On Tuesday, Michigan State House Rep. Beau LaFave introduced articles of impeachment against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.), accusing her of abusing her power during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. Yet Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield attacked Whitmer impeachment efforts as a distraction. While Whitmer has indeed overstepped her authority, the legislature should check her abuses by actually passing bills, not by trying to oust her.
“Today I introduced Articles of Impeachment against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer,” LaFave announced on Twitter. “The four articles of impeachment against Gov. Whitmer include failing to respect the separation of powers by exercising power granted to the legislative branch, violating the constitutional rights of the people of Michigan, issuing executive orders against the interests of the people and state, and using state resources to reward political allies.”
rights of the people of Michigan, issuing executive orders against the interests of the people and state, and using state resources to reward political allies.
— Beau M. LaFave (@BeauMattLaFave) November 18, 2020
Whitmer became notorious for excessive lockdown restrictions, even going so far as to single out gardening supplies for a specific ban. The Michigan House of Representatives voted down an extension of Whitmer’s original lockdown order, but she insisted that she had the power to override the legislature. After Whitmer overrode the legislature, hundreds of protesters flooded the Michigan Capitol, demanding an end to the lockdown.
In October, the Michigan Supreme Court overruled her abuse of authority, yet health director Robert Gordon recently implemented a new three-week shutdown.
Chatfield has opposed the effort to impeach Whitmer, claiming that it would be as “shameful” as the impeachment effort against President Donald Trump.
“We’re not the party that impeaches someone because we’re upset with policies that they’ve enacted,” the state house speaker said, the Associated Press reported.
Chatfield is right to pursue a separate approach. As the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Jarrett Skorup wrote, the Michigan legislature should take the initiative and send bills to Whitmer’s desk.
As COVID-19 cases are rising in Michigan, Whitmer has “boldly blamed lawmakers and the court. This is especially perplexing given that very little policy has changed in practice since the court’s decision. Rather than admit her approach may not be effective, the governor blames others,” Skorup explained.
“The Michigan Legislature now has a critical turn at the plate,” he argued. “[N]ow – not later – is the time for the Legislature to move forward with legislation that has a different approach to the state’s pandemic response. Not doing so effectively hands the job over to unelected bureaucrats, silently condoning the governor’s use of the administrative state.”
“This is an opportunity for the Legislature to put bills on the governor’s desk that contrast her unilaterally devised plans with ones that reflect the interests of the people it represents. An easy first step would be to eliminate government red tape that makes it harder to handle COVID-19,” Skorup recommended. He encouraged Republicans to pass bills that suspend “certificate of need” and “scope of practice” regulations, which would allow hospitals to rapidly expand care capacities. Whitmer issued emergency executive orders to this effect in March, but legislation is a more effective and representative way to make such policy changes.
“Lawmakers should also codify safety practices for businesses rather than leaving these up to bureaucrats,” Skorup argued. “While the governor could veto any plan she didn’t like, legislative action is still needed and meaningful. Gov. Whitmer’s emergency governing has been inconsistent, nontransparent and seemingly arbitrary at times. The Legislature, by contrast, should publish a plan that is consistent, thoroughly explained and easy to understand.”
He concluded by arguing that the legislature should identify tradeoffs on COVID-19 policy and that they should engage in good-faith negotiations.
Rather than merely dictating certain restrictions as if they descend from some “science” from on high, legislators should acknowledge the need to stop the spread of the coronavirus while explaining the very real downsides of a lockdown.
Whitmer deserves a strong rebuke for her overreach, but leading by example could prove a more effective strategy than impeachment. COVID-19 is a real crisis, and Republicans should show themselves to be the adults in the room by taking it seriously while excoriating Whitmer’s excessive lockdown regulations.
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Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.