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AG launching investigation into Unlock Michigan petition campaign

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Attorney General is launching an investigation into the petition campaign pushing to strip Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of heremergency powers.

The Unlock Michigan campaign has collected more than 500,000 signatures on a petition to repeal the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945, which is the state law the governor has used to justify her executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The campaign plans to deliver the signatures to state officials on Friday.  

But Monday, the Attorney General’s office announced it is looking into allegations that members associated with the campaign may have engaged in criminal activity in collecting petition signatures.

“Our democracy is firmly rooted in the principles of an informed electorate which makes decisions at the polls based on reason and beliefs over lies and deception,” says Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, “That process becomes tainted when petition circulators manipulate and cheat to serve their own agendas.”

Nessel says her office will investigate these allegations, and prosecute if there is a violation of law.

Attorney John Pirich requested the AG’s office investigation. Pirich says he became concerned about the training petition gatherers were getting from a video of one training session he viewed and other reports in the news media.

“To train people...in a fashion that clearly violates the standards articulated in Michigan election law is absolutely wrong,” says Pirich. ”There should be consequences for that kind of conduct.”

But those involved in the Unlock Michigan campaign believe they are the ones who are the victims of political shenanigans.

Fred Wszolek is the spokesman for Unlock Michigan.

“It’s expected a partisan political Attorney General would announce a partisan political farce of an investigation,” says Wszolek. “I just don’t know what they think they are investigating.”

For his part, Wszolek says the campaign is the subject a “smear campaign” by those opposed to its goal. He says Unlock Michigan’s petition circulators were trained to “dot their I’s and cross their T’s” in the circulation process.

Wszolek describes the campaign as the “easiest petition drive in the history of ever.”

If enough signatures are certified, the repeal of Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945 could reach the Legislature by the beginning of December.

Republicans in the state Legislature have been fighting in the courts to rescind the governor’s emergency powers. But the courts have sided with the governor.

Since this challenge began with an initiative petition, the Legislature could vote to repeal the law and Gov. Whitmer would not be able to prevent it from becoming law. 

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Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.