Hours before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced she will allow the Upper Peninsula and northwest upper Lower Peninsula — regions 6 and 8 in her safe start plan — to partially reopen, State Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, questioned why she doesn’t free businesses throughout the state to do the same.
Mason County is part of Region 2 that includes Grand Rapids and as of late Monday was not included in the reopening that allows many businesses to “re-engage” and restaurants and bars to reopen at 50 percent capacity beginning Friday. Manistee, Benzie and Leelanau counties also in the 101st State House district served by O’Malley, are in the two regions partially reopening.
In a letter to Whitmer after her announcement, O’Malley thanked her for reopening those three 101st District counties, saying he supports a regional approach, but says it needs an overhaul when it comes to Mason County.
He stated he was concerned Mason County “is being lumped in with the Grand Rapids region.”
“Madam Governor, in no way whatsoever should Mason County be in the zone it is. I mean when you look at the distance between Grand Rapids and Ludington, it is nearly 100 miles,” O’Malley wrote.
“In due respect Governor Whitmer, you are picking winners and losers based on a very rigid plan. “I ask you to please make some common sense adjustments to your approach and include Mason County with the rest of northern Michigan where it belongs.”
Monday evening, he told the Ludington Daily New, Whitmer’s latest order proves her approach is too rigid.
In an interview earlier Monday, O’Malley explained his reservations to her approach.
“For whatever reason, she is dragging her feet,” O’Malley said. “There are businesses that never will reopen…. I am very disappointed.”
The freshman lawmaker said he supported Whitmer’s initial executive order closing schools, businesses and instructing people to stay home to stay safe during the first two weeks of March as the COVID-19 coronavirus hit southeastern Michigan particularly hard making it one of the nation’s top hot spots.
Initially, he said Whitmer, a Democrat starting the second year of her first term as governor, shared counsel with the Michigan Legislature, controlled by Republicans. Then, he said, that sharing stopped and she went on her own using executive orders to carry out COVID-19 response. Republican lawmakers subsequently sued challenging her use of executive orders.
“This lawsuit is not a referendum critiquing the governor’s actions (to control the spread of the coronavirus), it’s a discussion on the separation of powers,” O’Malley said.
He and other Republican lawmakers allege she is unilaterally wielding power wrongly shutting them out of deliberations, discussions and decisions on how to move forward.
“I would hope every judge would agree, one branch of government wouldn’t have exclusive power,” he said.
Initial arguments were heard last week, but no ruling has come forth and any ruling will be challenged all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court before the final outcome is certain.
Even as some businesses were reopening under earlier guidelines, unrest was growing, O’Malley said.
Restaurants, hotels, hospitals and small independent businesses are being hurt even though they have protocols prepared to reopen safely, O’Malley said.
“I think she’s moving at a snail’s pace,” he said. “How can she allow the Big Three automakers to open their plants in southeastern Michigan (a coronavirus hotspot) when mom and pops businesses weren’t allowed to open in rural areas?”
Rural Michigan has tended to have far fewer coronavirus cases than the state’s urban areas. Mason County’s cases climbed, however, to 25 this week. Whitmer’s guidelines call for a stabilization or downward trend in new cases and deaths before moving to the reopening phase she is allowing regions 6 and 8 to begin this Friday.
“The governor is tone deaf to rural Michigan,” he said. “That is unfortunate.”
Whitmer cites science and data as being behind her decisions but he said she has shared neither with lawmakers.
“I guess we’re supposed to trust her,” he said.
He suggested there are two patients suffering in Michigan.
“We have the COVID patient and the economic patient.” He said both need to be addressed.
Not only is the economic patient represented by businesses, workers and governments being harmed economically by the governor’s orders, he said the isolation due to staying home from work and other activities is leading to an increase in mental health issues such as an uptick in suicides and domestic violence.
“Right now, we have no balance,” O’Malley said.
Because he views Whitmer as acting unilaterally, he said there is little he or other lawmakers cut out of the process can do about it.
Meanwhile, the state revenue forecast late last week estimated Michigan government will experience a $3.2 billion shortfall or worse over what was budgeted for the current fiscal year and possibly as much next year.