Board OKs petition language to yank governor’s emergency powers

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

The Board of State Canvassers unanimously approved language for a petition that would repeal the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has used to keep Michigan in a state of emergency since the first reported case of COVID-19 was found here on March 10.

Unlock Michigan, a group with ties to the Michigan Republican Party, is behind the petition and is now able to begin collecting signatures.

The group has 180 days to get 340,047 required signatures. If the group collects the required amount of valid signatures, it will likely be adopted by the Republican Legislature. In the off-chance that the Legislature does not adopt the initiative, it would go in front of voters on the 2022 general election ballot.

At a press conference in June, Whitmer called the petition “irresponsible, dangerous and foolish” during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Michigan has more than 66,000 cases and almost 6,000 deaths.

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The state of emergency is currently set to end on July 16, but under the 1945 law, Whitmer can continue to push that back without approval of the Legislature. 

“Governor Whitmer’s leadership during this crisis has saved lives, and as cases rise across the country, it’s now more important than ever to support the governor and fight back against these frivolous attacks,” said Michigan Democratic Party spokesperson Tim Carroll. “While Republicans try to use the COVID-19 crisis for political gain, and the legislature is in the middle of a month-long break from session, Governor Whitmer is fighting every day to keep Michiganders safe and continue to move Michigan’s recovery forward.”

In May, U.S. Rep Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden) launched a ballot campaign to establish a law that would limit and clarify the governor’s emergency powers.

Another petition went in front of the board Monday morning to recall Whitmer, but was unsuccessful in gaining approval.

The petition, filed by Michael Garabelli, seeks to recall the governor for two of her executive orders, including one that prohibited evicting residents from long-term care nursing facilities and another that placed temporary restrictions on non-essential medical and dental procedures.

The board first rejected the petition on June 18 for lacking clarity and a factual basis, and that was again the reasoning behind the rejection Monday.

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Garabelli pulled from quotes reported by Michigan news outlets where Whitmer noted disinformation being spread during the pandemic and stated that organizations protesting against her executive powers were largely funded by the DeVos family. He also used a quote from Nick Wasmiller, a spokesperson for the DeVos family which denied any involvement in the “Operation Gridlock” protest in April.

Board member Julie Matuzak, a Democrat, and board member Norm Shinkle, a Republican, both commented that they took issue with using the reported quotes and the quote from Wasmiller.

Shinkle said he has a problem that a quote was used “from somebody who’s not the governor.”

“I love a lot of reporters, but I also know they don’t always get things exactly right,” Matuzak said. “And I agree [with Shinkle], quoting a third person really muddies the matter for me.”

The petition was unanimously rejected by the board. 

In June, language for another petition to recall Whitmer was approved by the board. The petition would need to collect almost 1.1 million signatures in order to qualify for the ballot.