Thousands of cars descended on Michigan’s state capitol building in Lansing on Wednesday in an organized protest against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest guidance on how citizens needed to deal with the ongoing threat posed by the coronavirus.
As the Detroit Free-Press reported of the effort – known as “Operation Gridlock”:
“Police watched as horns honked and commercial and private vehicles from around the state jammed Capitol Avenue and other streets surrounding Michigan’s seat of government.
“‘Liberty once lost is lost forever,’ read a sign draped across a commercial van. ‘Security without liberty is called prison,’ read another, stretched across the Capitol’s front lawn. ‘Recall Whitmer,’ a third sign said.”
Malachi Barrett, a reporter for MLive.com, described the scene as: “Half protest, half Trump rally.”
So what caused all of this uproar? And did Whitmer, a Democrat, take stay-at-home guidelines too far?
The furor began last Thursday, when Whitmer signed an executive order extending her previous stay-at-home order through April 30. But it also went further – on a number of fronts – than Whitmer’s previous order. Among those further strictures included:
* No gatherings of any people who are not part of a single household
* No travel to in-state vacation or second homes
* Large stores can only have four customers for every 1,000 square feet of customer floor space. And they must close all areas “dedicated to carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries, or paint.”
* No motorboat or jet ski use
Whitmer defended the moves, among the most strict in the country, as necessary given the number of coronavirus cases in the state. “If you’re not buying food or medicine or other essential items, you should not be going to the store,” she said in a press conference following the release of the order.
Michigan currently has more than 27,000 cases (4th most in the country) and nearly 1,800 deaths (3rd highest).
The reaction was almost immediate, as Republican state legislators and others insisted that Whitmer’s order was overly broad and unnecessarily punitive – even given the state’s ongoing public health struggle. On Tuesday, a group of four Michigan residents filed a lawsuit against Whitmer, arguing that her order represents an infringement on their 1st and 4th Amendment rights.
“It’s taking a sledgehammer to an ant,” David Helm, an attorney for the four, told a local Detroit TV station. “We believe it is overbroad and over-reaching. There is a way to do it appropriately without infringing on Constitutional rights like the governor has.”
The blowback against Whitmer – culminating with Wednesday’s protest at the state capitol – illustrates the extremely fine line that governors must walk amid this pandemic. Do too little and be criticized for endangering the health and well-being of your citizens. Be perceived as doing too much, and face attacks for limiting individual freedoms.
For Whitmer, that tightrope walk is made all the more treacherous – and closely watched – because she has been a focal point of attacks from President Donald Trump regarding how she is handling the pandemic.
In late March, Trump said he had a “big problem” with Whitmer – or, as he referred to her “[that] young, a woman governor.” Trump followed that attack up with this tweet:
“I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic. Yet your Governor, Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer is way in over her head, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude! #MAGA”
While Trump seems to have come around on Whitmer a bit as of late, his attacks – and Whitmer’s latest executive orders – clearly hit a nerve with some Michiganders. And that’s important for two big political reasons:
1) Michigan is one of three Midwest states usually won by Democrats that Trump carried in 2016
2) Whitmer is widely seen a possible VP pick for former Vice President Joe Biden
Both of those realities put an even brighter spotlight on Whitmer – and the ongoing protests against her in the state. Keep an eye out here. What happens in the next few days – and weeks – could have major 2020 impacts.