The Problem With Restricting Whitmer’s Executive Powers

Jeff Thomas, Features Editor

The Michigan Supreme Court ruling weakening Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive powers is short sighted and irresponsible. The court has recklessly set a precedent that should concern voters.

To recap, Whitmer’s initial executive order declaring the state of emergency was extended by the state congress until the end of April, since she had to move unilaterally to maintain COVID-19 restrictions. The court’s partisan 4-3 decision ruled that Whitmer did not have the authority to continue extending Michigan’s state of emergency without the approval of the state congress.

The ruling comes across as sour grapes from the Michigan Republican party. For months now, their exercises in partisanship have come at the expense of citizens.

Anyone following in-state politics has had to suffer through Republican grandstanding and the national embarrassment that was the armed occupation of Lansing by right wing protesters. The heart of these conflicts, of course, centered around Whitmer’s response to COVID-19.

Now, I don’t think Whitmer has been perfect, but it’s hard to argue that she has handled the situation better than other governors have nationwide. At one point last spring, Michigan was one of the global hotbeds for the novel Coronavirus. 

The bottom line is the actions she took as governor reduced the number of cases and saved lives. Despite constant needling from state Republicans and President Donald Trump, Whitmer has largely gotten the job done. Still, the politics surrounding all of this are complicated.

The main animosity Whitmer faces from voters is twofold. The more legitimate grievance comes from the mass financial insecurity caused by the pandemic. The government didn’t do enough to help people. That isn’t all Whitmer’s fault, the federal government provided an almost negligent level of leadership. But, as governor, she’s going to take heat for it.

Had relief been adequate and people been taken care of financially, they would have been a lot more content to stay home and obey restrictions.

What’s more problematic and less justifiable is the disregard people in rural areas have for those living in more densely populated areas. There’s a real divide politically between Southeast Michigan and the less populated places in the western and northern areas of the state. 

Michigan is, in a lot of ways, a political microcosm for what’s happening nationwide. People in rural areas are pitted against those living in cities and suburbs for political purposes. The tension and resentment is such that people aren’t willing to suffer even minor inconveniences like wearing masks, even though masks are proven to save lives.

Which brings us to what is so concerning about restricting the powers of the executive branch of our government. That is the fact that the legislative and judicial branches of our government are becoming less and less in line with the principles of representative democracy.

With Citizens United and prolific gerrymandering, politicians are picking their voters and the donors of the political parties are getting to pick what candidates voters have to pick from. With elections being rigged in such a way, the legislative branch has become less and less representative of their voters and more in line with donors. This is particularly problematic because of the role that the legislature plays in packing courts. Therefore, diminishing the power of the executive branch only further pulls us into a government operating under minority rule.

With our current system being gamed by wealthy donors and corporate lobbyists, it is exceedingly difficult for voters to get politicians that actually represent their interests. 

The only kind of elections that consistently foil donors in any significant way are elections for executive positions like governorships and the presidency. These elections are so high-profile that it’s harder for special interests to rig them in favor of horribly corrupt candidates.

With our political system being as broken as it is, it’s a lot easier for voters to get someone representative of their views into the executive branch than it is for them to over turn dozens of gerrymandered congressional seats. 

As miserable as the situation is, at present it is most pragmatic to maintain strong executive powers. The court’s decision to handicap Whitmer could mean disaster for Michiganders as they move forward into colder weather that is more suitable for the spread of COVID-19.

For the sake of saving lives, restrictions should stay in place.