State lawmakers clashed over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday during a Joint Select Committee meeting. The tensest moment came when Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.) argued areas outside of hardest-hit Southeast Michigan should reopen, despite a continued rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths in many areas in the state.
“This pandemic is not only killing people, the disease isn’t killing them, you know not letting them get back to work, and work safely, is killing them. I know specifically two individuals who have died from suicide. I am tired. … I am not Detroit,” LaSata said.
The comment came during the committee’s questioning of Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) Director Jeff Donofrio, in which he answered questions centered around unemployment, regulations and business requirements.
Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) raised concerns over the comments made by LaSata, calling them offensive.
“I represent a community that has a very real, large number of deaths associated with this crisis,” he said. “So for you to talk about your reality is perfectly fine but to consistently scream that you are not Detroit is offensive and I would appreciate it if you would not do such things in committee.”
As of Friday afternoon, Michigan now has 53,913 positive cases and 5,158 deaths caused by the disease. The city of Detroit has over 10,500 cases and more than 1,200 deaths.
But the disease has made its way across nearly the entire state. COVID-19 has reached all but four of Michigan’s 83 counties.
In most counties, the number of COVID-19 cases is trending downward. However, West Michigan is seemingly hitting its peak much later than the rest of the state.
Kent County, the hardest hit on the West side of the state, has over 3,000 cases and is continuing to rise. Other West Michigan counties, like Muskegon and Ottawa, are also seeing an increase in numbers.
State Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall), the committee chair, asked Hollier to remain on topic with the meeting and continue with his questions for Donofrio.
“It was my understanding that I could come up and talk about whatever I wanted at any moment, because that’s what’s been happening,” Hollier responded.
Hollier later took to Twitter after the meeting to express his frustration over the comments made by LaSata.
“It was extremely, extremely frustrating,” Hollier said. “She continued her refrain that she wasn’t Detroit as though COVID-19 is just a Detroit issue. As though there was some blame or some responsibility on the people who contracted COVID-19 and died from it, that they were doing something wrong or this was some sort of isolated incident and that the state shouldn’t be held back for those people.”
A number of Hollier’s Democratic colleagues from Southeast Michigan echoed Hollier’s concerns on Twitter.
“This rhetoric is escalating, dangerous, and othering,” Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) tweeted. “Frankly the exact rhetoric that has held our region and state back from our potential for decades. It’s also simply counterproductive. Come with ideas and solutions for a crisis that affects everyone. We have a job to do.”
Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) took to Twitter, suggesting LaSata’s comments were racist.
“We are tired of the dismissiveness of COVID-19’s very real impact in our region. The thousands of Michigan lives lost to COVID-19 matter,” Chang wrote. “And yeah, we all know what calling this a ‘Detroit’ problem is code for.”
LaSata’s office did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.