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To the unsuspecting glance, Michigan’s Republican Party might seem to be a force. After all, it controls both houses in the state legislature, and it has done so ever since the shenanigans that took place early in Barack Obama’s first term catapulted Republicans nationwide into a dominant position within most of the states. It is nonetheless an empty shell, little more than a front for the chamber of commerce, and during the period of its ascendancy, it has achieved next to nothing – apart from shifting taxes from corporations to retirees, raising the gas tax, and making Michigan a right-to-work state.
The party’s fecklessness has something to do with the defects of the state’s most recent Republican governor. But his unwillingness to cut expenditures, reduce taxes, and introduce reforms can best be explained as a consequence of the party’s debility. Rick Snyder is the Michael Bloomberg of Michigan. Before he sought the Republican Party’s gubernatorial nomination, he was registered as an independent. He became a Republican only because he recognized that the party itself had no substance and could easily be seized by a wealthy candidate able to fund his own campaign.
Thus, as was predictable, while in office, once he got the legislature to shift the tax burden from the state’s corporations to its senior citizens, he was reluctant to do anything else of any significance. It was only when the unions ignored his attempts to reach an accord with them and fiercely entered the fray to prevent his re-election that Snyder, by way of revenge, was willing to sign off on the Republicans’ right-to-work initiative.
Moreover, throughout his eight years in office, Rick Snyder persistently nominated progressives to the state supreme court; and, thanks to his efforts, what had once been a judicial body committed to the rule of law is now, in effect, an almost unaccountable legislative body dedicated to progressive causes. It is no surprise, then, that – when his second term came to an end, he refused to endorse the Republican gubernatorial nominee. Nor is it astonishing that Bill Schuette then lost to Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic nominee. He could talk about cutting taxes and reducing the state’s exorbitant auto insurance rates. But, after eight years of full Republican control, it was perfectly clear that nothing of the sort would happen. Michigan’s Republicans like to hold office. They have no substantive agenda.
In the last couple of weeks, however, the Republicans seem to have caught fire. The local chambers of commerce are perturbed. Small business, which is the only reliable Republican constituency in Michigan, is imperiled. These folks really hate Gretchen Whitmer – and, as I have tried to spell out in posts here and here, they have grounds for their fury. Her executive orders have been arbitrary and obnoxious, and there are no grounds whatsoever for locking down counties where no one or next to no one has died from the coronavirus.
In consequence, the Republicans in the legislature are threatening to create an oversight committee to investigate the lockdowns; to repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which conferred on the state’s chief executive almost dictatorial powers after the governor declared an emergency; and to amend the 1976 Emergency Management Act, which gave the legislature the right to make such a declaration, to reduce the period covered from 28 to 14 days. Negotiations are taking place as I write these words. The Republicans point to the 1976 act and contend that, if the state legislature does not approve an extension of the governor’s emergency powers by Friday, 1 May, they will evaporate. Governor Whitmer points to the 1945 act and claims that she can act unilaterally under that.
There is, as should be clear, a legal question that needs resolution. Did the 1976 act in effect, repeal the provisions of the 1945 act pertaining to the declaration of emergencies?
There is also a policy question. Thus far, Whitmer has taken a one-size-fits-all approach – which, as I argued in the more recent of my two posts, makes little sense given the fact that the epidemic has had no effect or next to no effect in many parts of the state. It is, in fact, as I pointed out, by no means clear that a lockdown is needed today anywhere in Michigan. Whitmer’s most recent executive order is predicated on utopian presumptions – that it is in our power to “suppress” the epidemic. We may well have slowed down its onset, and that may have helped the healthcare professionals who are trying to cope with the mayhem. It is not at all clear that further efforts along these lines will be to our benefit. No matter what we do, this contagion is eventually going to reach into every nook and cranny in the state. We are in danger, as I said in my most recent post, of committing suicide for fear of death.
It will be interesting to see whether the Republicans make good on their threats. Generally, they do not have much in the way of backbone. But small businesses are in dire condition, and the Republicans rightly care about their welfare (as the Democrats do not). I just wish that the Republican perspective were not limited to the goals of the chamber of commerce. There is a great deal wrong in Michigan that the chamber cares about not at all.Published in