

Brandon Hall, who edits West Michigan Politics, wrote that he has a filed a complaint with the state Attorney General, alleging the governor has violated her own order.

The complaint involves a custom T-shirt Whitmer wore in public that referenced a comment made by Trump.

Trump had called Whitmer “that woman from Michigan,” which was first reported in a March 27 tweet. That was on a Friday.

Whitmer appeared on the Comedy Central network’s The Daily Show wearing the T-shirt on April 1, a Wednesday.

MLive published a story on the T-shirt company that made the shirt. The news service reported that it came from a firm called Outdoor Beerdsman.

Trump’s tweet came three days after Whitmer’s March 24 executive order shuttered all businesses not deemed “essential.”

Hall raised the question of how a T-shirt company could be considered an essential business that is “necessary to sustain or protect life.”

Whitmer’s office did not respond to an email asking that question. The state Attorney General’s office referred that question back to the governor, saying it was Whitmer’s office that determined what businesses were “essential.”