Taking his reputation as a maverick Democrat to a new level, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel has endorsed a petition drive aimed at removing the emergency powers used by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Crain’s Detroit, Hackel’s backing of the Unlock Michigan campaign makes him the first major Democrat to buck Michigan’s Democratic governor on her management of the deadly virus, which has claimed the lives of 6,509 Michigan residents since March.
Hackel said Whitmer’s extensions of state emergencies have been “arbitrary,” though Whitmer insists she is following a 1945 Michigan law that granted governors vast powers in times of emergency.
“There’s one person making these decisions and that’s not how a representative democracy is designed,” Hackel told Crain’s. “I am astounded that people aren’t more upset about that right now … that one person is making all of these decisions arbitrarily.”
The Michigan Court of Appeals on Aug. 21 upheld a lower court ruling that Whitmer was acting within the provisions of the Emergency Powers of Governor Act (EPGA). In a 2-1 ruling, the appellate court found that Whitmer’s executive orders fell within the scope of her authority and that the EPGA law is “constitutionally sound.”
The Unlock Michigan campaign was initiated largely by conservative Republicans who are hoping to collect 340,047 petition signatures needed to let the GOP-controlled Legislature repeal the EPGA and give lawmakers a say in emergency procedures.
Hackel cited Michigan’s low numbers compared to April and May for coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths as evidence that the state is “so far beyond the need for a state of emergency.”
The county executive is especially distressed that bars and restaurants have been open for several weeks while gyms, bowling alleys and movie theaters remained closed during the past six months under Whitmer’s orders.
As of Wednesday, Macomb County had 12,936 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March and 979 deaths, according to state health officials. Macomb’s death toll ranks behind only Wayne and Oakland counties and far above all other counties in the state.
While Macomb is approaching 1,000 virus-related deaths, only three counties outside of the Detroit tri-county area have experienced more than 100 deaths. At the same time, Macomb’s daily cases and deaths have stayed well below springtime levels throughout the summer.
The Whitmer administration points to a study by British researchers that suggested Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders saved tens of thousands of lives across Michigan.
“Crises reveal a person’s true character,” said Zach Pohl, a spokesman for the governor. “This is a moment when real leaders should be working together to keep our state safe, not taking potshots from the sidelines.”